Maybe the Jets Shouldn't Be So Quick to Give Up on Sam Darnold

Liam McKeone
Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold / Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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To the agony of their fans everywhere, the New York Jets won their first football game of the 2020 season on Sunday with a surprise victory over the Los Angeles Rams. This is, in fact, a Bad Thing because the win moves the team down one slot in the 2021 NFL Draft to No. 2 overall behind the Jacksonville Jaguars, which means Gang Green will not have a shot to take Trevor Lawrence, the best QB prospect to come along since Andrew Luck.

There are still two weeks left of football to play, and things could change. But in the very likely possibility that both the Jets and Jaguars lose the remainder of their games, the Jets will be looking at the second overall selection thanks to a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker that favors Jacksonville. That means that Jets fans have already begun to talk themselves into Justin Fields, the consensus No. 2 quarterback prospect in this year's class. Fields has been, at the very least, quite exciting under center for the Ohio State Buckeyes over the last two years, although his NFL readiness is in much bigger question than Lawrence. In lieu of Lawrence, Fields seems the natural choice.

But there is an "Option C" that is available and hasn't been discussed at length: what if the Jets were to (and just hear me out) use that pick to build further around Sam Darnold? Darnold has been disastrous at times after he was with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but it's not like he was the only player on his team who has looked that bad over that timespan. The entire organization has been a dumpster fire under Adam Gase and that's being pretty nice about it.

Darnold has shown flashes of the quarterback everyone believed to be a top-tier pro prospect. He didn't blow anyone away in the Jets' only win this season. He threw for 207 yards on 22 of 31 passes and a touchdown, but he didn't look bad, either, which is a step in the right direction. It's also worth noting that he has not had a single good receiver, running back, or lineman around him since he was drafted. New York spent four of their seven 2019 draft picks on defense, and their top selections of 2020 (Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims) have both missed time to injury this year. The last time the Jets drafted a skill position player worth anything at all was Quincy Enunwa in 2014! Otherwise it's been six straight years of offensive busts and a plethora of defensive picks of varying bust rates with the exception of Jamal Adams, who demanded, and was granted, a ticket out of town.

The point is that while Darnold hasn't been very good, he's had less help than any other player in his situation in the league. The Bills and Browns both traded for elite wideouts to help out their quarterbacks who were drafted in the same class as Darnold. The leading receiver for the Jets this year is free agent acquisition Jamison Crowder, who has caught 48 balls for 576 yards. Stefon Diggs literally has twice as many catches and receiving yards this year by himself.

And the most important aspect is that the Jets cannot screw up this draft pick. That's why so many of their fans wanted to become the third team in NFL history to go winless in a season. Lawrence is such a surefire prospect that he seems impossible to screw up. Fields? Not the same at all. He'll need a good coach and a lot of time to develop, not to mention a halfway decent supporting cast, before he can be an above-average NFL starter. If the Jets plop him into this offense with only a different head coach, it might be several years before he can even reach an average level of play.

That's why "Option C" should have some appeal. There will be another team in the top five or top 10 who talks themselves into Fields as their quarterback of the future. Carolina is going to need a quarterback after 2021. Atlanta should be looking towards the future at this point, too. San Francisco and Detroit aren't completely set there. The Jets will definitely have trade partners available should they decide to auction off that second pick, and it's within the realm of possibility that they could get a similar haul to what Philadelphia paid to move up and take Carson Wentz or even what Washington forked over to take RGIII.

Then, armed with a plethora of picks, the Jets could remake their entire offense. Becton looks like a longtime starting left tackle but they'll need more around him to give Darnold the consistent protection he needs. There are playmakers aplenty available in this year's draft, whether it's Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, LSU receiver JaMarr Chase, or Alabama wideout (and Heisman candidate) DeVonta Smith.

New York doesn't even need to trade the pick to build around Darnold. They could take a receiver at that slot or the best offensive lineman in the draft, Penei Sewell. Armed with a brand-new offense and a fresh coaching staff that will bring a much-needed breath of fresh air to the Jets facilities, Darnold can finally begin his development in earnest. He may not be good right now, and his ceiling might not be nearly as high as anticipated when New York took him, but there's something to build on there. Darnold can be an NFL quarterback if he's given the right pieces.

The same cannot be said with absolute confidence for anyone other than Lawrence in the draft. That's the biggest argument for using the 2021 picks to give Darnold protection and weapons. Fields could be great. So could Trey Lance or Zach Wilson. But they could also flame out, and the Jets would be in even worse position than they are right now. At least today, they know they have a quarterback who could lead them to competency with the right supporting cast. It's time to give Darnold that and see how it goes.

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