Quarterback Sam Darnold was a different player after returning from the right foot sprain he suffered in Week 9 against the Dolphins. He exhibited the ability to make plays in and out of the pocket and used quick decision-making to get the ball to receivers in small windows. He helped the offense better convert on third downs and increased the red zone success. But while Darnold has been unquestionably good, NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci thinks he will only get better with time.
"The sky is the limit for the kid, he's going to have a bright future," Mariucci said on a recent visit to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "It's not easy to start Day 1 as an NFL quarterback rookie. But boy, he's got it. And as they grow the supporting cast around here, I think he's going to be a dynamite quarterback."
Darnold posted three of his best performances in Weeks 14-16, completing 66% of his passes with six touchdowns and just one interception against the Bills, the Texans and the Packers. Mariucci believes missing more than a month of game action was a blessing in disguise for the rookie signal caller.
"It was unfortunate that he got hurt and missed some games, but you know what, in talking to him that was beneficial in many ways," said Mariucci of Darnold's absence from the lineup. "For him to sit back, watch the old vet do his thing and prepare, I think it helped Sam kind of just be more patient with his version of the West Coast offense."
Mariucci, who spent a considerable amount of time in his career coaching and mentoring young quarterbacks in the NFL, had Darnold rated his top quarterback coming out of the 2018 Draft.
"When the season is over, these young quarterbacks will just chill for a minute, and just say 'Hey, I can reflect on what I did and freshen up mentally, freshen up physically, and then get back to work when it's time with minicamps, OTAs and that sort of thing," said Mariucci, who served as Green Bay's quarterback coach and aided a young Brett Favre's development from 1992-95. "And they typically will take a huge jump and Sam will do that. But it's a good start, so many positives that he has right now."
In Week 16 against the Packers, Darnold threw for three touchdowns for a second time, connected on 69% of his attempts and totaled a career-high 341 yards through the air. He has experienced plenty of lows and highs as rookie, but Mariucci thinks the best is yet to come.
"You know what, every time you do something you learn from it. And this is all going to pay dividends for the future and he's just in the right lane right now," said Mariucci. "I just think this fan base ought to be excited about this kid."