Sam Darnold. I think about that name probably more than any other name (excluding family members). I know that I’m not alone, I know that the types of people reading this article are die-hard Jets fans and can resonate with me. Our passion for our team is special. That passion helps foster awesome relationships with others. That passion drives us to grind hours worth of film. That passion makes us do superstitious things like sit on a certain place on the couch while watching the game. That passion drives some of us to literally pray for our team. However, that passion for our team can mislead us. That passion can make us believe in things that are simply untrue. As you read this article, I want you to continually ask yourself “am I going to let my passion/love for The New York Jets continue to mislead me?”
Sam Darnold is talented, there’s no denying that. He does have the ability to deliver nice balls from muddy pockets when he’s unable to properly set his feet. For example, see this play against the Vikings in his rookie year, he makes a far hash throw while being pulled backward! See how quick his release is on this pass while he has a defender on him and he knows that he can’t take a sack backed up near his own endzone. He can make amazing throws on the move – scrambling from either direction. How many QBs in the league can make this throw (I’m not sure there are 10 that can)? He scrambles to his left (non-throwing arm) and throws to his right – delivering a dime to Berrios in stride. Here’s a couple of amazing throws scrambling to his right, this one from the Colts game, and this one from the Rams game. This type of athleticism is almost essential for any modern-day QB that plays at an elite level. His natural talent, work ethic, and good character are all reasons why I maintained hope in him for years. While I cannot deny his talent, I will say that his arm strength has always been somewhat overrated.
I’m a high school history teacher. When I study history and politics, I realize that I have my own preferences/bias, and I believe that everyone does. In fact, I’m not really sure that it’s possible to be completely objective. With that being said, I constantly try to remind myself to challenge my own biases, because I know that they can mislead me. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I know that doing it helps me be a better teacher.
During the very first week of school, I spend a good amount of time teaching my students how bias affects how history is recorded. I teach them concepts such as “history is written by the victors.” If you’ve never put much thought into that before, ask yourself these questions: “how is Benedict Arnold described in American textbooks?” Actually, you don’t even need to read a textbook to see how he is portrayed, just see how Alfalfa speaks about him. How about this question “how would Benedict Arnold be portrayed if the British beat the Americans in the Revolutionary War? I’ll tell you the answer, he’d be portrayed as a patriotic soldier that put his life on the line in order to save the British Crown. Then ask yourself this question “how are The Founding Fathers oftentimes portrayed in American history textbooks?” The answer is they are often portrayed as demigods that established the best nation that the earth has ever seen. We then need to ask “if the Americans lost to the British, how would those same exact Founding Fathers be portrayed?” They’d of course be labeled as treasonous rebels that deserved to be hung.
Don’t we all have some annoying uncle that is extremely partisan when it comes to politics? If this guy hears something from the side/party that he doesn’t vote for he automatically says it’s bad, but if his side/party said the same exact thing, he’d consider it to be great. Don’t sports fans act the same way when it comes to their particular teams?
The reason why I mention all of this is to say that our bias affects the types of information that we seek, and how seriously we choose to believe in information that we see. This specific type of bias is called confirmation bias. I’ve seen way too many Jets fans fall into this trap. They are putting way too much value in the words of Sam Darnold’s QB coach, Jordan Palmer. They go on Twitter and watch one nice play from Sam Darnold’s hype man, Dan Orlovsky, and believe that he can play like that consistently. They look at Mel Kiper Jr.’s high draft grade of Sam Darnold from three years ago and pretend that players don’t bust all of the time! They watch an episode of One Jets Drive that hypes Sam Darnold up, and they’re ready to run through a brick wall.
There’s no doubt that One Jets Drive is certainly entertaining, but if we’re being honest it’s a form of propaganda. All teams in the NFL are always going to put a positive spin on the nature of their team, it would be bad business if they didn’t. If you’re a Jets fan and you are putting so much value in those types of information, yet ignoring the overwhelming amount of negative plays that Sam Darnold makes, and has been making for his entire NFL career, then you are blue-pilled. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus says that when one takes the blue pill “they believe whatever they want to believe.” As a die-hard Jets fan, I get it. I too wanted Sam Darnold to be great, and still believed that it was possible at the beginning of the 2020 season. However, after an entire season of horrific play (worse than his rookie year, despite having an improved offensive line this year), I realized that I would be lying to myself if I still believed that Sam was “our guy.” I would be ignoring every stat, analytic, eye test out there that so clearly points to just how bad he is. I would be ignoring all of that information to instead believe in team propaganda and guys that are paid to say nice things about Darnold.
