Through the turmoil and distress during this season, the signs indicating that Sam Darnold could be the next groundbreaking franchise quarterback are very much in place. Since returning from injury three weeks ago he ranks first among quarterbacks in overall grade and passing grade by Pro Football Focus.
Darnold has dealt with inconsistent runningback play, a shaky offensive line and a depleted, banged up wide receiving core throughout most of his rookie campaign. With all that said, he still has been able to compile 17 touchdowns while completing passes at a 57.8% clip.
His best game came last week against the Packers, where he threw for 341 yards, completed 24 of 35 throws (68%) and three touchdowns. It was the second time he threw for three touchdowns this season. The 128.4 passer rating was Darnold’s best of the season.
The best part about the game was that the solid performance from Darnold still ended in a loss, which ultimately helped the Jets move up to third in the projected draft standings. The numbers speak for themselves but the most underrated part about Darnold’s game was the way he managed it.
He spread the ball to a bunch of receivers while also not shying away from making tight throws in traffic. One of his best throws came in the redzone to Chris Herndon, where Herndon was able to make a terrific one-handed catch near the goaline in traffic.
When the game was on the line and the Jets were down three with just under a minute and a half to go, he engineered a drive that would put them in field goal range, ultimately tying the game up and sending it to overtime.
Another positive sign has been the connection between him and Robby Anderson. Anderson has had a disappointing campaign after posting solid numbers in 2017, but over the past few weeks they have looked to be on the same page. He has 312 yards on 20 catches in the three games since Darnold’s return from injury. Showing more signs as a reputable redzone target, he has a touchdown in each of those three games as well.
Building around a young quarterback, especially with a low contract has been a model to follow for teams in the NFL. The Eagles were able to win a Super Bowl last season with the help of Carson Wentz throughout the regular season and a strong defense to carry them through the playoffs. In Los Angeles the Rams have surrounded Jared Goff with playmakers and a solid offensive line, which has upped his game to almost MVP type levels.
Going into the offseason the Jets will have plenty of money to spend. Part of the $100+ million in cap space should go towards offensive linemen, wideouts, and maybe a new runningback. Surrounding Sam with talent should be priority number one.
Although the games in December seem worthless with the Jets eliminated from playoff contention, the progression from Darnold is the biggest key. Each week he finds new ways to get better with each play. In the long run, these games might not be so meaningless after all.