At one point, Sam Darnold was considered a Trevor Lawrence-level prospect.
He had just finished a strong redshirt freshman season at USC. At the 2017 NFL scouting combine, a year before Darnold could enter the draft, everyone raved about him. Darnold had a turnover-filled sophomore season and his stock dipped a bit, but he was still the third pick of the draft to the New York Jets. The Jets traded a lot to move up and get him.
So far this season, the Jets and Darnold are equally terrible. The Jets are 0-3 and Darnold is sinking fast. They face the injury-riddled 0-3 Denver Broncos on Thursday night football, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
It’s not an appealing game from a matchup standpoint. But for the Jets, it’ll be another opportunity to watch Darnold and figure out if he’s salvageable.
Sam Darnold is off to a terrible start
Last Sunday, Darnold started the game against the Indianapolis Colts by throwing a pick-six. Later in the game, he threw another one.
It’s hard to find a stat in which there’s any hope for Darnold. Darnold wasn’t very good last season, and yet he’s worse this year in completion percentage, yards per game, yards per attempt (by a full yard, from 6.9 to 5.9), touchdown percentage, interception percentage and passer rating. He has three touchdowns and four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores.
Advanced stats aren’t kind either. Darnold’s Pro Football Focus grade ranks him 21st among 23 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks. He has the second-lowest average depth of target in the NFL, meaning he is not pushing the ball downfield at all. In two of Football Outsiders’ key metrics, DYAR and DVOA, Darnold ranks 30th and 29th among 33 qualified quarterbacks.
By any measure, Darnold has been one of the worst quarterbacks in football. That’s bad news in his critical third season.
Darnold hasn’t had much help
Darnold has some reasonable excuses. Top receivers Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder have missed time. So has running back Le’Veon Bell, who would help too. The Jets don’t have a great supporting cast, and the few talented players Darnold has to work with have been hurt. Also, there are questions about coach Adam Gase and his ability to maximize the talent of his players, to say the least.
Darnold is still just 23 years old and has physical gifts. Maybe with better teammates and a better coach he could still have a successful career. But the NFL isn’t patient. The Jets need to make a decision on Darnold’s fifth-year option after this season, and every game will be crucial in determining what to do. Right now there’s no great reason to exercise that fifth-year option, aside from Darnold’s draft pedigree and blind hope he can develop as he gets older.
Thursday night will be another chance for Darnold to get on track and start to change the troubling trajectory he’s on. The opposing quarterback Brett Rypien, the Broncos’ third starting quarterback this season. Rypien will be making his first career start. He was undrafted, on the Broncos practice squad a week ago and has nine career NFL passes. And the Jets can’t even be certain they’ll have the best quarterback on the field Thursday night.
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