After a 1-3 start that included disappointing, close loses to the Dolphins and Browns, the Jets have rebounded to 3-3. A lot of that is due to the progress and development of the 3rd overall pick Sam Darnold.
In a role where the rookie quarterback was tasked with simply not losing the team the game, he’s beginning to win them games.
Aided by very efficient and creative play calling from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, Darnold is beginning to thrive.
Through a roller coaster of six starts, let’s break down what we’ve learned from the Jets rookie quarterback.
Arm Strength Has Sky Rocketed
Coming out of USC, one of my biggest concerns with Darnold was the lack of velocity on his passes. There were plenty of examples (especially on intermediate-deep outs) where he simply didn’t have enough juice on the throw.
I asked around about this frequently in conversations with scouts and front office members, often circling back to the same reply: if you’re going to bet on something developing, make it arm strength.
At just 20 years old on draft night, this was a good bet on Darnold, I’m just shocked how quickly it’s happened. It’s not that he already has a Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers type cannon, but he’s well above an important threshold.
The touchdown to Terrelle Pryor was one of many examples this year. The ball is a laser that makes it to Pryor before the sitting defensive back can make a play on it.
Earlier in the year another prime example was this out to Jermaine Kearse on a 3rd and 12:
The best part? This is a 21 year old quarterback still growing into a big frame. As that arm continues to get stronger his arsenal of throws could be as big as anyone else’s in the league.
Mastering The Art Of Third Down
Even before Sunday's tremendous performance against the Colts, Darnold has been a master of third down conversions this season. He looks calm, poised and ready to make something happen when the pressure is on, especially over his last two games.
Although he threw his lone interception of the game on third down, the above play displayed his clock speeding up. He knows exactly how long he'll have Sterling open beyond the marker underneath and delivers a bullet to move the chains.
Later in the game was one of his best throws of the week, converting on third and seven to Robby Anderson:
Kearse helps clear out space in the middle for Anderson to work with and Darnold hits him right in stride. The perfect throw not only picks up a huge first down, but allows Anderson to pick up ten yards after the catch on the Colts side of the field.
Timing And Touch In Big Spots
Last week, Darnold finally began connecting with Robby Anderson. These weren't just slants, comebacks and outs but rather home runs over the top:
That my friends is called dropping it right in the bucket. These shots are not only displaying Darnold's natural ability as a passer, but his confidence that he can make a perfect throw to Anderson towards the back corner of the end zone.
While it wasn't caught against the Colts, Darnold dropped another beauty:
When this ball is thrown, Anderson isn't even close to separating from the cornerback. The ball leads him and with his speed, that's a wise decision.
On his second touchdown throw of the day against Indianapolis it wasn't perfect touch that the rookie quarterback needed, but rather execution of perfect timing:
This is a superb design from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. The Jets have a reputation of throwing multiple screens per game and the Colts clearly watched the film as their corners furiously bite at the fake.
Darnold holds them just long enough for Chris Herndon to get over the top, wide open for a touchdown. It might not look like the most complicated demand from the signal caller, but his ability to sell the screen is the difference between a dud and a touchdown.
After a very solid debut in Detroit, Darnold hit a bit of a rookie wall against a tough defensive stretch of Miami, Cleveland and Jacksonville.
Since those three consecutive losses, he's looked brilliant for a 21-year-old quarterback. He's challenging teams down the field and rather than 'managing the game', he's helping the Jets win.
It's safe to say the roller coaster is far from over. Gang Green is banged up, the offensive line has been wildly inconsistent and this is still the youngest starting quarterback in football.
With that being said there is a lot to be excited about from a six game sample of Sam Darnold. The Jets endless search for a franchise passer might finally be behind them.