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Jets QBs Review: Sam Darnold, Onward & Upward

Third Pick of 2018 Draft Finished the Year with an Unmistakable Growth Spurt


Sam's First Season
The name of the game in the NFL, now and forever, is starting quarterback. And the Jets have found theirs in Sam Darnold.

Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 NFL Draft out of USC, had his ups and downs in the first nine games, but there was a lot to like then. He bounced back from that throwback interception-return touchdown on his very first pro pass to lead the Jets' rout at Detroit in the Monday night opener. And he directed 886 yards and 76 points of offense in back-to-back home victories over Denver and Indianapolis.

The win over the Colts lifted the Green & White to 3-3 and coincidentally was the last loss suffered by QB Andrew Luck before he went on his 10-1 tear that carried the Horseshoes into the AFC Divisional Round.

Darnold, his offense and his team hit turbulence after that as the rookie lost three in a row, threw four picks at Miami (then coached by Adam Gase) and went to the sidelines for three games with a foot injury. His key metrics for his first nine games, such as completion percentage, passer rating and plays and yards per drive, were near the bottom among qualifying QBs.

But when Darnold took the ball back from Josh McCown for Game 14 at Buffalo, he showed a renewed on-field maturity. Although the record for the final quarter was 1-3, Sam posted his first fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive at Buffalo and had his second and third games of 100-plus ratings in the tough losses to Houston, led by Deshaun Watson, and Green Bay, piloted by Aaron Rodgers.

And even though he couldn't get his injury-ravaged offense to a touchdown in the finale at New England, he finished the season having thrown no interceptions in his last 114 passes. That is the longest pick-less streak by a Jets QB since Ryan Fitzpatrick went 146 passes without an INT late in 2015.

"In the beginning of the year, I took a while to get comfortable," Darnold reflected. "And then once I got comfortable in the offense, I felt very confident when I was out there.

"I thought I did a better job with the turnovers this year. I threw some picks, but I'm doing a lot better in the pocket in terms of keeping two hands on the football. And then just going about reading the defense and figuring out what the defense is doing presnap versus postsnap, all those little things, I feel like I'm just getting a lot more comfortable out there."

McCown, filling in for Darnold, didn't enjoy the same success as he did in 2017 as the Jets' starter, going 0-3, although in the final two the Jets were competitive, at home vs. the Patriots and at the Titans. He shifted to more of a locker room leader and mentor for Darnold, a role that he said "has value beyond cost."

Davis Webb was signed to the Jets' practice squad on Sept. 4 and then spent the final seven games on the active roster, although he didn't see any game action.

Darnold Before and After

Avg Drive—Plays and yards per drive

Comp% Yds/Att TD/INT Rating Avg Drive
First 9 Games 55.0 6.69 11/14 68.3 4.7-23.1
Last 4 Games 64.0 7.45 6/1 99.1 5.6-26.5

Looking Ahead
Gase, now the Jets HC, and Dowell Loggains, his OC, helped produce some career highlights from Ryan Tannehill at Miami last season and from Jay Cutler with the Bears in '15. Darnold has been very upbeat about working with his new coaches this year and Gase has said the same about teaming up with Darnold.

"I'm excited because this is really the first time I've ever been able to get with a guy this young, this early in his career," Gase said last month of Darnold, who turns 22 in June. "We're going into year two and he is hungry for knowledge, he wants to be coached. When you have that type of player that does have the physical traits, this is an exciting thing for me to go through."

McCown, who'll be 40 on July 4, said at the end of the season he wouldn't make a decision for a while on playing in 2019. "Everything for me is on the table right now. Our family will talk through it, pray through it, and come to the best conclusion we can that's best for our family," he said. "I haven't closed my doors on anything."

McCown can become an unrestricted free agent next month. Webb can be an exclusive-rights FA.

The Top Images of the Quarterbacks During the 2018 Season

On the Active Roster in 2018

Off—Offensive snaps. ST—Special teams snaps.

Quarterbacks GP GS DNP IA Off ST How Ended
Sam Darnold 13 13 0 3 810 0 Active
Josh McCown 4 3 12 0 191 0 Active
Davis Webb 0 0 4 3 0 0 Active

Potential Free Agents in 2019

Unrestricted: McCown. Exclusive Rights: Webb.