Photo courtesy of New York Jets
The New York Jets have rarely had success drafting quarterbacks.
But when then general manager Mike Maccagnan selected USC’s Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall in 2018 — the highest picked quarterback in the history of the franchise — the excitement was at an all-time high. While Darnold may succeed elsewhere, the chances are low and it is time for the Jets to invest in another signal caller with their high 2021 NFL Draft pick.
Darnold has been statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in each of his first three years. Since his rookie season, he has been in the bottom five among qualified NFL quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grade, adjusted quarterback rating, adjusted completion percentage, and yards per passing attempt.
Other rookie quarterbacks in the 2018 class such as Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield were similarly towards the bottom of these leaderboards but took major strides forward in 2020. There is a decent chance both will lead their teams to the playoffs this year.
Darnold still possesses a very similar skill set to his rookie year. He has a quick release and decent arm strength, but an inability to read the field. He still resorts to check downs when there are open receivers down the field. At other times, he simply holds onto the ball too long.
How Do the Jets Approach the Offseason?
The 2021 NFL Draft has an elite group of quarterback prospects compared to previous years. Obviously, when the Jets were slotted to have the No. 1 overall pick, selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a no-brainer. However, BYU’s Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are also intriguing.
Wilson has thrived this year at BYU. He has completed 73% of his passes with an average of 12 yards per attempt while throwing 32 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions in 2020. Wilson is extremely athletic with tremendous arm talent and accuracy down field.
Fields has struggled at times in 2020, but was already a top quarterback prospect after his phenomenal 2019 season. He projects as a franchise player with his ability to make plays outside the pocket and throw on the run.
He also is extremely accurate. Under the right offensive coordinator and system, Fields could certainly thrive. Fields may have had the most notable performance of his career on Friday night, throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-28 national semifinal victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Another option, which is less popular but certainly possible, is investing in Dak Prescott. If the Dallas Cowboys decide not to franchise tag him, Prescott will be a free agent on the market and the Jets have plenty of cap space available. More likely though, general manager Joe Douglas would have to pursue Prescott via a trade.
Prescott is also a risk, due to his devastating leg injury this season, but certainly gives the Jets a better chance at sustainability at quarterback than Darnold. Plus, the Jets could look to trade down to grab additional first-rounders, which would compensate for what was lost in the trade. They can then begin to rebuild the receiving corps, the secondary, and boost the offensive line.
What do the Jets do with Darnold?
There are two options as far as handling Darnold goes.
First, the Jets could look to obtain any trade value possible for him. Considering his recent performance and the fact that he will require a contract extension too, Darnold may be valued at a third-round pick. If Douglas is able to leverage a second, he should certainly go through with it.
Otherwise, they could keep him as a quality backup. He could even provide some competition for the Week 1 job, while not being considered the likely long-term solution.