Following a disastrous 1-7 start to the season, the “regression” of New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has become a highly-debated topic amongst fans and media members alike.
Through eight games thus far, the New York Jets are far from the position they had hoped — or possibly even expected — to be in. To be blunt, the team has been downright abysmal in essentially all aspects of football.
In other words, the team has had no shortage of issues to deal with, both on and off the field.
One of the more surprising, or perhaps unexpected, issues, however, has been the regression of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
Despite dealing with some turnover issues throughout his time playing collegiate football at the University of Southern California, Darnold was a highly regarded prospect in a draft class with more than one talented quarterback heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.
Many had even considered him to be the top quarterback in the class, which made it surprising to some when the Cleveland Browns passed on him and selected Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick.
Regardless, Darnold fell into the Jets’ lap at No. 3 and the organization felt as if it had finally found the franchise quarterback it had so long sought for.
Given Darnold’s age and lack of experience paired with the talent he was surrounded with, it was expected that his rookie season would be filled with ups and downs.
That certainly turned out to be the case early on, but Darnold began to turn things around towards the tail end of the season, giving a small glimpse of what potentially lied ahead.
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Over the final four-game stretch of the 2018 season, Darnold completed 80-of-125 passes for 931 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception. He was making big plays, smart decisions and playing like the type of quarterback the Jets had hoped they drafted.
Following the completion of the 2018 season, Darnold had left the Jets feeling optimistic and the organization made it a top priority to surround the 22-year-old with as much talent as possible.
And prior to the start of this season, it seemed as if the team had done a solid job of doing just that.
Adam Gase, considered to be an offensive-minded head coach, was brought in to develop Darnold. Highly-touted running back Le’Veon Bell was signed to a four-year deal, while slot receiver Jamison Crowder was also acquired to give Darnold another weapon.
Simply put, things were looking up for the Jets offense. And through training camp, Darnold was reportedly progressing and meshing with the unit nicely.
That, however, now seems like a lifetime ago.
Aside from the team’s poor overall performance this season, Darnold’s performance has been quite alarming as well. He’s performed far below the level he did at the end of last season and, at times, has looked like a completely different player.
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It is, however, important to put the situation into context. After a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Darnold missed four weeks due to being diagnosed with mononucleosis, an illness that severely weakens the body.
Upon his return against the Dallas Cowboys though, Darnold looked reinvigorated, completing 23-of-32 passes for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a thrilling 24-22 win.
It was this type of performance that drew flashbacks to 2018’s final stretch and that gave hope that all may be well with the young signal-caller.
Since then, however, it has all been downhill. The Jets have gone 0-3 and have put together a string of embarrassing performances.
Darnold personally has completed 59-of-101 passes for 564 yards, three touchdowns, and eight interceptions during the losing streak. On the season as a whole, he has thrown for 1,077 yards, six touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
There’s no denying that Darnold’s performance throughout this season thus far has been poor, but it begs the question of whether that’s because of his own personal regression or because of the state of the Jets team.
Ultimately, the answer may be that it’s because of a mix of both.
In terms of Darnold, he’s simply looked lost. His decision making has been incredibly questionable, as evidenced by the increasing amount of turnovers. In addition, his footwork has become a liability and he’s failing to make the big plays he’s shown he’s capable of making.
At the same time, the Jets offensive line has been atrocious all season, constantly dealing with communication issues while consistently proving that they’re incapable of protecting Darnold.
The offense is also still lacking a true No. 1 wide receiver and has been without tight end Chris Herndon, a player Darnold developed noticeable chemistry with last season.
And on top of that, Gase has looked unlike the “offensive guru” he was advertised as. His play-calling has lacked creativity. His strategy has, at times, been head-scratching to say the least.
He just hasn’t been able to devise a scheme that gets the most out of the weapons he has at his disposal.
Moving forward, it’s apparent that improvements must be made across the board. Darnold needs to work on his footwork. He needs to be smarter with the ball and smarter with his decision making. But he also needs help.
The offensive line needs to be re-built. Playmakers need to be brought in. And Gase needs to figure out what works and stick to it.
It may not be time to label Darnold a bust, but unless changes are made, the New York Jets will continue to find themselves in a constant state of struggle.