• After a promising start, the Jets QB has struggled through his last three games—and he’s not the only rookie QB to go through hard times. Could a week on the bench with a reported foot injury be what Darnold needs to snap that slump?
By Conor Orr
November 07, 2018

The almost-too-bizarre timing of Sam Darnold’s sudden foot injury—amid a three-game slump during which he’s completed less than half his passes and posted just two touchdowns to seven interceptions—means that, like the other four quarterbacks selected in the first round of this year’s draft, the Jets’ QB will have to deal with some type of progress-halting moment of upheaval during his rookie season.

To review: Baker Mayfield’s head coach and offensive coordinator got fired. Any remote veteran presence around Josh Allen was jettisoned before the season, leading to him being thrust into a starting role early and subsequently injuring himself. Josh Rosen’s offensive coordinator was fired. Lamar Jackson’s veteran mentor won’t throw him the football. Now Darnold will reportedly sit out with a “significant sprain” and Josh McCown, who has been the consummate veteran backup, could theoretically get the start against the Bills.

Darnold’s promising start to the season juxtaposed against this uneven middle portion of games will almost certainly cause fingers to be pointed at the head coach and offensive coordinator. The Jets are 3–6 and haven’t won a game since the middle of October. While a healthy McCown gives the team a better chance of successfully treading water for the remainder of the season, seeing Darnold miss out on live reps has to be a significant blow.

Unless… maybe this is the one time this season that a rookie quarterback was fortunate to receive some bad luck. On film, it’s clear he’s starting to get a little scatterbrained. The offense is putting him constantly into disadvantageous situations and with little star power in the receiving game, it’s hard to imagine the progress feels steady anyway. Whatever Darnold may be learning during games at the moment, it probably doesn’t stack together neatly like it does for other quarterbacks learning the professional game under more ideal circumstances.

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Aside from Baltimore, none of the teams who drafted a passer in the first round this year were really equipped to mold a rookie starting quarterback. Mayfield’s coaching staff was at war in front of HBO cameras. Rosen’s offensive line was decimated and his game plan included little in the way of featured opportunities for David Johnson. And Allen, as we said all along, should not have played a down this season. He wasn’t ready coming out of the draft. He was pummeled behind a patchwork unit in the preseason.

How do you rescue players in situations like this? In another era years ago, teams like the Giants, Colts and Lions were able to grind through rookie learning curves, hire and fire coaches and coordinators and still get lucky on the other end when the talent and individual efforts of the quarterback shined through the mess.

Now, quarterbacks obviously marred in a schematic snake pit are better trying to escape as quickly as possible. There are good offenses out there, good schemes that will make them play better. No matter how many people—including Darnold himself—would like to log 16 games this season, a little time on the bench might be best until some help comes along. 

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