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Sam Darnold’s roadmap through a New York Jets sophomore campaign

06/06/2019
Robby Sabo

Welcome to the Sam Darnold roadmap as he eventually travels through a New York Jets sophomore campaign in 2019.

An eventual stat line consisting of 3,398 yards, 24 touchdowns and 18 interceptions is the completely fictional Sam Darnold sophomore projection with the express purpose intended only for this particular story.

Can you dig it? No. Of course you can’t.

You live in a world filled with Darnold dreams. The elevation of sophomore-campaign quarterbacks such as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and even Patrick Mahomes (to a contrasting extent) leave you craving more from No. 14.

Less than 3,400 yards isn’t enough. Just 24 scores is a near insult ready to start and old-fashioned glove-slapping duel. And 19 interceptions? Well, let’s skip that one completely.

The point is simple: expect progress, but be careful. Unfortunately, non-Pro Bowl numbers may not even be up to Darnold himself. While his skills certainly translate to a 35 touchdown, 4,000-yard right arm, other factors must first show face before those gaudy stats are even possible.

The New York Jets offensive line remains a killer, a liability that’s simply never discussed enough.

Sure, label Adam Gase step No. 1. That’s fine. Gase, for all the smack talk thrown his way, represents an excellent quarterback coach. Ryan Tannehill‘s overwhelming stats compared to his actual talent level prove such a theory true.

Of course, go ahead and claim Le’Veon Bell will help the Darnold cause. The lyrical-spitting workhorse brings an element to the table very few quarterbacks can enjoy. Just make sure you understand where this factor truly lies in the pecking order.

Until this offensive line is fixed, Darnold’s NFL days will be handicapped. And with that, we now travel down Sam Darnold’s sophomore season roadmap.

The Sam Darnold 2019 Season Roadmap

Week 1: vs. Buffalo Bills

  • 27-23 loss (0-1)
  • 225 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

An opening-week loss at home against the Buffalo Bills would be a tough one to swallow. But hey, this is the NFL; anything can happen, especially to the Jets.

As the offense attempts to get a feel for Gase’s new offense, the three-step drop rules the roost. Darnold’s completion percentage is up but the big chunks lack. It’s especially glaring considering such an offense is needed to make up for a porous offensive line.

Darnold plays a solid game, throwing a late cheap interception on a hail mary attempt.

Week 2: vs. Cleveland Browns

  • 24-14 victory (1-1)
  • 283 yards passing, 2 touchdowns

Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. After a disheartening opener, they handle the improved Cleveland Browns at home in Week 2.

Darnold outplays Baker Mayfield. Collecting 283 yards and two scores finish as secondary to his overall smart brand of ball. Thus far, Le’Veon Bell’s rushing attack hasn’t been able to get on track, yet he’s meshing well in the receiving game.

Week 3: @ New England Patriots

  • 31-13 loss (1-2)
  • 163 yards passing, 1 rushing touchdown, 3 interceptions

Bam. Up in Foxborough, Darnold gets slammed down to the turf all game long. Bill Belichick’s defense routinely rushes four and beats the Jets O-line to the tune of six sacks.

Week 5: @ Philadelphia Eagles

  • 26-20 loss (1-3)
  • 211 yards passing, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions

A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles here would New York at 1-3. At this point, Darnold is doing everything he can. He’s attempting to play smart and hang in the pocket, but just can’t. Always breaking the pocket earlier than he wants is starting to catch up.

Week 6: vs. Dallas Cowboys

  • 38-21 victory (2-3)
  • 321 yards passing, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception

With their backs up against the wall, a dandy of a gameplan is put forth against the nasty Dallas Cowboys defense. Gase finally breaks through on the ground.

It allows the play-action to become a major weapon and Darnold hits Robby Anderson on two 50-plus yard nine-routes, a Quincy Enunwa red-zone slant and Chris Herndon seam for scores.

Week 7: vs. New England Patriots

  • 27-26 victory (3-3)
  • 289 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

In a thriller that seemingly changes the season around, Gase recaptures that (occasional) magic touch against the Pats.

Bell out of the backfield dominates in the game. With over 100 yards receiving by way of screens, flats and everything in between, Darnold coasts despite decent pressure.

Week 8: @ Jacksonville Jaguars

  • 23-10 loss (3-4)
  • 33 yards passing, 1 interception

Feeling good at 3-3 and, suddenly, boom. Disaster strikes.

On the second drive of the game, first-round selection Josh Allen abuses Kelvin Beachum with a swim and gets to the sophomore gunslinger. On the takedown, Darnold immediately favors his right shoulder.

