Sam Darnold
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

With his future in Gotham Green a mystery, New York Jets decision-makers must consider the weaknesses Sam Darnold displayed in year No. 3.

Back Shoulder Breakdown

There is no debate surrounding the difficulty of the quarterback position in the NFL. The many traits one must possess to be a franchise quarterback stretch far beyond sheer talent.

Sure, the great ones we watch now and the legendary ones of yesteryear are all unique in their own right and are all undoubtedly talented. However, at the core, they possess or possessed the ability to combine two traits that are non-negotiable to succeed at the game’s highest level:

  1. Mental processing: The ability to diagnose & evaluate pre-snap leading to smart post-snap decisions.
  2. Consistency in their accuracy and ball placement: The ability to take advantage of the opportunity presented by putting the football where it needs to be.

The New York Jets have been searching for their franchise quarterback for what can be appropriately labeled as forever. In the 2018 NFL draft, the Jets hoped that search was over with the selection of USC product Sam Darnold at No. 3.  However, just three seasons later, the most discussed offseason topic for this franchise has been and will continue to be what do they do at the quarterback position.

Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh have made it clear that step one is to evaluate the players on this roster. They’re absolutely correct and that evaluation begins with No. 14.

I’m going to take you through exactly what I would bring forward if I had a seat at the evaluation table … (maybe one day).

Sam Darnold put some troubling snaps on film in 2020. And yes, I hear you.

“But he’s young … ”

“He needs more surrounding talent … ”

“Gase is gone, let’s see him with the new staff … ”

“We have seen him make a couple of incredible throws and did you see that run against Denver?”

Listen, from a broad perspective, those may be valid points. However, a deep dive into the film is the only way to begin a proper evaluation. In the end, as the ol’ saying goes …

“The eye in the sky tells no lies.”

Jets X-Factor Membership

Remember those two key traits I referred to earlier that I believe a franchise quarterback must possess? Unfortunately, the traits of mental processing and consistency when throwing the football are among Sam’s weaknesses. This is not to bash the person; this is simply my evaluation of the film that includes problems in Sam’s game that I do not believe can be ignored and must be given great weight when the Jets evaluate their quarterback options.

Truth be told, I’m fascinated by the quarterback position—always have been and always will be. At this juncture, I find it appropriate to quickly introduce myself before I show you the kind of breakdowns and analysis you will continue to see from me.

My name is James Wighaus and I’m a new member of the Jets X-Factor team. From a young age, I had a passion for the game of football.  My playing experience in high school and college gave me my biggest challenges and greatest memories. The ultimate goal is for me to share my passion along with my knowledge of the X’s and O’s with those who are eager to take a deep dive into the greatest game on Earth.

Let’s get to it.

(1) Mental Processing

(a) Pre-Snap Evaluation Miss #1 – 3rd and 4 Red Zone Missed Opportunity

As Sam scans the field pre-snap, he has to take many factors into account. He needs to recognize personnel and decipher coverage on the defensive side while understanding the offensive play design (route combinations). It becomes a process of elimination.

With proper pre-snap evaluation, at the snap, Sam should have taken his eyes to the field to locate the field corner plus slot corner. That would have resulted in a quick & easy post-sap decision to get the ball to Denzel Mims on the out route for a first down as the Slot Corner seems to blow his coverage assignment. An opportunity to move the chains in the Red Zone is replaced with a field goal attempt.

(b)  Pre-Snap Evaluation Miss #2 – 3rd and 4 Red Zone Missed Opportunity

Does the sub-heading seem familiar? It should. This is another pre-snap miss by Sam in nearly the exact same situation as the first video breakdown.

When crafting this article, the goal was to express that the weaknesses I saw in Sam’s game coincided with key traits that are necessary to be a franchise quarterback. However, I did not want to use examples from meaningless opportunities in meaningless situations.

Both of these missed opportunities come in the red zone on third down. In these situations, Sam, or any other quarterback, must let his mind and his preparation take over to make quick and smart decisions in this area of the field.

(2) Lack of Consistency When Throwing the Football 

(a) Inaccurate Throw Results in Incomplete Pass Rather than Big Gain (Outside the Pocket)

We have seen Sam show off the ability to make a ridiculous throw … sometimes. That’s great, but having the ability to make a throw that winds up an internet highlight is entirely different than what is really important, which is consistently excelling with accuracy and ball placement to maximize your team’s opportunities throughout the entire game.

Again, this is not a meaningless situation. This is Week 1 and the Jets are down 7-0 early in the contest. The offense is starving for a big play to get them into a rhythm. This play was that opportunity.

(b) Inaccurate Throw Results in Incomplete Pass Rather than Big Gain (Inside the Pocket)

This is a nearly identical inaccurate throw as the previous video except it comes from inside the pocket. In the NFL, you do not get many chances like this, so when you do, the ball and the chain gang have to be moving down the field.

In the end, the missed opportunities represented in these four film breakdowns are simply unacceptable, and they represent recurring weaknesses in Sam’s game.

These issues cannot be ignored as the Jets evaluate how to approach the quarterback position in the 2021 offseason.

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James Wighaus started Back Shoulder Breakdown as an Instagram page in September 2020. His vision was to create X's and O's content for those that enjoyed the game of football but were searching for a deeper understanding of what goes on in between the white lines. The ex-quarterback and film junkie provides film breakdowns and intriguing analysis that takes you straight to the gridiron and into the mind of the player. Email: james.wighaus[at]
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2 years ago

Welcome, great stuff. Look forward to reading more of your work

Sean Bird
Sean Bird
2 years ago

Latest report on the Wentz trade story, Bears, Colts, and a third mystery team are in pursuit of Wentz. Wentz is a sleeper quarterback for us since that was the first player picked in the JD years with the Eagles.