Why should you believe in Sam Darnold? Michael Nania gives you 100 solid reasons.
Taking full advantage of favorable conditions
The league average pressure rate (percentage of dropbacks in which the quarterback is pressured) tends to hover around 34%. In eight career games in which he was pressured 34% of the time or less, Darnold completed 156-of-229 passes for 2,039 yards (8.9 per attempt, 254.9 per game), 16 touchdowns (7.0% rate), and six interceptions (2.6% rate), generating a 108.3 passer rating. The Jets went 7-1 in those games while the offense scored 29.0 points per game.
Absorbing far too much contact
In 2019, Darnold was sacked, hit while throwing, threw the ball away, or had his pass batted at the line on 16.1% of his dropbacks, the highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks.
Impact of his presence
Over the last two seasons, the Jets offense has averaged 11.2 more points in games started by Darnold than in games he missed, easily the biggest margin of any quarterback in the league.
Threading the needle to Crowder (@ BAL)
One of the most precise throws you will ever see. On the run, under duress, and closing in on the sideline, Darnold threads the needle.
The deep bomb to Anderson (vs. DAL)
Just 22 years and 130 days old at the time of this play, Darnold became the youngest quarterback in the Super Bowl era to record a completion of 90+ yards.
Thriving in spite of pressure
From Weeks 10-17 of 2019, Darnold took pressure on a higher percentage of dropbacks than any other qualified quarterback (41.9%), yet still ranked 10th in passer rating (93.3) & 11th in yards per attempt (7.3) over that span.
Darnold was the youngest Week 1 starting quarterback in NFL history when he took the field in Detroit for the 2018 season-opener (21 years, 97 days). At 22 years and 95 days old on the day of the 2019 season-opener, Darnold was the second-youngest Year 2 quarterback in league history, behind Michael Vick (22 years, 74 days in 2002).
Helmet-colliding throw under pressure (vs. MIA)
Darnold has shown great progress with his ability to deliver under pressure from the pocket, well-represented by this dime to Robby Anderson in which he accepts the oncoming hit and fires with confidence.
Clean pocket precision
From a clean pocket, Darnold had an adjusted completion percentage (filtering out drops, throwaways, etc.) of 81.7% in 2019, sixth-best out of 32 qualifiers.
Week 15 at Baltimore, 2019 (1/3)
Darnold and Ben Roethlisberger are the only quarterbacks under 23 years old to throw two touchdown passes as a visitor in Baltimore since 2000. The other six under-23 QBs to visit Baltimore combined for one touchdown pass.
Week 15 at Baltimore, 2019 (2/3)
Twenty-one quarterbacks aged 23 or younger have played in Baltimore since 2000. Only three threw at least two touchdown passes and averaged over 6.0 net yards per pass attempt (which adjusts yards per attempt for sack yardage): Darnold (2019), Baker Mayfield (2018), and Roethlisberger (2004).
Week 15 at Baltimore, 2019 (3/3)
Darnold tossed two touchdown passes during his trip to Baltimore. The other eight starting quarterbacks to visit Baltimore in 2019 combined for five touchdowns (0.6 per game) – Ryan Tannehill had two while Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mayfield had one each. Andy Dalton, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson each had none.
Stagnant run game
The offensive line was an atrocity in the run game. The Jets ranked 31st in rush offense DVOA in 2019, rarely providing Darnold with favorable down-and-distance situations. They also picked up a first down on just 15.9% of rush attempts, the worst rate since the 2002 Texans (a team known for its abhorrent offensive line that allowed 76 sacks on David Carr).
Joe Douglas providing support
With his first two draft picks (Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims), Joe Douglas invested 1,560 points worth of picks (according to the draft trade chart) into non-quarterback positions on offense. Mike Maccagnan used 1,141 points on non-quarterback offensive players with his 34 total picks over five drafts.
More so than any other individual position upfront, I believe that the center spot has caused the most harm to Darnold and the Jets.
Turn up Connor McGovern‘s music.
Make as many memes as you want, but Darnold’s bout with mononucleosis is about as fluky of an in-season detriment we have ever seen a starting quarterback deal with. It’s something that he had no control over and laid a serious dent in his second season. Not only did it greatly affect his first game of the season and keep him out of the next three, but it probably had lingering minor effects throughout the rest of the season as well.