In The Matrix, Morpheus gives Neo the choice to take The Red Pill or the Blue Pill. Taking the Red Pill means that you may hear information that you do not like, but at least you’ll know the truth. Patrick Henry said something similar “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.”
Every single Jets fan reading this article wanted Sam Darnold to be great. I don’t know if there is a single Jets fan out there that hated Josh Allen’s game more than I did. My wife and I wore T-shirts on draft night that said “don’t draft Josh Allen.” I DM’d the official Jets Twitter account over 20 times telling them not to draft Josh Allen. Well, Josh Allen is pretty damn good now, and guess what, I have a brother that is a cocky, die-hard Bills fan. I get to watch him enjoy good QB play and he gets to tell me that we passed on a good QB (Allen), for a trash one (Darnold). A couple of games into the 2020 season, I told myself “I can look like a blue-pilled idiot and defend Darnold, or I can take the red pill, and admit that he’s trash and say that we need to move on.” I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve taken the red pill a long time ago, and I hope that you do the same. I’m going to dispense some of those red pills right now.
While I don’t claim to watch every QB in the NFL very closely, I’m pretty sure that there’s a very good chance that Sam Darnold has the worst mechanics out of all of the starting QBs in the NFL. He has ALWAYS had very sloppy footwork. Many people overlooked this because Dan Orlovsky loved to highlight the fact that he can make absurd throws without having great footwork, and honestly not every QB can do that. The great Mark Schofield has this saying “(throwing) mechanics are not a problem until they become a problem.” Well, guess what physics do matter, and if you frequently play with bad mechanics you will make bad throws, which can end in catastrophe. Darnold so often plays with poor mechanics that it inevitably leads to turnovers. In this first example, Darnold has room to step into this throw, yet he fades away and does not point his lead foot towards his intended target. In this second example, he throws the ball with his feet parallel to one another!
The biggest thing that separates average QBs from great QBs is their ability to make things happen outside of the play structure, in other words, making things happen on their own when the play design doesn’t get a receiver open. Most of Darnold’s good plays in his career have come outside of structure, and I believe that this is a reason that some people still hold out hope for him. The thing is Darnold much more frequently does something bad when working out of structure as opposed to making something good happen. As highlighted earlier, Darnold made a special throw against the 49ers while scrambling to his left and launching the ball to his right. He has the talent to do it, but these extremely difficult types of throws should only be made if the intended receiver has lots of space. That was certainly not the case on this play, hence the interception. This play may even be worse. Darnold doesn’t hit a wide-open Jamison Crowder and instead of throwing the ball out of bounds, he decides to run out of bounds, thus losing yards.
I don’t think that Sam Darnold was ever strong when it came to processing defenses and clicking through reads. Yes, he did throw with a good amount of anticipation in college, but I attribute a lot of that to his willingness to take risks. Risk-taking is certainly a good attribute, as ultra-conservative QBs are never more than average (see Alex Smith). Darnold’s risk-taking tendencies in conjunction with his poor processing skills are the reason I believe he has always been so prone to interceptions. Sam has NEVER been able to read smash concepts particularly well. Here’s a good example from his rookie year, this could’ve been a TD if he pulled the trigger on the corner route. Here’s Darnold getting intercepted by Xavier Rhodes on a smash concept.
Admittedly, Darnold needs to get rid of this ball quickly so as to not give Rhodes the time to sink back, but I don’t think Darnold notices Rhodes sinking. What makes it worse, Sam hangs the ball way too far inside. If he put this towards the corner pylon, Rhodes would not have intercepted it. Here’s Darnold getting picked by Jonathan Jones in week 17. Jones starts sinking early on this play, and I don’t think Darnold ever noticed this. Here’s one last one from week 8 against the Bills. Smash concepts are not the most complex reads out there. You clearly see a consistent pattern of his inability to read them dating all the way back to his college years. What evidence do we have to suggest that he’s ever going to be good at them?
