Don't Expect Big Numbers in Sam Darnold's Rookie Season With the Jets

Darnold could have a bright future, but he may have a tough time putting up good numbers in 2018.

With only one the draft's top quarterback prospects off the board when the New York Jets came on the clock at number 3, it seemed like a safe bet that they were going to invest at the position.

Even with a handful of quarterbacks on the roster, they didn't have anyone who looked like a safe bet to be a quarterback of the future, so investing in the position was definitely a high-upside proposition.

Selecting their first first-round quarterback since Mark Sanchez in 2009, they brought in Sam Darnold, another USC alum.

Who Is Sam Darnold?

Darnold made his college debut as a redshirt freshman in 2016, and he put together a very strong season. His 161.1 passing efficiency rating and 67.2% completion percentage were both good for ninth in the nation, and they came with a 9.0 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) mark as well as 31-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

He then lost JuJu Smith-Schuster, his top receiver, and his numbers dropped a bit, although they were still solid.

Season Games Completion % Yards Y/A AY/A TD INT Pass. Eff. Rating
2016 13 67.2 3,086 8.4 9.0 31 9 161.1
2017 14 63.1 4,143 8.6 8.5 26 13 148.1
Difference +1 -4.1 +1,057 +0.2 -0.5 -5 +4 -13.0

Those two seasons give him career averages of 8.7 AY/A and a 153.7 pass efficiency rating. Those aren't terrible marks, but Darnold's efficiency doesn't stack up well compared to the other top passers in the class. Darnold's status as the youngest quarterback in the class may be intriguing, but on the flip side, his lack of experience is concerning.

As far as his physical tools go, Darnold leaves a little to be desired. He's not small -- 6'3" and 221 pounds -- but he has small hands for a quarterback (36th percentile at 9 3/8 inches), while has him ranking below average among quarterbacks in all of their measurables except for height and 3-cone time. His physical comparisons don't inspire much confidence, with Chad Henne and Curtis Painter being his top comparables among quarterbacks who have started in the NFL. draws on some additional factors, though, and does make a more favorable comparison for Darnold -- Rams starter Jared Goff.

With this in mind, what does Darnold's NFL future look like now that he's a member of the New York Jets?

Darnold's Fit With Gang Green

The Jets brought in Teddy Bridgewater in free agency and re-signed Josh McCown. They also spent (wasted) a second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg in 2016. And now they've invested a third-overall pick in the position.

This is a team that knows they need to invest in quarterback to win in today's NFL. For Jets fans, that's good news. The other Big Apple team made what was, from many angles, a foolish decision investing in a running back, while the Jets are at least making a move that reflects the state of the modern NFL.

Of course, this crowding of the quarterback position means that Darnold isn't a lock to start a significant number of games as a rookie. McCown, who has started 73 games since 2002, did fairly well last year and could hold onto the job for a while if he's able to repeat his 2017 performance.

It remains to be seen how Bridgewater comes back from his major leg injury, but he did start 28 games in his first two seasons and would likely have a legitimate shot to win the starting job if he's fully healthy. That's a big if, however, and Bridgewater's contract is cheap enough that he's not guaranteed a roster spot.

We don't need to worry about Hackenberg.

Darnold certainly offers more long-term upside for the Jets than a guy like McCown, who will be 39 years old by the time the season kicks off, but Gang Green also doesn't look to be in a position to win now, even though they surpassed expectations last year. Being in rebuilding mode gives the Jets the opportunity to take whatever approach they prefer -- they could play Darnold early or let him sit and learn behind an experienced veteran.

Even if Darnold does end up starting a significant number of games as a rookie, the offense that will be surrounding him won't put him in a favorable spot to produce well in 2018.

Robby Anderson had a bit of a coming out party in 2017, but by our metrics, he wasn't anything special, ranking 32nd in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target among the 86 wideouts that saw 50-plus targets. Jermaine Kearse ranked 43rd in that group, and newly-acquired Terrelle Pryor would have ranked only 54th -- if he had hit the target threshold.

Bilal Powell is a capable receiving back, but he had some serious efficiency troubles in 2017, ranking last in Reception NEP per target among all backs with 30-plus targets. They also don't have any help at tight end, with Clive Walford having only 70 career receptions in three seasons and Austin Seferian-Jenkins leaving town.

Darnold's statistical profile means that he's fighting an uphill battle toward NFL success. Surrounded by a lack of weapons while landing in a crowded quarterback depth chart, excitement about Darnold is best left on a long-term timeline, because he's not likely to put up big numbers as a rookie.