While Sam Darnold is excited about some of the pieces the Jets added to the roster this offseason, the 22-year-old signal-caller knows the Green & White haven't accomplished anything yet and they'll have to grow exponentially in order to be in the playoff conversation come December.
"I think it's safe to say that we have a lot of potential, but there is obviously a lot of work to be put in still and we're going to put in that work," Darnold told reporters recently.
The Jets are wrapping up Phase 1 of their voluntary offseason program, which is taking place virtually as the world continues to fight a pandemic. Much has changed on the offensive ball both in front of and around Darnold as Jets GM Joe Douglas revamped the offensive line and overhauled the wide receiver position.
"We definitely have the guys to be able to win football games, but as we see every year, it's about putting everything together. Right now, we've still got a long way to go," Darnold said. "We have a lot of meetings but we haven't finished yet. Some guys are still learning the playbook, so there's still a long way to go and a lot of practices to be had as well."
Darnold's new protectors include Connor McGovern, who started 31 games at center for the Denver Broncos the past two seasons, Greg Van Roten, who started 29 games at left guard for the Carolina Panthers in 2018-19, and George Fant, a versatile tackle who believes he can thrive with a new opportunity.
"I think they're good players, guys who have been in the league for a long time," Darnold said. "Just from talking to them for a little bit and from what guys have said about all the guys that we brought in, they're guys of high character and the more guys we can bring in like that — the better."
The speedster who caught the most balls from Darnold during the quarterback's first two pro seasons jetted to Carolina in free agency. After averaging 51 catches and 766 receiving yards in 2018-19 and totaling 11 touchdowns and 23 catches of 20+yards, Robby Anderson left New York to reunite with his college coach, Matt Rhule, with the Panthers.
"(We) had a really good connection for the couple of years. With Robby, you know the speed and the deep threat, and he had gotten a lot better at running routes as time went on. But obviously there are decisions that have to be made by the front office and on Robby's end as well," said Darnold, who will turn 23 on June 5. "Some things I know just didn't line up, so it kind of is what it is. But with the weapons that we have now, we're looking to have a really good year and looking to have a lot of good production out of our receivers, tight ends and running backs."
Douglas used his first two draft picks to continue to embrace Darnold, selecting Louisville T Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall selection in the first round and grabbing a playmaking receiver in the second round with the pick of Baylor's Denzel Mims.
"Obviously Becton's a freak athlete and a large human, so I'm very excited to have him on our team," Darnold said. "Then Denzel is, just watching this highlights and watching some plays that he made last year for Baylor, great playmaker and he's got a lot of potential and we're excited to have him."
Mims joins a wide receiver group that was bolstered in free agency by the signing of former Buccaneers target Breshad Perriman. Both Perriman (6'2") and Mims (6'3") are long wideouts who possess sub-4.4 speed and will join a group that already boasts one of the top slot targets in football in Jamison Crowder. Although all the new is promising, there remains an unknown of when the Jets will step on the field again.
"For us it's really just taking advantage of the time that we do have. I think a good thing to say would be just that I'm not taking this time for granted, making every minute count because we're not getting a ton of time to meet or do any of that kind of stuff," Darnold said.
Less than a calendar year on the job, Douglas is aiming to create the best culture in professional sports and provide Darnold with everything he needs in order to succeed. With one of the most talented backs in the league behind Darnold in Le'Veon Bell, Douglas addressed depth behind the star in fourth-round pick La'Mical Perine and future Hall of Famer Frank Gore, the NFL's third all-time leading rusher.
"I've heard from a bunch of people that he's a guy with great work ethic and a really good leader, really good locker room guy and obviously it looks like he can still play, so we're thrilled to have him," Darnold said of Gore.
Darnold likes the new talent, but he's not ready to declare the Jets the team to beat in the AFC East following the historical departure of Tom Brady from New England to Tampa. The division might be more wide open than ever, but the Green & White's franchise passer, who was 7-6 as a starter last season on a club that was the first team in NFL history to lose to two teams in that were winless through at least the first seven games, is not going to overlook anyone.
"We're not going to take anyone more lightly even though one of the greatest players, if not the greatest player of all time, left the organization," he said of the Patriots. "We're not going to take them any more lightly."