When the New York Jets selected Sam Darnold No. 3 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, there was some who believed it would take a while for him to round into a starter-caliber quarterback.
The USC product was just barely of legal drinking age when he put on a Jets cap during the draft that April. He had two years of starting experience with the Trojans, throwing an eye-opening 22 interceptions in the process.
At that time, general manager Mike Maccagnan was looking to the future with the hope that then-head coach Adam Gase could work his magic with Darnold.
Since then, both the general manager and embattled head coach were jettisoned from Jersey quicker than a Tony Soprano foe.
After just three seasons with the Jets, Sam Darnold was shipped off to the Carolina Panthers this past spring by general manager Joe Douglas.
The idea was to find a new quarterback for first-year head coach Robert Saleh with BYU product Zach Wilson being the selection at No. 2 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. All of this is pretty well known. But it gives us some cover in indicating that Darnold is now about to make fools of the Jets’ former and current brass.
Sam Darnold playing elite football with the Carolina Panthers
After accounting for 45 touchdowns against 39 interceptions while putting the ball on the turf 20 times in 38 starts with the Jets, Darnold has found something in Carolina.
While it’s a small two-game sample size, he’s been what we’d call elite. Including a 279-yard outing against his former Jets squad in Week 1, the youngster has been stellar.
Sam Darnold stats
- Completion %: 68.5
- Yards: 584
- Total touchdowns: 4
- Interceptions: 1
- QB rating: 100.5
To put this into perspective, Darnold threw all of nine touchdowns in 12 starts under Gase last season in Jersey. He’s on pace to tally 34 total touchdowns in 2021.
It helps that the still-young 24-year-old quarterback has a much better supporting cast in Carolina. But the idea that New York would give up on him after three seasons under less-than-stellar circumstances never really made sense in the first place.
Darnold is now working with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson to form what is a growing offense.
Zach Wilson struggles, overall New York Jets’ nightmare
This isn’t to question Robert Saleh as a head coach. He has been among the most-respected defensive minds in the NFL over the past half-decade. Two games of less-than-stellar showings is not going to change this.
The question now becomes what Zach Wilson offers moving forward that Darnold might not have been able to provide the Jets? It’s not a narrative or something that’s premature to bring up.
Through his first two NFL games, the BYU product has led the Jets to an average of 10 points per game. He’s completing less than 56% of his passes and has thrown two touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Sure Wilson might end up being a good quarterback. There’s a reason why he went No. 2 overall.
But without a ton of skill-position talent and with a greenish play-caller in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur calling the shots, Wilson is not set up for immediate success in Jersey. It’s a similar situation that Darnold found himself in three short years ago. Did we mention that Darnold is a mere two years older than Wilson?
Below-market value for Sam Darnold
It’s not that Darnold showed us much in his three seasons with the Jets. That’s why there was a limited market for his services. Heck, the Southern California native wasn’t even Panthers owner David Tepper’s top choice. Instead, that was Deshaun Watson before allegations of sexual assault were levied in his direction.
With all of that said, acquiring a second-round pick and two mid-round selections for a still-young and talented quarterback was below-market value for Joe Douglas and Co. That’s especially true given the quarterback market and how it has played out.
Chance to shine on national television
All of this comes with Sam Darnold set to take on the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. He has his Panthers at 2-0 on the season and playing tremendous football. Heck, here’s a team that blew out the New Orleans Saints last week. The same Saints squad that defeated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, 38-3.
Carolina is in a situation where it doesn’t have to rely on Darnold to throw the ball 40-plus times per game. It has the best dual-threat back in the game in that of Christian McCaffrey. It also boasts a top-10 defense heading into Week 3.
All of this equates to success on the part of the young signal caller as he attempts to resurrect his career. All the while, the Jets lack any sense of identity and have been among the worst teams in the NFL through two weeks.
In the end, this could ultimately be an embarrassing moment for New York even as the team looks to be rejuvenated from a organization-wide standpoint following the disastrous end of Gase’s tenure.