If things go as planned—a rare occurrence for the New York Jets—Sam Darnold will emerge as a franchise-caliber quarterback and end his career as the team’s greatest (or second greatest) signal-caller. Darnold is still just 23, but hasn’t quite shown enough in his first two seasons to earn inclusion on the following list of the five greatest QBs in Jets history:
5) Butt-fumble aside, there’s a case to make for Mark Sanchez, who did win four(!) road playoff games during his first two seasons, taking the Jets—buoyed by Rex Ryan’s defense—to the cusp of the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010. Overall, Sanchez posted a 4-2 record in the postseason with a 94.2 passer rating, nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. In the regular season, he produced just 68 touchdowns to 69 interceptions.
4) Ken O’Brien represents a sore spot for Jets fans because he was drafted ahead of Dan Marino in 1983, but O’Brien was solid in the Meadowlands for nine seasons. He won 50 games—second most in franchise history—and threw for 124 touchdowns and 24,386 yards, leading the Jets to the playoffs three times and making two Pro Bowls. In 1986, O’Brien had the best game of his career—479 yards and four touchdowns—over Marino’s Miami Dolphins in a 51-45 Jets win.
3) Vinny Testaverde was a fan-favorite, and played quality football for six seasons. Testaverde didn’t arrive in New York until 1998 at age 35, but still made the Pro Bowl and took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game that season. He posted a 35-26 record in New York—the most wins by any Jets quarterback with a record over .500—and threw for 12,490 yards and 77 touchdowns while leading the team to three playoff berths. Testaverde’s most memorable performance came in 2000, when he tossed five touchdowns in the Monday Night Miracle.
2) Chad Pennington’s prime was cut short due to shoulder injuries and an unwelcome cameo from Brett Favre, but the Marshall alum shined early in his tenure. He brought the Jets to the playoffs three times, winning two games, including leading the game-winning drive over the San Diego Chargers in the 2005 AFC Wild Card round (with an assist from Nate Kaeding). Pennington’s shoulder woes hindered his ability to throw deep, but his intelligence consistently rendered him as one of the best red-zone quarterbacks in the game. He logged 82 touchdowns to 55 picks with New York, and led the league in passer rating in 2002—the same year in which the Jets won the AFC East and trounced the Indianapolis Colts 41-0 in the Wild Card round. In 2006, Pennington won the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
1) No plot twists here. “Broadway” Joe Namath remains the most iconic player in Jets history, and an outsized figured in New York sports lore. He’s the only QB to lead the Jets to a Super Bowl victory—upsetting the Baltimore Colts (favored by 18 points), 16-7, in Super Bowl III in 1969—while backing up his famous guarantee. Namath still holds the team record in wins (60), touchdown passes (170), passing yards (27057), and enviable nights on the town (ongoing).