It appears as though the Jets shattered their tired old mold from years of less than stellar drafts and finally found a blueprint that worked last April. Although Sam Darnold is not a Rookie of the Year contender, he did flash more than a glimpse of unique potential under center for New York this season. In his last four games, after returning to the gridiron from a foot injury, he posted the best Total QBR at 80.7 in the NFL. There is little doubt that Darnold, with a year under his belt, will not endure the early season growing pains of his rookie campaign and will thrive, particularly if he is to get better protection up front and more weapons at his disposal.
Based strictly on Darnold's play down the homestretch, we wouldn't be surprised if a top-notch online sportsbook like Bovada views next season’s New York Jets' edition in a far more favorable light and deals odds on Gang Green to win the division, conference, and Super Bowl at less generous odds than the beginning of the 2018 season.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces in the evolution of Darnold will be a new head coach with a more workable offensive vision than his predecessor. Oftentimes this season, the former USC product was asked to do it all without the slightest semblance of a rushing attack to set up his aerial heroics. When asked about the hiring of former Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase, Darnold lit up.
"I'm so excited. I couldn't be more thrilled to work with Coach Gase. First of all, it's his passion for the game, for just football in general. And how excited he is to work with me and the offense and the whole team, it's awesome to hear and I'm really pumped about it."
Gase may have failed in Miami but in order for a coach to succeed in the NFL, he needs a legitimate threat at quarterback. Ryan Tannehill was not that guy in his last job but Darnold has all the pedigree and markings of an elite passer. Gase's biggest hurdle will be trimming Darnold's interceptions that saw him toss 15 picks in 13 games this year. In order for that transformation to take place, the Jets will have to be able to establish the run, which will allow more time in the pocket for Darnold and less transparency in the passing game.
Another rookie that improved late in the season was tight end Chris Herndon, who was nabbed in the fourth-round and fills at least one need in the Jets' offensive arsenal. Defensive end Nathan Shepherd, a third-round pick out of D-2 Fort Hays State, was prematurely thrust into action early and saw his snaps decline as the year progressed. Nevertheless, it is far too early to predict what he will ultimately be as a professional but he does possess the natural tools to contribute.
The Jets own the third-overall pick in this April’s draft and although many are predicting that New York will select mammoth defensive tackle Quinnen Williams from Alabama. But there is another Bama product that may be more valuable in stemming the tide of futility in Jets Nation and that is offensive tackle, Jonah Williams. If the Jets are to contend, they will need to score much more and taking a top-flight wideout with the No. 3 overall pick doesn't add up given the pool of receivers in this year's draft. However, giving Darnold more protection up front will pay dividends for the second-year passer and getting Williams in a Jets' uniform will also give their running game a boost. The Jets will be without a second-round pick due to the trade that they engineered last season to get the third overall pick which netted Darnold, but free agency and how they draft in the mid to lower rounds will tell the tale. Regardless, it's hard not to believe that New York is a team on the rise – even if they can't go much lower.