When you think of New York Jets legends, there’s one name that should always comes to mind: Joe Willie Namath. “Broadway Joe” was a historically great quarterback with plenty of charisma, leading the team to its only Super Bowl victory—the great upset against the Baltimore Colts in 1968. He also led the league three times in passing yards and earned five Pro Bowl nods in 12 seasons with the team. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
To this day, Namath is the longest-tenured Jets quarterback and the only one elected to the hall. It’s been a long time since they’ve had that kind of success at the position. That is, they hope, until now. Enter Sam Darnold, a 21-year-old arm out of USC who is hoping to become the team’s long-awaited answer to the question mark at quarterback.
“The Jets have been wanting a quarterback seemingly since Joe Namath was traded [in 1977],” said ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter. “They traded up in this year’s draft and got a guy they never thought they would be able to get at number three.”
Darnold was USC’s starting quarterback for 24 games over two seasons, finishing with a record of 20-4, a Pac-12 Championship, and two New York Six bowl appearances. He won the Archie Griffin award in 2016, becoming the first freshman to receive the reward for being the most valuable player for a team.
“[The Jets] have what they think and hope is their quarterback of the future,” said Schefter. “If Sam Darnold is as good as advertised, they should be set for the next 12-15 years.”
Of course, winning the starting job won’t be easy right away from the rookie. In his way is a strong veteran in Josh McCown, who spent most of last season as the starter, and a comeback story in Teddy Bridgewater, who signed with the Jets in March. Though Darnold is the current favorite to win the job, developing the quarterback while he’s on the bench is tempting as quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have found success after sitting for a few years.
Regardless, there is a lot of pressure on the Jets to get Darnold out there. And there’s a lot of pressure on Darnold to succeed as soon as possible. Schefter notes how difficult it will be for Darnold, or any rookie, to deal with the NFL at first.
“You are adjusting to a whole new life professionally and personally,” Schefter said. “It’s a business. So anyone that goes through a first job will have an adjustment period. It’s no different for them. All anyone has to do is think about the first time they ever worked. Do that, and add in everyone that’s watching in the New York metropolitan area, and that gives you an idea of how difficult it is to do a job while everyone is counting on you.”
The good news for Darnold is that he has plenty of talent around him to help matters in 2018. Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, and Elijah McGuire will all be playing an important role in the run game come the start the season, with Crowell and McGuire seen as power backs and Powell catching out of the back field.
Meanwhile the receiving group is deep with talent. Jermaine Kearse had an excellent 2017, and he should continue to prosper even with the return of Quincy Enuwa from injury. Robby Anderson is dealing with off-field issues, but can make a leap this year with solid quarterback play. Terrelle Pryor, who was a star in Cleveland but flamed out in Washington, will look to redeem himself this year on a new team.
There’s also the Jets young defense that could make life easier for the offense. While the team’s pass rush has struggled in recent seasons, former first-round pick Leonard Williams and rookie Nathan Shepard look to make a big impact in getting after opposing quarterbacks. In the middle of the defense, free agent acquisition Avery Williamson joins another former first-round pick Darron Lee to help catch the enemy offense in every play they run.
But the stars of the defense will be the secondary, where Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are entering their second years as starting safeties and will likely take over the defense as the focal point. The addition of cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who has been a cornerstone player on the Los Angeles Rams for years, will greatly help in shutting down receivers.
Regardless of the many changes that happened and all the talent that was added this offseason for the Jets, all eyes will be on Darnold as he preps for his first season of his NFL career. While its too soon to guarantee they have their next Namath, the Jets are hoping that they’ll begin winning with him in the near future.