First overall pick Baker Mayfield carved out a difficult act to follow at the Meadowlands on Thursday night, but third overall pick Sam Darnold looked every bit as worthy of the top selection on Friday.
His overall numbers against the Falcons were great on paper—13-of-18 for 96 yards and a touchdown—but that’s only a small portion of the story.
On his first two drives, Darnold’s snap to throw times were as follows (by my watch):
His average over 18 total attempts for the night was 2.28.
For reference, according to NFL’s NextGen Stats, Tom Brady averaged a 2.71 last year, Drew Brees had a 2.59 average, Alex Smith had 2.67 and Matt Ryan finished at 2.72, albeit with a much larger sample size and far more deep route concepts (and a different timer).
The only passes near or close to the three-second mark in the first half were deep in Darnold’s progression, and both resulted in middle to deep-length completions. In the second half, the two three-plus second throws were on long play-action bootleg passes. Darnold slid safely on his first scramble and threw only one true incompletion before halftime—a slight overthrow deep to the right on his third attempt. The other first-half incompletion was a clear drop.
The Jets also let Darnold throw all over the ladder, with almost every quadrant of the field represented save for the deep middle. The one first-half overthrow was mid-range in distance to the left side, but so was his first touchdown to Charles Johnson.
It wasn’t until the third quarter that anything resembling an ill-advised pass took place, when Darnold fronted a pass to ArDarius Stewart that was almost picked off. Even then, it was unclear whether Stewart cut the route off early. Another deep wheel route to Trenton Cannon seemed to be a miscommunication on Cannon’s part, as he wasn’t looking for the ball.
If this seems like a cut and dry assessment of a potentially significant preseason debut, that’s because it is—on purpose. This is a quarterbacking performance that will be drenched in hyperbole given that the Jets have been a desert at the position for nearly five decades. The lack of success there tends to cause some fairly significant overreactions when capable quarterback play presents itself. It causes us to overlook the flaws that were always that were always there.
Boiled down to its essence, it was a nice night, especially given how sharp No. 2 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looked before Darnold entered the game. The former Vikings first-rounder, seeing his first significant action since a horrific knee injury at the beginning of the 2016 season, was 7-of-8 for 85 yards and a touchdown. His touch passes and play-action throws were especially memorable.
Should a Jets fan be looking to pop a bottle of Moet for the future, they should do so because they are in an enviable position right now. It’s too early to say if this is a once-in-a-generation prospect they have at quarterback, but it is a solid depth chart that, if desired, could provide some attractive trade options once rosters shake up near the start of the regular season.