You definitely need to include this as an asterisk when evaluating Darnold’s 2019, as if it were any “regular” injury that a player suffers and returns from mid-season. It greatly hampered his chances at the idealistic Year 1-to-Year 2 leap that many had envisioned for him.
Having gone 7-5 after Darnold’s return, it seems plausible that the Jets could have at least split their first four games with a healthy Darnold, which would have put them at 9-7 and tied for the AFC’s final wild card spot.
Darnold suffered a left thumb injury against the Jaguars in Week 8 that he played with throughout the season, getting surgery for it in January.
Too much pressure
According to Pro Football Focus, Darnold was pressured on 41.6% of his dropbacks in 2019, the highest rate among qualified quarterbacks.
Learning to handle the pressure
Darnold struggled in each of his first five career games in which he took a pressure rate of at least 40.0% (vs. MIA, @ CLE, @ JAX, @ CHI, and @ MIA in 2018), but he has since begun to pile up signature performances in which he had to deal with immense pressure. Since that stretch, I have graded Darnold’s performance positively in six of his past 10 games with a 40.0% pressure rate, including four of his past five (vs. NYG, @ WAS, @ CIN, @ BAL).
Touchdown to Crowder while taking hit (@ BAL)
Darnold shows his improving fortitude as he hangs tight in the pocket and delivers a bullet to the tightly-covered Crowder. Throwing from a congested pocket is an area where Darnold needs to improve, and he showed great progress there late in 2019.
Improved deep production
From Weeks 1-9 of 2019, Darnold ranked last out of 33 qualifiers with a 37.7 passer rating on deep throws (20+ yards downfield). From Weeks 10-17, he ranked 10th out of 36 qualifiers with a 104.9 passer rating on deep throws.
Missile to Anderson through double coverage (vs. PIT)
Darnold shows off his improvement in both of those two aforementioned areas – deep production and presence under pressure – as he steps up in the pocket under duress from T.J. Watt and perfectly leads Anderson through the double coverage.
Week 15 vs. Houston, 2018 (1/3)
Darnold had everything going against him on this Saturday night in New Jersey.
Houston had the league’s seventh-best defense (by season-end DVOA). J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney were set to go against Brandon Shell and Kelvin Beachum. That went predictably awful, and then things got even worse when Shell went down and was replaced by Brent Qvale. Darnold took a woeful 42.2% pressure rate.
The run game was abysmal. Darnold entered that week leading all quarterbacks in the percentage of his pass plays coming on 3rd/4th & 10+ (13.3%) – he exceeded his league-leading season average in the Houston game with a rate of 14.6%. In addition, the Jets entered the game ranked second-worst in percentage of 1st/2nd down runs resulting in no gain or less (25.0%) – that mark was 32.0% against Houston. Simply put, Jets running backs averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
To add some more fuel – the offense had eight penalties, the defense had no takeaways, Elijah McGuire lost a fumble, and Jason Myers missed two extra points.
Altogether, the support afforded to Darnold was somehow even more atrocious than its already league-worst standards. He had no business making the Jets competitive in this game.
Yet. . . he did.
Darnold carried the Jets in this game, delivering money throw after money throw with the majority of them coming under pressure and on the move. He also posted a still-standing career-best of four rushing first downs.
I graded it as his best game of 2018 and the second-best of his career (trailing the Cowboys game). It also stands as his best career game according to PFF grade (90.3) and QBR (85.6).
The Jets wound up losing to an elite team by only one touchdown even though just about every unit beside Darnold himself performed horribly.
Week 15 vs. Houston, 2018 (2/3)
In his games against Houston and Green Bay, Sam Darnold reached a 100.0+ passer rating while his teammates averaged below 3.0 yards per rushing attempt. Only five other quarterbacks did that multiple times in 2018 – Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan (3x), and Deshaun Watson (4x).
Week 15 vs. Houston, 2018 (3/3)
Darnold posted a passing EPA (estimated points added) of 11.3 against the Texans, which was the 17th-best single-game mark of any quarterback in the 2018 regular season and the best by a rookie.
Darnold had the best QBR (average of 76.9) and PFF grade (87.7 – tied with Mahomes) of any quarterback over Weeks 14-17 of 2018.
Week 16 vs. Green Bay, 2018 (1/3)
Going head-to-head against Aaron Rodgers, Darnold was the more impressive quarterback, completing 24-of-35 passes for 341 yards (9.7 per attempt), three touchdowns, and no picks (128.4 passer rating).