Folks, this is the great concern. For three years running, Mike Maccagnan did not address the offensive line. Selecting just three O-linemen in 34 total picks spread over five seasons (two fifth rounders and one third-rounder) will create massive issues for a possible franchise quarterback.

Darnold exits, doesn’t return and the team is hit with a devastating blow.

Week 9: @ Miami Dolphins

  • 17-13 loss (3-5)
  • Injured

The Jets lose a defensive battle down in Miami with Trevor Siemian running the show. As well as Gregg Williams’s defense plays on this day, it’s not enough as all Darnold can do is watch from the sideline.

Week 10: vs. New York Giants

  • 23-16 loss (3-6)
  • Injured

What a dent it would be if young Sam Darnold couldn’t go for the once-every-four-year battle against the Giants. He can’t and the Jets lose again, their third straight, to an underrated young Jints roster.

Week 11: @ Washington Redskins

  • 20-10 victory (4-6)
  • 287 yards passing, 1 rushing touchdown

Sam Darnold returns to action in D.C. and watches Bell and Gase’s zone-rushing system work nicely. He contributes himself with a goal-line naked boot for a score.

Week 12: vs. Oakland Raiders

  • 28-26 loss (4-7)
  • 295 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

It’s impossible to play the win, loss, win, loss game with any team’s schedule prior to the season. We never know which teams are improved and which are paper tigers. While the Oakland Raiders won’t be world beaters in 2019, they also won’t resemble Jon Gruden’s 2018 horrid output.

In a tough one on the west coast, Darnold plays well, but the Jets can’t muster a conventional four-man pass rush defensively. Two scores and nearly 300 yards through the air falls short.

Week 13: @ Cincinnati Bengals

  • 38-17 victory (5-7)
  • 367 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

In Week 13, the kid doesn’t mess around. He’s chucking the ball left and right, up and down, and far down the field now that the media has jumped all over Gase’s short-timing offense not equaling much by way of substance.

Darnold opens the game with a steady opening-score drive when he connects with Jamison Crowder on a corner route. The Jets never look back.

Week 14: vs. Miami Dolphins

  • 33-16 victory (6-7)
  • 242 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

It’s always tough to sweep or be swept by the Dolphins. It won’t happen in 2019.

Two touchdowns and two interceptions perfectly encapsulate Darnold’s up-and-down day in Miami. He makes plenty of plays but is also under the gun constantly.

Week 15: @ Baltimore Ravens

  • 24-23 loss (6-8)
  • 220 yards passing, 2 touchdowns

The quarterback plays well against a tough Baltimore Ravens team with the season on the line (6-7). It’s just not enough.

He’s sacked three times but continues to get up and fight. The Jets fall down early yet eventually make up a 24-7 third-quarter deficit to make it a nail-biting experience.

On 4th-and-3 from midfield, the Ravens dial up a Cover 1 Robber that allows Anderson a one-on-one shot on the sideline. Unfortunately, the comeback doesn’t hit. With pressure bearing down on Darnold, he’s forced to release it in tight coverage as the ball falls incomplete.

New York Jets

Week 16: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • 30-21 victory (6-9)
  • 284 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who eventually win the AFC North, are stunned by Sam and the Jets in Week 16. It’s a holiday special that features 284 yards and two scores through the air.

Week 17: @ Buffalo Bills

  • 23-13 loss (7-9)
  • 178 yards passing, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions

Much like 2015, the Jets go down in flames in Orchard Park, New York on the last week of the season. Unlike 2015, there was no tournament berth on the line.

Darnold finishes the season the same way he started and played through the entire season: fighting.

Final Stats, Thoughts

  • Overall record: 7-9
  • Final stats: 3,398 yards, 24 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 62.5 completion percentage in 14 games played (with one game ending in the first quarter via injury).

Perhaps that production feels light to a Jets fan. With recent examples of sophomore quarterbacks exploding on the scene, 4,000-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns represent the current best-case projected outlook.

Remember, he essentially plays only 13 full games in this roadmap. Also remember, he’s working behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines.

Sam Darnold will progress during the year 2019. Adam Gase can be the right man for the job and Le’Veon Bell will help. But grasping where the true development points lie (offensive line, overall culture, entire coaching direction) is the crucial part of the puzzle still up for grabs.

Until the Jets secure premium top-selection offensive line talent in the NFL Draft, Darnold is playing in a fixed game unfairly stacked against his favor.

His top concern remains the same: can my pass protection hold up against even a four-man rush? The thought is completely contrasting to youngsters like Goff, Wentz and Mahomes who say, “I know my offensive line is legit; let’s get after it.”

Until the New York Jets take care of the true infrastructure of the offense, Sam Darnold won’t experience the level playing field his young counterparts currently enjoy, meaning the road map remains one foggy and nail-biting mystery.

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