Sam Darnold's tenure with the Jets came to an end this offseason, packing his bags for a fresh start in Carolina after being traded in April.
As both Gang Green and the Panthers prepare for their first season with new quarterbacks—and Zach Wilson is set to debut in green and white after being selected in the first round—surely every Jets fan wonders what would've transpired had New York held onto Darnold.
It would've changed the way the Jets attacked the 2021 NFL draft, that's for sure. But what kind of quarterback would this team have had this season under new head coach Robert Saleh and rookie offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur?
According to one ex-Jets staffer, New York would've had "Ryan Tannehill 2.0."
“I think if you put together a splash tape of 20 plays from the last couple years, Sam’s would be as good as anyone’s,” the former Jets staffer told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. “He has freaky ability. He’s a really good player. It was just a tough situation, a combination of a lot of different things—and he was stuck where he couldn’t control the things he was dealing with. He battled through injuries, rotating offensive linemen, the back never played as well as we thought he could."
Darnold averaged just 2,699 passing yards per season over three years with the Jets, winning a grand total of 13 games and battling the turnover bug along the way. Those three years have to be considered a failure as the organization was consistently unable to bring the best out of their franchise quarterback.
As that staffer told Breer, however, that doesn't mean Darnold didn't have the talent to get the job done. In fact, now that he's in another situation, Breer believes we could see Darnold blossom.
"Obviously, that’s not happening now [with the Jets], but it does illustrate the opportunity in front of Matt Rhule and his OC, Joe Brady," Breer wrote. "Really, when you put all this together, it’s not too complicated. Take the mental load off Darnold. Get him playing fast. And see where it goes."
Tannehill struggled early and often over his six seasons with the Dolphins, showing flashes of his potential, but never quite putting it together for a full season. Miami made the postseason just once in that span as Tannehill posted a 42-46 record under center.
Then, he swaps uniforms, dons a Titans jersey and has been a revelation ever since. Lifted up by an elite supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball, Tannehill has transformed into one of the league's best, taking care of the football, mixing in explosive plays while running Tennessee's dynamic offense and leading his team to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
Darnold still has room to grow as he enters just his fourth professional season, but it sounds like he's capable of morphing into one of the better signal-callers in the NFL over the next few years if he can be surrounded by the right group on offense.
“He still finished 6-2 two years ago, and played his best ball at the end of the year again last year. I don’t think it’s fair to judge him yet," the staffer told Breer. "The kid handled it liked a stud, never blamed anyone, and he could’ve blamed everyone. He took responsibility for everything. He’s a great teammate.”
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