Week 16 vs. Green Bay, 2018 (2/3)
Darnold averaged 11.5 adjusted yards per attempt (yards per attempt adjusted for touchdowns and interceptions) against the Packers. Minimum 30 pass attempts, it stands as the seventh-best mark ever posted by a rookie, and the best by an under-22 rookie.
Week 16 vs. Green Bay, 2018 (3/3)
The Jets allowed a pressure rate of just 21.1% against the Packers, the lowest mark absorbed by Darnold in his career to date. Chalk this game up as yet another example of how dominant Darnold can be when the rest of the team does its job.
The Jets’ 10 projected Week 1 starters on offense (besides Darnold) combined to miss 64 games, or a whopping 40% of the possible 160 they could have played.
Play action proficiency
In 2019, Darnold averaged 8.6 yards per attempt on play action passes, 13th-best out of 34 qualifiers. His difference of +2.2 yards per attempt off play action versus other passes was the 12th-highest.
Week 10 vs. Giants, 2019 (1/3)
Darnold broke out of his slump and kickstarted a hot second half with a crisp performance against the Giants. He completed 19-of-30 passes for 230 yards (7.7 per attempt), one touchdown, and no interceptions (97.9 passer rating).
Week 10 vs. Giants, 2019 (2/2)
Similar to what would occur in the following game against the Redskins, Darnold took a lot of pressure against the Giants even if their secondary was putrid. Darnold was pressured on 48.5% of his dropbacks, tied with the Week 7 New England for the third-highest rate of his career. It was the fourth consecutive game in which Darnold was pressured at least 44% of the time.
Promisingly, Darnold began proving he could overcome the heat.
Dart while being taken down (vs. NYG)
Darnold leads Anderson to the outside in stride with Markus Golden draped around his waist.
Already proving capable of competency as a worst-case scenario
From Weeks 9-15 of 2019, Darnold put together a seven-game streak in which he threw for at least 218 yards and either one or zero interceptions. That tied Vinny Testaverde‘s streak from Weeks 9-15 of 1998 for the longest in franchise history.
That streak may seem unimpressive, but 13 NFL franchises have never had a quarterback amass at least seven consecutive games hitting both of those criteria. This feat from Darnold is certainly not amazing – it simply displays that he is already beginning to prove that his floor (worst-case scenario) should be high enough to where he is still a quarterback that a team can with.
Still as young as they come
At 22 years and 95 days old in Week 1, Darnold was the second-youngest quarterback to start a game in 2019, older than only Kyler Murray. Rookie quarterbacks David Blough, Daniel Jones, Devlin Hodges, Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins, Gardner Minshew, Ryan Finley, and Will Grier are all older than Darnold.
Horrendous offensive line
Based on the combination of numerous advanced metrics, I found that the Jets offensive line was the league’s second-worst in 2019, beating out the Miami Dolphins but performing at a level far worse than any of the other 30 teams.
Getting some protection (1/2)
Darnold was eight years old when the Jets last drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (2006) – Joe Douglas changed that with the selection of Becton.
Getting some protection (2/2)
Douglas is showing emphasis on the offensive line that Mike Maccagnan never did. He has already signed or traded for six offensive linemen with starting experience in his short stint as the general manager (Connor McGovern, George Fant, Greg Van Roten, Ryan Kalil, Alex Lewis). Mike Maccagnan signed or traded for eight over his entire tenure (James Carpenter, Kelvin Beachum, Jonotthan Harrison, Breno Giacomini, Tom Compton, Spencer Long, Ryan Clady, Kelechi Osemele).
Early high points
Darnold had three games within his first 16 starts in which he posted 9.0+ yards per attempt, a 100.0+ passer rating, and at least two touchdown passes on a minimum of 30 passing attempts (vs. IND, vs. GB, vs. DAL). Only three other quarterbacks were able to have at least three such games within their first 16 starts – Tony Romo (3x), Kurt Warner (4x), and Patrick Mahomes (4x).
Like Mims, Perriman is known for his ability to grab contested catches. Darnold’s improvisational ability could take off with a couple of big-bodied athletes who excel at contorting to the football in mid-air.
Rookie home cooking
Darnold averaged 268.7 passing yards per game at home in 2018, most ever by a rookie (minimum 6 home starts). His average of 2.0 passing touchdowns per game at home is the second-best ever by a rookie, trailing only Russell Wilson (2.1).