I believe that Darnold struggles to see the field, all parts of the field. Darnold supporters actually tried arguing with me and Joe Blewett about this play. They tried to say that Cager actually wasn’t open, and Sam was correct to not throw the ball as the linebacker was in the area! I’m sorry, but these people haven’t the slightest clue what they’re looking at. Dig routes in the NFL literally don’t get more open than this. These same fans tried making excuses for Sam’s play the rest of the season, saying that he had an injured shoulder. First of all, his inability to read the field/gun shyness is what got him hurt. Second of all, he was playing absolutely horrible prior to getting hurt. Of course, this play was all Adam Gase’s fault, because he coached Darnold not to throw the ball in this type of situation.
In sticking with the theme of seeing the field/defenders, Darnold really struggles with seeing defenders when they spin into throwing lanes – he oftentimes never sees them at all. It was apparent from his college tape, and the issue has persisted. TJ McDonald baits Darnold here. He never saw him after he faked spinning to the MOF. Surely an NFL QB with around 35 professional starts would’ve cleaned up this issue, right? Not Sam Darnold. In this play, Sam never sees Jamal Adams spinning from the boundary side to the field side. How could Sam see Jamal when he stares down his receiver the entire play? You can blame Adam Gase for this all you want, but no coach will tell their QB to stare down their receivers like this. Here’s another beauty of Sam staring down his receiver, thus leading to catastrophe. Staring down isn’t actually the biggest problem of this play, and to be honest, it probably didn’t matter all that much. The receiver simply wasn’t open as Xavien Howard had blanket coverage, but Sam still stared his receiver down and forced it in there. This was so bad that Sam held the ball down in a throwing motion for a period of time before actually releasing it. Disgusting.
A flaw of Darnold’s game that is all over his tape is his inability to understand the leverage of defenders. There’s no doubt that NFL coverage is tight, much tighter than college. With that being said, you can’t always throw receivers open, even if it’s a great throw. Even when Darnold sees defenders, he believes that his receiver actually has more separation on the defender than he does in reality. Notice how he stares down Cager on this play, but the bigger problem is he thinks that a UDFA rookie actually has a good amount of separation here when he clearly doesn’t. Furthermore, this ball is very poorly thrown, it needs to be towards the sideline to keep it far away from the defender. I show this play because as a QB you have to understand when/if your players will be able to separate. On third down in the red-zone, Darnold throws the wheel to Gore (a very low percentage throw to any running back, not to mention a 37-year-old one that is not a receiving back at this point in his career). He should never throw this route unless Gore has a lot of separation, but he clearly does not. By forcing this ball, Darnold misses a wide-open Chris Hogan that would’ve converted a red zone third down. You can certainly blame Adam Gase for putting Gore in on this play to run this route, but you can’t blame Gase for telling Darnold that Gore was open and thus to neglect his other receivers.
There is so much bad Sam Darnold film out there, that I simply cannot get into in this article. Joe Blewett and I have spoken about a lot of it during our monthly YouTube Live streams on the Jets X-Factor YouTube channel. Joe has gone into even greater depth on Twitter, and more importantly, during his Blewett’s Blitz episodes. If you’re blue-pilled on Darnold, there’s a good chance that you don’t watch the coaches’ film at all. If that’s the case, I’d recommend you not having a strong opinion on Darnold unless you know what you’re talking about.
People have a very legitimate point/excuse when they say that Sam Darnold hasn’t been given much help. The offensive roster has never been very talented and the coaching has been terrible. All of that is certainly true. With that being said, if Darnold were truly a special player (and he should be a special player being that he was taken 3rd overall), he would be able to elevate those around him. He doesn’t do that, at all. Special QBs such as Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers always make those around them better. Some of these guys have been in situations that are very far from ideal. Take Deshaun Watson for example, how horrible was his offensive line for his first couple of years before the arrival of Laremy Tunsil? I can assure you that those offensive lines were worse than what the Jets had this year.
The 2020 Jets offensive line was far from good, but they were a decent upgrade from Sam’s first two seasons. I didn’t even know any stats about the offensive line until very recently, but I watched the coaches’ film very closely and it’s very clear that they were better. I asked Michael Nania for stats on the offensive line, and here’s what he pointed me to. While these stats mostly show a significant upgrade in the rushing department, don’t think that has no value for a QB. A decent rushing attack takes a lot of pressure off of a QB and puts them into much more manageable third-down situations. Pass protection was upgraded as well. If you don’t think that Mekhi Becton and George Fant are better than Kelvin Beachum and whatever garbage the Jets had at RT, then I don’t know what to tell you. Additionally, Darnold’s greatest strength has always been his ability to play “backyard football” – you know making things happen out of structure, AKA buying time with his legs to let his receivers get uncovered when they can’t do so themselves. Well if his offensive line has always been putrid, shouldn’t his skill set somewhat offset that issue?
