In my third installment in Face of the Franchise, I’m featuring the Sam Darnold Jersey today as the new face of the New York Jets’ franchise races toward his second season here in 2019.
Much was made of Darnold early on in the NFL Draft process as early as the beginning of the 2017 NCAA Season, his final year at USC. At one time, he was the clear-cut favorite to go number one in the 2018 NFL Draft, but an up and down campaign caused him to fall to third overall, swept up by the New York Jets.
So, who is Sam Darnold?
First off, his grandfather is more famous than he is, serving as the Malboro Man and was a USC athlete, himself. His family is full of athletes. His mother is a physical education teacher and his older sister is also a college athlete.
For this, Darnold had to live up to his family’s hype.
And he did just that with an outstanding career at San Clemente High School in California, setting the school record for most touchdown passes. In his senior season, he threw for 39 touchdown passes and 3,000 yards. These are NFL numbers at the high school level.
A four-star athlete, Darnold was highly sought after. He received scholarship offers from Oregon, Utah, Northwestern, and Duke. However, he was later recruited by USC, whom he later signed with.
At USC, Darnold redshirted his true freshman year before becoming the starter full-time during his redshirt freshman season in 2016 after the benching of incumbent starter, Max Browne after USC started 1-2 that season.
Darnold entered his first game against the Utah Utes and never gave the starting job back. Despite another loss, it was USC’s last one for the entire 2016 season, running the table against the rest of their opponents, most notably an upset over the #4 ranked Washington Huskies.
During his freshman season, Darnold set the record for most touchdown passes by a freshman and threw five or more touchdowns in consecutive games and threw multiple touchdown passes for eight straight games.
The final game of the season occurred against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl, where Darnold led the Trojans to a 52-49 victory and received the Archie Griffin Award on January 4th, 2017 for college football’s MVP. He was also named to the Freshman All-American Team.
He was an early Heisman Trophy candidate in 2017 and at the time, a consensus number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. However, his production waned a bit which paved way for Baker Mayfield to take the Heisman and in April was again shafted by Mayfield as the Cleveland Browns selected the latter over Darnold.
After getting passed by the Browns, the Jets scooped Darnold with the third overall pick and named him the Week One starter.
His professional career started with a bang against the Detroit Lions, throwing for two touchdowns and 198 passing yards in the 48-17 victory.
Darnold threw for 334 yards in Week Two before a date with the Browns in Week Three, where an injury to incumbent quarterback Tyrod Taylor led for Baker Mayfield to take the field right before halftime, the Browns trailing 14-0.
Darnold once again fell short of Mayfield, who led the Browns to a come from behind 21-17 victory over Darnold’s Jets, the first regular season win for the Browns in 635 days. Darnold threw three interceptions in that game.
From the Browns game forward, Darnold’s rookie season was full of ups and downs, mostly downs until missing three games with a foot injury, paving way for 39-year-old Josh McCown to play in his absence.
Upon returning to action, Darnold was set to duel with another rookie, this one being Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen, who shared his own season of struggles. Darnold managed to one-up Allen and snap the Jets’ six-game losing streak.
The rest of 2018 gave Jets fans a glimpse into the future despite the team’s 4-12 finish.
Darnold finished the season with a 57.7 completion percentage, 2, 865 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. These are fair numbers for a rookie and Darnold showed the potential to grow, especially in his strong finish to the 2018 season.
Despite the struggles of the season, Darnold set the NFL record of the youngest quarterback to post a quarterback rating of 110 in a game at 21 years, 97 days old.
He also set a franchise record of the highest completion percentage in a single season.
My Big Four Future Star Quarterbacks in the AFC consists of Sam Darnold (Jets), Baker Mayfield (Browns), DeShaun Watson (Texans), and Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs). While Tom Brady (Patriots), Ben Roethlishberger (Steelers), Andrew Luck (Colts), and Phillip Rivers (Chargers) are still alive and well in their NFL Careers, each will be 30 or older come 2019. Roethlisberger and Rivers are both older than 35, and Brady will be 42, with all three stating their intent to play in 2019.
But Sam Darnold is part of the New Blood, one of the four quarterbacks who will lead their teams to new heights. The Jets haven’t made the Super Bowl since 1968, but if there’s one quarterback who can and will lead them to the Big Game, it’s Darnold.
Watch him continue to grow as the Jets look to build a team around him.