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Sam Darnold Has Faced One of the Toughest Defensive Schedules in the NFL

Denver Broncos v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Much has been made about the challenges thrown at Sam Darnold this early in his career. He had to play 3 games in 10 days out of the gate. 3 of his first 4 games were on the road. He has faced a terrifying cluster of defenses.

So, with all of that in mind, I was curious to see what the numbers said about the difficulty of Darnold’s start. How tough of a schedule has Darnold faced through five weeks compared to the rest of the league’s starting quarterbacks?

I looked at the 30 quarterbacks in the league who have thrown at least 100 passing attempts to this point in time. For each, I went through their schedule and compiled the average pass defense DVOA of their opponents.

DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) is a signature stat of Football Outsiders that weights the raw numbers based on game situations and opponents in order to get a more accurate gauge on true value.

Here are the results, with 30 quarterbacks ranked by the average pass defense DVOA rankings of their opponents.

Darnold checks in with the third-hardest slate of pass defenses faced. After kicking off the year against Detroit’s #29 pass defense, Darnold had a tough three-game stretch against the #5 Dolphins, the #2 Browns, and the #3 Jaguars. He got back into the win column against the Broncos’ #18 unit.

Only Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr have had a rougher group of pass defenses opposite them through the early part of the season. Among rookies, Darnold has had the hardest run. Josh Allen checks in a few spots behind at 7th, while Baker Mayfield is in the middle of the pack at 16th. Josh Rosen has not even thrown 60 passes yet, so he missed the qualification cutoff. His two starts were against Seattle’s #8 pass defense unit and San Francisco’s #23 unit.

The rest of the Jets’ schedule presents a mixed bag. The Jets have a few games left against teams ranked highly at the moment but don’t seem to have the talent to hold up their current spots. The team still has two games against the Bills, who are currently ranked 7th, and one against the Dolphins, who as mentioned are ranked 5th.

The Jets will take on Minnesota in a couple of weeks. The Vikings are currently way down at 26th in pass defense DVOA, but that is a team loaded with talent that seems due to start climbing that ladder. The Jets also have a road date with the current top-ranked pass defense in the Chicago Bears.