QBs should get better as they get more experienced. Sam Darnold has gotten worse with more experience. While he’s getting worse, his line significantly improved. This seems to me that the QB is the problem. Deshaun Watson has been good ever since he was a rookie. He stepped up to an elite level this year, despite having a head coach that was fired early into the season, and his best receiver traded away. Why is it that Watson got better as his situation got worse? I’ll say this again, special players rise up and elevate their teammates. Watson is special, Darnold isn’t.
In sticking with the theme of Watson v. Darnold, the blue-pilled Darnold supporters actually think it’s smarter to stick with Sam as opposed to trading for Watson! All of their arguments are not grounded in sound logic. The only thing they can say is something like “it’s going to cost so much to trade for Watson.” They aren’t wrong, Deshaun is an elite QB at 25 years old, he should cost a lot. This, however, doesn’t mean that the Jets should stick with garbage, thus passing on gold. I’m not a stats guy, but I do think they serve a purpose. A stat that is highly correlated with success is YPA. Watson has always had a good YPA, Darnold not so much. In fact, Darnold almost set a record for putrid YPA. Look at this stat that compares the two of them.
Adam Gase is a horrible head coach. Period. I never liked the hire, and he never should’ve been hired. He was hired to help Sam Darnold and he did nothing to help him. With that being said, I’ve seen so many people say that Gase is the reason for all of Darnold’s problems. As evidence for their claims, they will mention the fact that Ryan Tannehill was reborn after being released from the shackles of Adam Gase. I watched A lot of Ryan Tannehill’s Dolphins games, including every single one of them his first year with Adam Gase as his head coach. By far this was Tannehill’s best season (prior to being a Titan). If you think I’m making this up, read this article by Travis Wingfield, it has film receipts to back up my claim. Tannehill had 7.7 YPA that year, by far the highest of his career up to that point. You may be wondering well why did Tannehill play so poorly in his other two seasons with Gase? He didn’t play at all in 2017 due to an ACL injury. In 2018, he had a serious shoulder that nagged him most of the season. If you watched the games that year, you could clearly tell that he couldn’t throw the ball like he used to. This is not to say that Adam Gase is good, I already said he’s horrible. With that being said, people say that he’s an extra level of horrible and thus Darnold deserves no blame, and this is just not true.
I can’t think of another example in NFL history where a QB has played so horribly for three straight years, and a brand new head coach, as well as a GM who did not draft said QB decided to stick with that horrible QB despite the fact that they own the second overall pick in a seemingly good QB draft class. It would be insanely idiotic for the Jets to stick with Sam Darnold as opposed to drafting a QB, or trading for Deshaun Watson.
Can Sam Darnold end up becoming a great quarterback? Yes, I believe that it’s possible. I think that it’s highly unlikely and it would certainly be unprecedented. Fans like to cite Drew Brees and Steve Young as examples of QBs that had rough starts to their careers, then became great. Young had less than half the starts that Darnold has had, and Drew Brees was a pro-bowler in San Diego that had back-to-back winning seasons to end his career in San Diego. Drew Brees’s career was on the upswing, Darnold has been trending downward. I don’t want to take the huge gamble of betting on Sam Darnold when I have the option to select whoever I think is the second-best QB in the draft, OR trade for an elite 25-year-old QB in Deshaun Watson.
Maybe I’ll end up being wrong about Sam Darnold (like I was about Josh Allen) and maybe people will be able to rub this article in my face in a couple of years. If I end up being wrong, at least I didn’t lie to myself in the process, telling myself that he’s already good (when he is actually very far from good), or lie to myself saying that there’s a good chance that he can become good. Thankfully, it seems that a good majority of Jets fans have taken the red pill on Darnold. As for the ones that are hopelessly blue-pilled I’m not sure that any stat, film, or logic can convince them not to “believe what they want to believe.” Which pill have you taken?