Sam Darnold will probably never be an integral part of the Jets run game the way quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray are for their respective teams.
There still likely will be points where the Jets call on Darnold to use his legs. Goal line situations are likely among them.
The red zone is a difficult place for the offense to operate because there is so little space to operate. All eleven defenders are loaded into a short area of the field, depriving offenses of space. Space is fuel for offenses.
Run plays in the NFL typically put the offense at a disadvantage. The defense doesn’t have to account for the quarterback. He isn’t a threat to run, and he isn’t blocking anybody. It is like the offense is playing 10 on 11. This creates a challenge everywhere on the field but especially on the goal line where space is compressed, and defenses don’t have to drop a defender 20 yards deep to guard against a big play. Everybody on defense can play close to the line of scrimmage.
Darnold had a pair of rushing touchdowns last year, and they show the benefit of adding the quarterback as a running threat.
Here you can see defenders flow to a fake handoff to Le’Veon Bell.
While Bell is being tackled, Darnold was able to pull the ball out and run to the area the defense vacated.
On this second run again a fake handoff to Bell draws defenders to the middle of the field who would be there to meet him if he had the ball.
Darnold shows some nice running back skills on this play. He waits for Ryan Griffin to provide his lead block. Then he reads that the outside defender is drifting too wide and cuts the ball back inside.
You hear frequently about the rise of the quarterback in the run game, and these plays help to illustrate the trend. The quarterback as a rushing threat makes run plays a fairer fight for the offense. It goes from being 10 on 11 to 11 on 11. If these were handoffs to Bell, the defense would have stopped them. Adding that extra Darnold element made them successful.
Darnold doesn’t have game-breaking speed to the point where it would make sense to give him a heavy workload all over the field, but he has enough athleticism to help out in these goal line situations where quarters are tight and the offense needs every advantage it can get.
I wouldn’t expect him to lead the team in rushing touchdowns in 2020, but I think we will continue to see goal line runs like this sprinkled into the play calling from time to time.