Sam Darnold stunk. The Jets still let him down

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DJ Bien-Aime II, New York Daily News
·4 min read
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Quarterbacks that succeed in the NFL are usually in organizations that breed a healthy environment. And as bad as Sam Darnold was, the Jets failed him.

Darnold was the most touted quarterback coming out of the hyped 2018 class, but never lived up to the billing coming out of USC.

The quarterbacks that have succeeded from that class are the Bills’ Josh Allen, Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield. Those three were drafted to organizations that surrounded their young quarterbacks with the proper talent to allow them to succeed.

In three seasons Darnold threw for 8,097 yards, 45 touchdowns and tossed 39 interceptions with a passer rating of 78.6. His record as a starter was 13-25.

Darnold’s best season came in 2019, where he threw for 3,024 yards, 19 touchdowns and went 7-6 as a starter in 13 games.

But in 2020, the Jets finished 2-14 and Darnold was terrible. He completed 59.6% of his passes and threw for 2,208 yards with only nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 12 games. He had a passer rating of 72.9 and a quarterback rating of 40.1.

This resulted in the Jets trading Darnold to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022.

But compare his journey to that of his classmates.

In 2020, Mayfield finally lived up to the No. 1 pick, as the Browns went 11-5 and notched their first playoff win since Jan.1, 1995 when Bill Belichick was their coach.

But Mayfield has elite weaponry with two pro bowl running backs in Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, a receiving core led by pro bowlers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, and two good tight ends in Austin Hooper and David Njoku. And maybe most important of all, the Browns had the best pass-protecting offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus.

Jackson’s record as a starter is 30-7 but the Ravens have provided Jackson with an elite defense. Since 2018, the defense has allowed 18.3 points per game. He’s also been accompanied by the best rushing attack in the NFL, which averaged 204 yards in 2019 and 192 yards per game in 2020. He’s also rushed for 2,211 yards over the past two seasons, which aided their offense.

Jackson has benefited from not having to play from behind or shoulder the whole load on offense. He led the league in touchdown passes (36) in 2019 — where he won MVP — and threw for 26 in 2020.

Allen struggled his rookie year where he threw 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions but the team improved in his second year. In 2019, the Bills defense improved and only allowed 16.5 points per game (2nd) and they added Cole Beasley and John Brown to the receiving core. They bloostered the running game with the addition of Frank Gore and Devin Singletary.

Like Mayfield, Allen was erratic for two years before a jump in year three. They slowly built up his weapons, adding Cole Beasley and John Brown, then gave him a chance to explode in 2020 by adding Stefon Diggs. And explode he did, with 4,544 yards passing, 45 total touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

The best offensive player Jets ever gave Darnold was Le’Veon Bell — a colossal bust in New York. He rushed for 863 yards and three touchdowns in 17 games before being released midseason in 2020.

Darnold never had a good receiving corps. PFF graded the Jets wide receiver group 31st in 2020, 16th in 2019 and 27th in 2018.

The drop from 2019 to 2020 can be at least partially explained by not re-signing Robby Anderson, one of Darnold’s favorite targets, and having slot receiver Jamison Crowder be the team’s top option.

Since 2018, the Jets have drafted five offensive skill players: tight end Chris Herndon, running back Trenton Cannon, tight end Trevon Wesco, wide receiver Denzel Mims and running back La’Mical Perine.

Mims has shown promise; we’ll see about Perine. The rest of the group didn’t do anything for the Jets.

The running attack was never good as the Jets averaged 94 yards rushing per game in three seasons with Darnold.

Even with a bright star in Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ offensive line was bad last season. PFF rated the unit 29th in the league. Darnold was pressured on 42.1% of his dropbacks, which was most in the NFL.

The Jets hired Adam Gase coming off a disappointing tenure in Miami, where Gase went 23-25 and his offenses were pathetic as they averaged 19.8 points per game.

Gase brought his horrendous offense to New York and Darnold suffered from it.

Many of these moves were made by former general manager Mike Maccagnan who was there from 2015-2019. But current general manager Joe Douglas better know which mistakes ultimately got Gase fired and Darnold traded.

The Jets have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and have been linked to BYU’s Zach Wilson throughout the offseason. Darnold’s failed development is a cautionary tale; the Jets must learn from it for Wilson to succeed.