New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was as good as advertised, at least for one preseason game.
A day after Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first pick of April’s draft, shined at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants, Darnold played very well for the Jets. Darnold, the third pick of the draft, finished 13-of-18 for 96 yards, slowing down (and mostly handing off) in the second half when he was playing with mostly players well down the depth chart. Darnold was excellent in the first half. He was 9-of-11 for 74 yards and a touchdown before halftime, in about half of a quarter.
The Jets have been looking for a permanent answer at quarterback for many years. They were fortunate the Giants passed on Darnold to draft running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall. It was just one preseason game, but Darnold didn’t look like a rookie playing his first NFL snaps.
None of the five first-round rookie quarterbacks are expected right now to start Week 1 of the regular season. But Darnold might have the best shot, especially after he played so well against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sam Darnold’s most impressive sequence
Darnold’s best sequence came near the goal line late in the second quarter. He made a good pass to Charles Johnson that should have been a touchdown, but Johnson dropped it. The next play, Darnold stayed calm and went through his reads, eventually finding Johnson in the end zone. But Johnson was called for offensive pass interference, which backed the Jets up.
No problem. Darnold escaped the pocket when he felt pressure from his right, rolled out that way and threw a bullet to Johnson for a score. This time it held up.
That was Darnold at his best, diagnosing the play well, using his athleticism to move while keeping his eyes downfield and then throwing a strike on the move, which is one of his strengths (Darnold had a great, accurate throw on third down late in the fourth quarter as he was rolling to his left). It was also noteworthy that Darnold didn’t get flustered after one sure touchdown was dropped and another was called back due to penalty.
Darnold’s precision in the offense was impressive
Darnold wasn’t really flashy, but that’s not a negative. He looked like a veteran in the pocket. He made practically every right read. Some times that meant taking shorter passes and checkdowns, but that’s not the worst approach for a rookie in his first NFL action. Darnold delivered most of his passes with very good accuracy. If you didn’t know Darnold was a rookie playing in his first NFL action, you wouldn’t have been able to tell by his play. He just smoothly ran the offense.
About the only negative to Darnold’s first half came when he got up flexing his left hand at the end of a run. Darnold slid at the end of the scramble and it appeared he might have had his finger stepped on. Trainers looked at the finger on his non-throwing hand when he came to the sideline, but Darnold didn’t miss any plays.
Can Darnold win the starting job by Week 1?
The Jets have an interesting quarterback situation. Josh McCown is coming off a surprisingly good 2017 season, but he’s just holding a spot for Darnold. Teddy Bridgewater, a former first-round pick who looked great on Friday night in his first extended playing time in almost two years, is also an intriguing name in the mix.
Darnold was the third quarterback on Friday night, playing the final two-and-a-half quarters. McCown started and played a series, then Bridgewater got about a quarter of work. But that means little. The question of Darnold starting as a rookie isn’t if, but when. McCown is a solid veteran but he isn’t standing in Darnold’s way and has been very supportive of the rookie from USC. After one of Darnold’s first completions against the Falcons, cameras found McCown pumping his fist and shouting encouragement to Darnold. The Jets want Darnold to start sooner rather than later.
McCown was good last season but if Darnold continues to play in the preseason like he did on Friday night, there’s no reason for the Jets to not give their prized rookie the starting job for Week 1.
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