There was no ‘he needs time.’ There was no ‘he’s a long term project’ excuses thrown around. Sam Darnold was given the chance to show he can make an impact right away and he delivered.
The third overall selection from the 2018 NFL Draft is tasked with what seems to be the impossible: ending the New York Jets franchise quarterback drought. While it was only one (exhibition) game, all of the qualities that made him a highly coveted prospect were on display: the poise, the mobility, the awareness and accuracy.
Working with the backups, he wasn’t throwing to the likes of star wide out Robby Anderson or handing the ball off to Isaiah Crowell. The skill talent around him included wide receivers Charles Johnson and Tre McBride along with running backs Trenton Cannon and George Atkinson. None of that mattered as he finished the night completing 13 of his 18 passing attempts for 96 yards and one touchdown.
The most notable aspects of Darnold’s performance was the display of the nuances at the position that separate a struggling rookie from a pro passer. He bought himself time in and outside of the pocket, he manipulated defenders with his eyes while working through reads and most importantly, he never looked overwhelmed or confused.
After filling in for Teddy Bridgewater, who was brilliant in his return from devastating injury, the offense was run in an efficient and professional manner. The rookie sprayed the ball all over the field, hitting six different targets on the night. He looked especially comfortable when on the move, delivering the ball with pinpoint accuracy and impressive velocity:
Over the years, notably on offense, the Jets have struggled to adapt to the trends of the NFL. High profile passers that can create on their own, such as throwing on the move or from uncomfortable positions, have thrived in the league. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz all fit this mold. If Deshaun Watson can stay healthy, he will find himself right in the top tier as well.
These players can take over games from the most vital position in football. While Sam Darnold has a long ways to go, his skill set flashes this exact style of play. This isn’t a Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg experiment (or prayer).
At the end of the day, finding the end zone is what matters. In a scenario on 3rd and long, Darnold could have taken the yards in front of him to set up an easy field goal attempt. Instead, the 21 year old bought himself time while staying behind the line of scrimmage and fired a strike for six.
It was an exclamation point on a drive where he executed to perfection between the 20’s, had a touchdown dropped and then another called back for OPI. He could’ve settled in the same old Jets mold where three points is considered a win, coming back towards the sideline to a ‘not bad, rook’ type response from his peers and coaches.
That’s not what transpired though. That’s why this time, just maybe the drought is over.
It’s just one night, but Sam Darnold shined under the bright lights for a franchise that’s quarterback position has been in the shadows for too long.