Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is heading into his second year in the NFL, and he’s poised to make a huge improvement from his rookie season.
Sam Darnold’s rookie season with the Jets can be described in one word: inconsistent.
Darnold had his ups and downs in his first year in the league, including a very rough mid-season stretch and a very strong finish. He finished the season with a positive touchdown:interception ratio, throwing 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
The stats may tell you he had a rough rookie season, and truth be told, it was rough at times. But, the important thing to remember is that he was, indeed, a rookie. When comparing his stats to other rookies, you can easily make the argument he was the second best rookie quarterback in 2018.
Not to mention, he was protected by a group of should-be backup offensive linemen, which included a center who couldn’t snap the ball well for several weeks. Also, the fact that he was handing the ball off to a bottom-five running back tandem every week didn’t help. Oh, and did I mention he was coached by Todd Bowles and Jeremy Bates?
You can make a strong argument that Darnold had a rough rookie season through his stats and his record, but were his struggles really his fault? He played with a roster that was very mediocre in terms of talent, and he was coached by a defensive mind who lost his head coaching job and an offensive coordinator who’s currently waiting on the unemployment line.
An Improved Supporting Cast
The 2019 offseason came around, and the Jets had one major goal: add talent to help Darnold. And they did just that. They signed star running back Le’Veon Bell to a four year deal. Bell’s presence in the backfield will provide a huge boost to the offense. He’ll be a major piece for Darnold in year two, in several ways.
Bell’s production as a runner is well beyond the production that Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire gave Darnold last season. The Jets averaged less than three yards per carry six times last season. Bell’s averaged less than three yards per carry once in his last three seasons.
Bell’s impact in the passing game will be extremely beneficial for Darnold as well. He has a career catch percentage of 78.6%, which is unreal. That number is the highest in the league since he was drafted in 2013 among running backs with at least 250 receptions.
The Jets didn’t stop upgrading there. They also added Jamison Crowder to the team, who’s been one of the most productive slot receivers in football when healthy. He’s a big upgrade from Jermaine Kearse, whose catch rate of 48.7% ranked 49th out of 50 wide receivers with at least 75 targets.
The team also traded for Kelechi Osemele to beefed up the offensive line. Osemele is a former Pro Bowler, and will be a huge upgrade to James Carpenter at left guard. These three upgrades alone will be a huge boost for Darnold in his sophomore year.
A Proven Offensive Mind
The Jets’ offseason upgrades went beyond acquiring players. They also brought in Adam Gase to replace Todd Bowles as head coach. Gase will also be calling plays on the offensive end for the Jets. Compared to Jeremy Bates, Gase is an absolute mastermind when it comes to calling plays.
The highlight of Gase’s career was in Denver, where Peyton Manning broke about every notable record in 2013. Gase was the offensive coordinator for the Broncos that year. He called plays for what was arguably the best passing offense ever. That’s a heck of an accomplishment.
Darnold will be able to thrive under a good play caller. No more watching the same predictable plays from Bates over and over again. No more screen passes to Eric Tomlinson. No more one yard handoffs to Isaiah Crowell on first and second down. In year two, Darnold will have a smart, effective play caller.
Darnold may not be in the best situation, but it’s certainly an improved situation compared to last year. With a season under his belt and tons of more help coming to New York, Darnold is set for a huge jump in year two.