There was plenty of evidence that, despite a slow start last year, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was developing. But one telling stat shows that Darnold’s growth and the associated statistics are not just being padded.
The maturation is real and the development is happening.
Last year, Darnold showed rather significant growth over his rookie season in 2018, this despite missing three games following Week 1 after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. It is also telling that this growth continued after a rocky first half of the season and with the Jets in a 1-7 start to the year. Of course, the Jets closed out the season going 6-2 to finish a respectable 7-9.
He showed improvement in passing yards (3,024 versus 2,865 in 2018), completion percentage (61.9 percent versus 57.7 in 2018) and his touchdown to interception ratio improved (19:13 versus 17:15 in 2018) as did his quarterback rating (84.3 versus 77.6 in 2018).
According to Pro Football Focus, Darnold had the fifth-lowest checkdown percentage in the NFL over the past two seasons, representing his first two years in the league. He checked down just 4.1 percent of all times, a low number bested only by Josh Allen (2.3 percent), Patrick Mahomes (3.3 percent), Mitchell Trubisky (3.5 percent) and Kyler Murray (3.8 percent).
What it means is that Darnold is trying to push the ball down the field, something that shows a confidence beyond being just a chuck and dump quarterback. While the low checkdown number does provide caution that Darnold may be trying to force passes rather than take a safe outlet, it runs counter to some of the problems the Jets have had with other young quarterbacks over the past decade.
The reputation of Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith during their time in New York is that they often times dinked their way down the field and didn’t take their shots. It is a balance, for sure, but a promising sign to see Darnold want to take shots and stretch the field.
To that end, Darnold’s Adjusted Yards Per Attempt ticked up, 6.4 yards from 6.1 yards in 2018. This is showing a willingness to do more than just dump the ball but actually work through his progressions. It is a good sign, especially since the Jets offensive line was near the bottom of the league last year.
That Darnold could hang in the pocket and produce chicken soup out of chicken…well, you know…is a testament to his growth as a quarterback. Heading into 2020 and what will be his third year in the league, these are good things.
With an improved offensive line thanks to a concerted effort in free agency and the NFL Draft to address not just depth but add quality starters, Darnold should have more time in the pocket to find options down the field. Adding some better wide receivers can only help Darnold better his completion percentage and stretch the field further.
In addition, PFF noted that on third downs since 2018, Darnold checked down just five times in 254 attempts, representing a check down on just 2 percent of his opportunities. That was the fourth lowest percentage in the league.