Welcome to the Spotlight. Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
Sam Darnold is a 21 year old, 6' 3", 225 pound rookie quarterback out of the University of Southern California. Darnold was drafted by the New York Jets with the third overall selection in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL draft. The Jets traded the sixth selection along with three second round picks to the Indianapolis Colts to move up to the third slot in the 2018 NFL draft, knowing they would then be able to choose one of their top three quarterbacks from the class of 2018. By all accounts the Jets were delighted when Darnold fell to them at #3, as he was the best quarterback in the draft in the eyes of Jets scouts.
Sam Darnold had a spectacular first year at USC, capped by a thrilling 453 yard, five touchdown performance in a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. His sophomore campaign was a bit more up and down, and he was plagued by turnovers, but he still displayed traits that made him the best quarterback in the draft according to many scouts. For his two year college career Darnold completed 549 of 846 passes, good for a 64.9 completion percentage. Darnold threw for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
Against the Bears in Chicago today the Jets will be a hurting football team. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson will be out with injuries and Terrelle Pryor was recently cut with an injury. Those are Sam Darnold’s #1, #2 and #3 wide receiver targets for the season. In addition starting running back Bilal Powell is out for the season. The Jets will be reduced to relying on Jermaine Kearse, who through six games has totaled just 165 yards receiving, along with Rishard Matthews, just signed off the streets this week, and rookie tight end Chris Herndon as his primary targets this afternoon. That is less than ideal. Throw in the likelihood of the starting center Spencer Long being out for the game and rookie running back Trenton “Butterfingers” Cannon playing a substantial role in the running and passing game and, well, it’s not a pretty picture for Darnold and the Jets offense. To top it off the conditions will be similar to the wild and windy day at Metlife Stadium last week, in which Southern California boy Darnold struggled mightily, albeit with little help from his offensive compadres. This week we will be adding the element of wet conditions for a heightened level of difficulty, as showers are expected throughout the game. That does not sound like the recipe Darnold and the Jets might have hoped for in a tough road game against a pretty good Bears team.
It isn’t fair to Darnold. Expectations for the rookie quarterback to lead the Jets to victory in such adverse circumstances aren’t very reasonable. Unfortunately fair and reasonable have little to do with it. Ready or not, like it or not, fair or not, reasonable or not, Sam Darnold is the best thing this injury ravaged offense has going for it today. In poor conditions, on the road against a tough Bears defense, with a dearth of weapons, the Jets will be counting on Sam Darnold to rise above it all and will the team to victory. It is a lot to thrust on the shoulders of a 21 year old rookie quarterback.
Today’s contest against the Chicago Bears presents the Jets with an opportunity to get back to .500 and back on the periphery of the playoffs picture in the AFC. It won’t be easy. The Jets will need to put up points against a Bears defense that has already held Pro Bowl quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson to under 200 yards passing each this year. The road trip, the poor conditions, the injury ravaged offense all make it unlikely the Jets offense will be able to do much today. But likely or not, it is up to Sam Darnold and his cast of offensive misfits to somehow put points on the board.
Sam Darnold, this isn’t how you probably imagined things when you were dreaming of playing in the NFL someday. This isn’t fair or reasonable or easy or expected. But for better or worse, Sam Darnold, this is your time in the spotlight. This is your offense to run, your team to will to victory. Time to show the world what you can do and lead the New York Jets to an upset in the Windy City today.