By Steve Silverman
If you’ve been paying even the least bit of attention to the New York Jets during the preseason, you have an inkling that first-round draft choice Sam Darnold has the potential to be a pretty good NFL quarterback.
The No. 3 overall choice has played consistently in three preseason games and has not looked anything like a skittish rookie. He’s been business-like in his approach and polished in his performances and appearances with the media.
There is an excellent chance that he will be the starter when the Jets open the season September 10 at Detroit against new head coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.
However, there has been no such announcement by head coach Todd Bowles about who his starting quarterback will be when the Jets start playing games that count, and official word may not come today, tomorrow or the next day.
Bowles is biding his time as he gathers information and opinions from his assistants. He has likely made up his mind at this point, but he may want to keep the decision to himself before letting the team know, and then give it another day or two before releasing it to the media.
Darnold may look the part in the preseason, but it is still a difficult call for a head coach that has not proven anything to this point in his career. He has an excellent defensive mind, his players seem to like him and want to play for him, but the Jets have not really shown much when it comes to winning consistently in the NFL.
Making a decision on a starting quarterback is likely to have a huge impact on the team’s won-loss record this year. That’s why Bowles has so much riding on his decision. He is not likely to have a lot of time left as head coach if his team does not start to make progress. That’s just the way it is in the NFL, and everyone knows it.
The head coach often bears the most responsibility when it comes to wins and losses, so Bowles has a chance to make a courageous decision to go with a talented rookie over veteran Josh McCown.
But is it the right decision? It’s one thing to look good in the preseason and show some promise. It’s quite another to face a real NFL defense that is being coached by an accomplished NFL defensive expert in Matty P, who is looking to make an impression on national television in his first game as a head coach.
This is what is most likely causing Bowles some consternation, and it should. He knows what he would like to do if facing a rookie quarterback in a season opener, and he knows what Patricia is capable of doing in terms of strategy.
The decision is not an easy one, no matter how Darnold has looked in preseason games.
Here are the numbers: Darnold completed 8-of-16 passes for 86 yards against the Giants for 86 yards with a touchdown last week, and that performance came a week after he completed 8-of-11 passes for 62 yards with an interception against the Redskins.
Darnold had truly opened eyes with his performance in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons when he completed 13-of-18 passes for 96 yards with a touchdown. The fact that he was able to perform without any issues in his first professional game gave him a boost in the eyes of his coaches and teammates.
But, if we really study the numbers, Darnold was solid in the opener and decent in his next two games. The fact that he was not scared at any point and able to function at an NFL level speaks well. That does not mean he will be automatically successful once the bell rings.
So, what looks obvious based on a three preseason appearances does not necessarily project to starting and succeeding as a rookie.
Bowles will likely provide his decision when the Jets play the Eagles in the preseason finale Thursday night. If Darnold is on the bench and doesn’t play in a game that nearly all NFL coaches believe is one that can only bring misery in the form of injuries to key players, it means that Darnold will be the starter against the Lions.
If Darnold starts or sees significant action, McCown is likely to get the call.
Jets fans are clamoring for a superstar quarterback, and they want that to be the star rookie from USC. However, a few preseason games does not make a player an accomplished leader no matter how much the fans – as well as the coaching staff and players – want it to be so.
That’s why Bowles is taking his time – and that’s just what he should do.