Before Sam Darnold, 5 Other Jets 1st-Round QBs' Debuts


For our first Inside the Numbers installment of the season, and in honor of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold's starting assignment in Monday night's season opener at Detroit, we're strolling down memory lane to see how other Round 1 quarterbacks have fared in their Green & White debuts.

There have been only five other Jets first-round QBs, and in trying to compare big apples to big apples, only one other time did a rookie QB start a season opener. That was a mere nine years ago, when fellow Southern Cal product Mark Sanchez won his pro debut, which was also Rex Ryan's pro head coaching debut, by 24-7 over the Texans in Houston.

It's easier said than done to dial up a similar game plan for Darnold and the Jets on Monday, but the plan back on Sept. 13, 2009, is a great model for any rookie. Sanchez threw 31 passes and went unsacked while the Jets also ran 42 times for 190 yards, converted 10 third downs, posted a 462-183 yardage advantage, and won the takeaway battle 2-1.

Here's how the other four first-round QBs fared in their first starts, none of which came in Jets openers:

Joe Namath, 1965
Times were different in the Sixties, when Namath, despite arriving in New York to much fanfare, didn't play in the season opener by coach Weeb Ewbank's decision, then came on in relief of Mike Taliaferro the next week in the home-opening loss to Kansas City. Namath's first start was Game 3 at Buffalo, a 33-21 defeat in which he completed 19 of 40 for 287 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. His first win as a starter didn't come until Week 9 at Boston, with his first home win following in Week 10 vs. Houston and the legendary George Blanda. Despite the careful rookie season, Joe did play in 13 of 14 games.

Richard Todd, 1976
Todd's first year was Namath's last with the Green & White. And similar to Namath's introduction 11 years earlier, Todd played in 13 of the 14 games as a rookie. After the Jets opened 1-6, Todd got his first start in Game 8 at Buffalo and fashioned a 19-14 victory in which his modest line read: 6-of-20 for 87 yards, one TD (to WR David Knight) and two INTs.

Ken O'Brien, 1983
Joe Walton was perhaps the most careful of all Jets coaches when provided with a first-round signalcaller. O'Brien, the Jets' 24th overall pick in the '83 draft, did not play a down as a rookie as Todd started all 16 games and backup Pat Ryan saw limited action. Then in '84, Todd was gone, Ryan got the starting nod, and O'Brien didn't even take his first snaps until the final drive of Game 8 vs. Kansas City and didn't get his first start until Game 12 at Houston (19-of-36, 226 yards, 1 INT) and his first starting win until Game 15 vs. Buffalo.

Chad Pennington, 2000
Pennington played sooner than O'Brien, in relief in Game 14 at Oakland (his first TD pass was to Wayne Chrebet in that game) but Herm Edwards, who took over the coaching reins in '01, didn't start Pennington over Vinny Testaverde until 2002 in Game 5 against Kansas City. That was a tough 29-25 loss to the Chiefs in which Chad went 22-of-29 for 237 yards, two TDs and one INT. But the next game, after the Jets' bye, Pennington posted his first win, 20-7 at home over the Vikings, and his Year 3 "rookie season" was finally under way.

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