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Sam Darnold continuing to progress as season nears its end

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets looks on agains tthe Minnesota Vikings during their game at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets looks on agains tthe Minnesota Vikings during their game at MetLife Stadium on October 21, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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When New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan traded up in the 2018 NFL Draft and selected Sam Darnold, he was hoping that he had taken a player who could transform into a franchise quarterback, and if these last few weeks have been any indication, that very well may be the case.

Following last April’s NFL Draft, the New York Jets front office appeared to be confident that 21-year-old Sam Darnold could be the signal caller that the organization has desperately been looking for and that became even more apparent when he was named the Week 1 starter. However, it was expected that Darnold would have his ups and downs and make his fair share of mistakes as he adapted to life as a rookie quarterback in New York.

And that certainly proved to be true, as Darnold experienced growing pains throughout the first nine weeks of his professional career. During that time period, the USC product completed 159 of 289 passing attempts, threw for 11 touchdowns and at that time a league-leading 15 interceptions, while leading his team to a 3-6 record.

Now, of course, Darnold isn’t to be fully blamed for the early struggles he experienced. First off, as previously mentioned, it was expected that he would need ample time to learn, grow and adapt. In addition, he isn’t exactly surrounded with a lot of weapons on offense and his offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, was often receiving criticism for a lack of creativity with play calling.

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Regardless, Darnold was struggling a bit and what led to more concern was the fact that he suffered a foot injury that forced him to the sidelines for four weeks. Since his return against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 9, however, Darnold has seemed to flip a switch and in the last three weeks, he’s played the best football of his young career thus far.

Against the Bills, Darnold completed 16 of 24 passes for 170 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. A week later, he turned it up a notch, going toe-to-toe with a talented Texans defense and completing 24 of 38 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. And this past weekend at MetLife Stadium against the Packers, Darnold continued to compete at a high level, completing 24 of 35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

In addition to Darnold performing well, Chris Herndon has continued his production while Robby Anderson has seemed to return to form. Bates has also seemed to open up the playbook a bit more for Darnold.

And while the Jets have only come out victorious once in the last three weeks, their season was lost before that. And besides, this season has always been about Darnold and his development and throughout the last three weeks, he’s been the highest graded quarterback in the NFL.

Ultimately, 2018 will once again be a season to forget for the Jets in terms of wins and losses, but in a way, it may represent the start of a new beginning. In recent weeks, Darnold has played the type of football that the Jets have so long searched for out of a quarterback.

He’s continued to progress and develop and if he can keep it up, he’ll become exactly what Maccagnan was hoping he’d be when he selected him on that Wednesday night back in April.

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