Two preseason games into his New York Jets career, quarterback Sam Darnold has much to improve upon before he’s ready to win the starting job.
For the second-consecutive week, New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold posted respectable numbers, but failed to make a consistent impact on the offense during his time on the field. The third overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft completed 8-of-11 attempts for 62 yards, one interception, and took two sacks. Like the previous week against the Atlanta Falcons, Darnold primarily made underneath, conservative throws.
Darnold’s a quality fit for Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ West Coast scheme. He makes quick decisions based on pre-snap reads and is highly accurate on short throws. That’s been the case thus far in the preseason, with 11-of-14 of his passes between zero and 10 yards being catchable.
Where Darnold’s struggled is showing that he’s ready handle more advanced concepts. The Washington Redskins easily handled Darnold’s play script, in part due to their defensive line dominating, but also because the secondary was only challenged on one intermediate throw. It was a dart on a third down conversion.
It was a forgettable night outside of that throw. The previous week was similar, with one throw standing out among the 18 attempts. He finished Week 1 going 13-of-18 for 96 yards and one touchdown.
Five of those 18 attempts were behind the line of scrimmage, and another seven were 10 yards or less. It’s possible to build a successful offense with so many short throws, but unless it’s Drew Brees or Tom Brady controlling the helm, the offense is more likely to be toothless in the red zone.
His issues with turnovers have carried over from USC so far, too. He had a dropped interception in the first game. Washington converted their opportunity to log his first interception, forcing it on a fourth down where he threw the ball into a double team.
It’s hard to fault Darnold for trying to make something happen, but he did throw an interceptable pass on 4.38% of his passes in 2017 in college. He’s a major risk-taker, so he’ll have to create big plays to offset the turnovers.
None of this is to say that Darnold has been bad, or won’t improve. He’s been quick to identify what the defense will give him on free releases, and has been accurate on his short throws. His athleticism and ability to get outside of the pocket has also been encouraging.
But with two capable veterans in front of him, Darnold should be able to sit the bench as long as possible in 2018. The Jets can be a competitive, defensive-led team in a weak AFC. The offense will need more consistency than what Darnold’s shown ready for, and that’s okay because of the depth they’ve built around him.
With two games remaining in the preseason for the Jets, they should take the opportunity have him be more aggressive downfield. The short layups are good for his confidence in the short-term, but having him create on longer-developing plays is where his magic came out at USC. His timing with receivers on comebacks, deep outs, and post routes has to be developed.
If Bates can start building the foundation for Darnold to improve his play within structure and keep his feet aligned with his shoulders, then they may see the rookie ready faster than anticipated. There’s been little to suggest so far that he should be higher than third on the depth chart as currently constituted, though the Jets may trade Bridgewater to clear some of his competition.