Throughout the offseason, NewYorkJets.com reporters Eric Allen, Ethan Greenberg, Randy Lange and Olivia Landis will each give their predictions to a series of questions regarding this year's Jets.
Today's question: What do you expect from Jets QB Sam Darnold in Year 2 in Adam Gase's System?
EA: In his first season paired up with Gase, there was clear progress from Darnold. The young signal-caller went 7-6 as a starter, averaging 232.6 pass yards per game and finished with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Darnold led the Green & White to a 6-2 mark in the second half with 13 TDs and just 4 INTs. When he's in rhythm, Darnold can rip it with great anticipation and he has the ability to squeeze the football into tight windows from multiple arm angles. He is also a tough 23-year-old who has good feet and is comfortable spinning it on the run. He'll have better command of the offense this year and he'll be more in control from the onset. There are challenges ahead for both him and Gase, though, as the offensive line will have as many as four new starters and the Jets will likely start two new outside receivers. There won't be a lot of time to work out the kinks and Darnold, who hopes to start 16 games for the first time as a pro, has to get better in the red zone and with his vertical accuracy. He is poised to take another step forward.
EG: I expect Sam Darnold to take more command of the offense. Head coach Adam Gase has sung Darnold's praises in the offseason, saying his 23-year-old quarterback has done a great job taking the next step in the playbook. He said Darnold has been diagnosing things more quickly than last year when he was learning the scheme. Gase also said Darnold will have to be an extension of the coaching staff and help teach the players who were brought in during the offseason once they touch the field. Outside of Gase's system, I think Darnold will look and feel more comfortable as he's had another year of football under his belt. It's not common for someone to be 23 years old entering his third NFL season with 26 starts. Joe Burrow, this year's No. 1 overall pick, is six months older than Darnold. If No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa and No. 6 pick Justin Herbert both started all 16 games this season, they'd both enter their second season 23 years old.
RL: It's always a little risky to predict QB success because the ultimate measure is wins and losses and who knows what kind of Jets offense will take the field this year, not knowing about injuries, the true strength of the opponents and what the effects of COVID-19 will be. But are some statistical hurdles for Darnold to clear in 2020 regardless of those variables: (1) lift his completion percentage over 65% after going 59.9% his first two years; (2) continue to work on his turnover rate, which was under 1.0/game over the last half of last season while at 1.5/game in his first 1½ seasons; and (3) optimize his drives. His pro averages so far are 5.1 plays and 24.7 yards/drive and a 16.5% TD drive rate. The top QBs are around 6 plays and 35 yards/drive and near or above a 30% TD rate. Sam has an improved crew around him. Now he needs to get those numbers up and the really important number — wins — will follow.
OL: Over the first two seasons of his professional career, Sam Darnold had to learn two different offensive systems with as many coordinators, which made consistency a difficult goal at times. However, there are areas I expect the 23-year-old to develop in after having one full year of Adam Gase's system under his belt. One of the most noticeable improvements in Darnold's game in 2019 came after the midway point of the season when his touchdown-to-interception ratio flipped from 6-to-9 to 13-to-4. After he missed a handful of games due to a bout of mono, I think Darnold's second-half success can be attributed to familiarity with the language and understandinghis offense. Through 26 regular-season games, he has a 59.9% completion percentage, but I think in year three the USC product is going to have a big jump in that area as well. As most veterans around the league will tell you, with experience comes knowledge and with knowledge comes greater success. I think Darnold is going to have a steady, successful year in Adam Gase's system in 2020.