We keep waiting on Sam Darnold.
Waiting for the Jets quarterback to take that next step. Waiting for him to play with consistency. Waiting for him to become what everyone expected when he was the USC quarterback and lit up the Rose Bowl that day against Penn State.
But what if we are just left waiting?
What if this is who Darnold is?
What if he is always going to tease us with a throw here, a good game there, but never become that franchise quarterback everyone expected him to be when the Jets took him No. 3 overall in 2018?
Sunday was a bummer for anyone hoping Darnold was going to silence his doubters in his third season. He played one of his worst games in a 27-17 loss to the Bills. Darnold looked like he was rushing things. His footwork was sloppy. His throws were off target. His decision-making was bad. He looked like a rookie.
Now, it was just one game. But that is the thing about Darnold. He could come back and play well Sunday against the 49ers, but will that make you believe again? The Samcoaster was supposed to be a smooth ride by this point. Instead, it still leaves you queasy.
His 2018 mistakes were excused because he was a rookie. The 2019 version got sidetracked by mononucleosis and had to learn a new offensive system. This year was supposed to be different. Maybe it still will be, but Sunday was alarming.
The blame for Sunday’s mess does not fall solely on Darnold. The Jets have done a poor job surrounding him with talent. Former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s drafts are haunting the Jets. Current GM Joe Douglas decided not to overspend in free agency, and it has left Darnold with a weak supporting cast.
Some fans want to place all the blame for Darnold’s struggles on coach Adam Gase. There is no question he plays a role in all of this. Gase needs to do a better job finding easy throws for Darnold to get him going early. Those calling for Gase’s head will get their wish if Darnold does not play much better by the end of this season.
But this is not all on Gase. Darnold’s performance Sunday can’t be excused away by blaming Gase or Breshad Perriman.
Darnold missed wide-open receivers. His throws sailed past them. He threw an inexcusable interception where he did just about everything wrong. He ran out of bounds for a 5-yard loss instead of throwing the ball away. He took a delay of game penalty out of a TV timeout.
“My timing needs to be better,” Darnold said Monday. “I think I did hurry some things. I feel like at the beginning of the game I’ve just got to relax and take a deep breath, ease myself into it and make the throws that are there.”
When a team drafts a quarterback in the top 10, the assumption and expectation are usually the player will be great, but few really are. Between 2010-19, there were 20 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10. Most have not been Andrew Luck or Patrick Mahomes. The majority don’t make it. From Blaine Gabbert to Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the NFL is littered with would-be franchise quarterbacks.
The 23-year-old may end up being a serviceable starter, but that is not what Jets fans dreamed about when he was selected. The bigger fear is that he is not even that.
Consider this blind player comparison:
Player A: 27 starts, 533-for-890 passing for 6,104 yards, 37 touchdowns, 29 interceptions, 59.9 completion percentage, 80.3 rating.
Player B: 27 starts, 577-for-990 passing for 6,506 yards, 40 touchdowns, 29 interceptions, 58.3 completion percentage, 79.3 rating.
Player A is Darnold. Player B is Blake Bortles, who was the last quarterback selected No. 3 overall before Darnold, through his first 27 starts.
You may scoff at that comparison, but Bortles was good enough to get the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in 2017, when he had a strong defense to help him along. Jets fans remember Mark Sanchez’s first two seasons when he was a complementary piece of the puzzle.
We keep waiting for Darnold to be more than Bortles or Sanchez. We keep waiting for him to be what we expected and predicted after watching him star at USC.
But what if he never gets there?