Sam Darnold had a solid rookie campaign with the New York Jets in 2018, making 13 starts and throwing for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions while completing 57.7 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of 77.6.
Most of Darnold’s better games came during the second half of the season, where the youngster began showing Jets fans that he may very well be their quarterback of the future.
But now, there are actually some expectations for Darnold and Gang Green heading into 2019, as New York has made some big offseason additions that has some wondering whether or not it can make the playoffs.
Of course, the Jets’ playoff hopes will almost certainly hinge on what improvements Darnold has made, so how can Darnold take the next step this coming season?
Well, it starts with being more comfortable in the pocket and not rushing throws.
The biggest issue with Darnold’s rookie campaign was turnovers and inaccurate throws in general, and while some of that can certainly be pinned on a shaky offensive line and a less-than-stellar receiving corps, a lot of it falls on Darnold’s shoulders, as well.
There were times where Darnold got happy feet in the pocket and forced throws into tight coverage, throws that were either picked off or resulted in completions.
Now, that is completely normal for a rookie quarterback. Guys who are 21 years old (Darnold’s age when he entered the league) don’t generally come into the NFL and light it up right off the bat. There are some growing pains that come with young signal-callers, and Darnold certainly experienced those in 2018.
And you know what? Darnold will likely continue to go through those pains this coming season as a 22-year-old. The key is for him to minimize his mistakes as much as possible and simply be better than he was a year ago.
We probably all need to relax with the expectations for the Jets. They are playing in an incredibly deep AFC and have a second-year quarterback under center. Chances are, they aren’t going to make the postseason.
So, if New York is a bit disappointing, don’t pin it on Darnold. The Jets probably shouldn’t win any more than eight or nine games this coming season, and it wouldn’t even be surprising if they won six.
Darnold needs to tune out all of that chatter about the Jets being playoff contenders and merely focus on doing his job and improving every week. He needs to make more careful throws and understand when he should simply make the check down pass to Le’Veon Bell rather than trying to force it downfield to Robby Anderson.
The good news is that Darnold now has a really reliable slot receiver in Jamison Crowder, so he can represent somewhat of a security blanket for Darnold on those shot and intermediate throws.
Not everything has to be a bomb, even when you have the arm strength of Darnold. Sometimes, it’s much more effective and efficient to just move the chains with a five-yard pass than trying to go for it all with a 50-yarder.
Those are things that Darnold will learn as he goes along, and they are things he will have to do in 2019 in order to reach that next level.