Rushing: The Future is Now with Sam Darnold for the Jets

If there was any doubt left that Sam Darnold is ready to be named the next starting quarterback of the New York Jets, he’s taking it upon himself to erase it.

The best-case scenario for the Jets had to be Darnold playing well enough in preseason to possibly move up their timetable for him to be their starter while having legitimate insurance behind him in veteran Josh McCown.

Well, welcome to the best-case scenario. And so far, it’s looked pretty good.

The Jets, however, didn’t look good against the Giants, Friday night at MetLife Stadium. In week three of the preseason, the most important week of the schedule, the Jets were at their sloppiest in losing to Big Blue, 22-13.

The Jets committed 13 penalties for 108 yards. Nine of those penalties came in the first half, while the starters were still on the field.

Head coach Todd Bowles decided on Darnold as his starting quarterback for the second consecutive week. Just as in the previous week, Darnold showed flashes of brilliance in a solid effort.

In the opening drive Darnold once again showed why he’s making everyone around him a believer in the thought he’s ready to take the starting job now instead of later.

Consistency remains a strong point for the rookie, especially his excellent pocket awareness.

On a third down and 13, Darnold felt the Giants’ pass rush closing in. He slipped away and expertly scrambled for 14 yards to convert for a first down.

“It’s kind of what I’ve done my whole life, just play football,” Darnold said. “When something’s not there and I see a lane, I take it. But also continue to secure the ball, and not turn the ball over. And, if I can do those things, and continue to play football at the same time, I think I’ll be alright.”

The rookie makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he? He’s certainly making it look easy.

A starting quarterback must excel at moving the chains with consistency. Darnold has been doing this throughout the preseason. He converted two third-and-long plays on that opening drive, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run by Bilal Powell to give the Jets an early lead.

It was Darnold’s 11-yard completion to wide receiver Robby Anderson the play before, which setup Powell’s run to the end zone. The Jets are finding success on offense when they maximize Darnold’s strengths, specifically his play-action ability.

The play-action loosens up the opposing team’s defense and opens lanes for the run game. Darnold is doing a good job keeping his poise while also keeping his opponents guessing.

“So far I think I’ve been really consistent,” Darnold said. “At the same time, obviously there’s little things I can get better at.”

It all wasn’t all good things for Darnold against the Giants. After the opening drive, he led the first-team offense on a few three-and-outs. But, he didn’t turn the football over and that’s a huge plus which will always please the head coach.

One of the knocks on Darnold in his senior year with USC was he can be turnover prone when trying to throw the ball where it doesn’t need to go.

It’s reasonable to conclude, at least in preseason, that hasn’t been the case whatsoever with Darnold while running the offense for the Jets.

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ version of the west coast offense appears to be a system Darnold can thrive in with short and quick passes, play-action, and making good use of his mobility.

The Jets could still surprise everyone and choose McCown to start the season. And while it’s still a longshot, the longer Teddy Bridgewater remains on the roster the more difficult it becomes to ignore the possibility he may even get a chance.

Those are both viable options for the Jets while Darnold gets some additional time on the sidelines with a clipboard. But if your quarterback of the future continues to show he’s way ahead of the learning curve, it’ll become harder to keep him off the field.

The Jets only have one more preseason game, on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. There’s no need to play Darnold in this game, he’s shown enough where it shouldn’t be a surprise if he’s the starter for week one of the regular season.

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