By Steve Silverman
The Jets are one of the top stories throughout the league during preseason and much of it has to do with their rookie quarterback’s climb towards starting the season under center against the Detroit Lions in the Monday night opener on September 10.
While Sam Darnold is not there yet, he is continuing to make progress and it is clear that he has a future in the NFL. This year’s rookie quarterback class is looking quite promising with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, Josh Allen in Buffalo, Josh Rosen in Arizona and Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.
Darnold appears to be making the most progress of the rookie class based on his play in the first two preseason games and in competitive practice sessions. He is getting the bulk of the reps in practice with the first team, but that doesn’t mean head coach Todd Bowles is going to award him the job over Josh McCown.
Such a decision would take a lot of guts, no matter how well Darnold performs in the last two preseason games against the Giants and the Eagles. It is potentially a career-making-or-breaking decision for both the coach and the rookie quarterback.
Darnold’s progress has impacted the Jets’ gameplan for the quarterback position and the person most affected is backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is now on the trading block.
The former Viking has recovered from the brutal knee injury that kept him out all but one game in the last two seasons. He has performed well in practice and has shown the physical recovery that he needs to play at an NFL level.
If general manager Mike Maccagnan can find the right trade partner, Bridgewater will almost certainly be moved by the start of the season.
That’s a huge development because if Darnold had struggled during his initial camp, it would have been McCown and Bridgewater battling for the starting job. Now, Bridgewater is a luxury, and the Jets may be able to profit more by moving him.
The Patriots are one of the teams interested in Bridgewater, but that’s a trade the Jets likely would not make. However, that doesn’t mean Bridgewater won’t end up in Foxboro at some point, because he’s scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the year.
The decision on the starter is likely to be made shortly after the Jets play the Giants this Friday night. Bowles will not announce a winner until after the last preseason game, but he will almost certainly have a clear impression after Friday night’s performance.
While quarterback play is the most newsworthy part of training camp, the Jets have many other areas of concern. The running back and wide receiver positions are starting to play out.
Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell are likely to be used equally, with Crowell as the power back and Powell utilizing his ability to cut quickly and catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Jets’ receiving crew has plenty of depth and Darnold should have a slew of weapons if he wins the job. The combination of Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa appears to be quite dangerous.
Kearse has been the steadiest and most dependable of the receivers, while Pryor may turn out to be the most dangerous with his speed and big-play ability. He is also the most likely to fail – either on the field or in the locker room.
However, the tight end position may be a big problem area. The Jets have five tight ends in camp, and none of them has truly distinguished himself at this point.
The Jets are painting their fivesome of Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Neal Sterling, Eric Tomlinson and Clive Walford as a solid group that can contribute, but it’s not going to work unless one or two of them show that they are dependable and potentially explosive.
Leggett may turn out to be the best – or most dependable – of the group because he is a huge man at 6-4 and 260 pounds who can win the physical battle. Herndon may turn out to be the best receiver in the group, but he does not look like a game-changing pass catcher at this point.
This is a summer of change with the Jets, and while it is filled with promise, the first four games of the season will provide the answer as to whether the Jets’ brain trust knows what is it doing or is in over its head.