Week 1 at Detroit, 2018 (1/2)
Darnold completed 16-of-21 passes for 198 yards (9.4 per attempt), two touchdowns, and one interception in his career debut against the Lions. Minimum 20 passes – Darnold’s 116.8 passer rating is the 16th-best ever posted by a quarterback in his starting debut (minimum 20 passes), the third-best by a player making his starting debut on the road, and the best by a player under 22 years old.
Week 1 at Detroit, 2018 (2/2)
The Detroit game remains arguably the best job the Jets have ever done of supporting Darnold. He took pressure on just 21.7% of his dropbacks in that game, which is currently the second-lowest rate of his career. In turn, Darnold posted an adjusted completion percentage of 85.0%, still the second-best of his career.
Veteran-caliber safety manipulation as the youngest Week 1 starter in history (@ DET)
Week 6 vs. Indianapolis, 2018 (1/3)
Darnold went toe-to-toe with Andrew Luck, completing 24-of-30 passes for 280 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), two touchdowns, and one interception (113.9 passer rating) as he led the Jets to a 42-34 win with 35 points scored on offense.
Week 6 vs. Indianapolis, 2018 (2/3)
Darnold’s 92.6% adjusted completion rate against the Colts remains his career-best. Unsurprisingly, the Jets protected him well, allowing a 23.5% pressure rate. Yet another example of what he can do when the offensive line performs well.
Week 6 vs. Indianapolis, 2018 (3/3)
Darnold owned the middle of the field against Indy. He went 5-for-5 with 83 yards and four first downs on slant routes. Overall, he went 23-for-25 with 258 yards and 11 first downs on throws under 20 yards downfield. He was also clutch, going 8-for-10 for 93 yards and six first downs on third down throws.
More early high points
Within his first 21 career starts, Darnold had five games in which he posted at least 280 passing yards and a 110.0+ passer rating (vs. IND, vs. GB, vs. DAL, vs. WAS, vs. OAK). Just five other quarterbacks recorded at least as many such games over their first 21 starts – Dan Marino (5x), Romo (7x), Warner (8x), and Mahomes (11x).
More early high points
Darnold threw for 315 yards and a 127.8 passer rating against the Raiders in Week 12, just one week after hurling for 293 and 121.3 against the Redskins. At 22 years and 172 days old on the day of the Raiders game, Darnold is the youngest player to throw for 290+ yards and a 120.0+ passer rating in back-to-back games. He is also the first player to post 290+ yards and a 120.0+ passer rating three times before turning 23 years old (doing it against Green Bay in 2018).
Good job. There is no doubt there is reason for optimism. However, as evidenced in the below comments, there is a sub-set of Jets Nation who seem hyper-sensitive to ANY criticism of Sam Darnold. “… if someone comes for him” et cet. There are things he needs to improve if he will end up being worth the immense amount of draft capital the Jets used to draft him. He has his head on straight, a very decent and likeable young man. For me, if he doesn’t produce a season better than Fitz’ 2015 by the end of his rookie contract, I’ll be worried. You point out exceptions to slow starts which is basically a list of some of the QBs who are or will be in the HOF. Those are the exceptions, not the rule. I hope Sam turns out exceptionally. But I will not hesitate to refuse excuse when bad footwork, and a poor reading of the field and a bonehead INT crops up. Lastly, it’s sad the only legit WR Sam had gets a sort bad rap cos he is an UDFA who happens to be better than all the other WRs on the roster- Robby is a legit starting NFL WR2/3.
No doubt there are plenty of legitimate reasons for concern. Can definitely begin to worry if he does not take a substantial leap this season. I feel good about his chances of becoming the man for this franchise, but as you said, there are things like footwork and the all-too-frequent inexcusable type of INT that he just needs to improve on, regardless of the supporting cast.
I agree on Anderson, I wanted him back and thought the cost Carolina signed him to was very reasonable. Liked the progress he made with his contested catches and intermediate game last year, and have always thought he could be a 1K-yard guy in a better situation (Carolina is not that place)
This is freakin’ excellent material and a great read. Amazing work and thank you!
This is my new go-to for whenever someone comes for Darnold, lol. Great piece of work, Michael! Numbers don’t lie, keep it up!
Great read, saving this for nest time someone tries to bash Darnold to me lol
One other thing – looks like you are missing Mims 4/4, or it should be 3/3?
Thanks for pointing that out, should only be /3, fixed!
Outstanding, well done,