Playing a rookie as an NFL quarterback can be a dangerous move, but it’s the right decision for the New York Jets and Sam Darnold.
Most NFL general managers are doing everything they can to lessen the expectations heaped on their first-round picks this time of year. That’s not Mike Maccagnan’s plan. Instead of playing down the idea of Sam Darnold playing early, the Jets’ GM openly admits that he has a real chance of winning the starting job.
Maccagnan told Rich Eisen that the Jets plan to “expose him to everything.” They aren’t going to hand him the starting job, but they will give him every opportunity to beat out Luke McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. With all due respect to the two incumbent Jets quarterbacks, neither is an exciting option for next season.
Darnold, on the other hand, has the talent to energize the Jets’ moribund offense. Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse are serviceable receivers but none really has the ability to be a top wide receiver. The Jets also lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the offseason. He may not be a perfect tight end but he did check in with 50 catches last season. That was good for third on the team behind the two starting wideouts.
The running game isn’t filled with difference makers either. The combination of Bilal Powell and newly-signed Isaiah Crowell could surprise some people, but they aren’t going to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators. Add it all up and it’s clear the lack of skill position talent on the roster means the Jets must start a quarterback who is capable of making plays on his own.
Darnold is the only option on the roster with that sort of potential. He’s not going to begin the season as a finished product, but he’s the only signal caller who can elevate the Jets offense on his best day. Starting him from the opening week would help he and the Jets prepare Darnold to be a positive force during the 2019 season.
That is, after all, the season the Jets front office should really be concerned with. The odds of New York contending in a division with the New England Patriots next year are pretty low. Neither the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills project to be world beaters, but they should still be a cut above the Jets.
It’s going to take Maccagnan and company at least one more offseason to get this roster headed in the right direction. Expect them to spend significant draft capital next season acquiring weapons to put around Darnold. This season should be devoted entirely to player development. That means that Darnold must be given every opportunity to play as many snaps as possible. It’s the best thing for the Jets now and for their future.