A team never wants to throw its young franchise quarterback into a bad situation early in his career. But many teams don’t have a choice, because the only reason they were able to get that face-of-the-franchise player was by being worse than almost every other team in the NFL the previous year.
Sam Darnold falls into this group of highly touted prospects who have been dealt a harsh hand. During his two seasons with the New York Jets, the team's offensive line has been problematic; the pass-catching options around him have been sparse; and the dysfunction that seems to hang in curtains around Adam Gase has made its way to New York.
And that’s all before you get to the case of mono that kept him out several weeks during the 2019 season.
There’s a widespread belief among Jets fans that the first point — the offensive line — is at the root of all the team's issues offensively. If this gets fixed, they believe, Darnold’s potential will be realized and he’ll perform like a top-10 quarterback. In addition, Le’Veon Bell will become the Bell of old, surely worth the contract that looks like an albatross right now.
The guys blocking up front are deserving of blame — the unit was among the worst offensive lines in the NFL during the 2019 season. But there are plenty of reasons the Jets have won just 11 games over the past two seasons, and fixing the offensive line isn’t going to make all of the team's problems disappear.
The Jets’ offensive line is certainly part of the problem
The Jets’ offensive line wasn’t an overly compelling group to start the year, and injuries led to 11 different players playing 75 or more offensive snaps over the course of the 2019 season. Unsurprisingly, the revolving doors did not lead to success.
Pass blocking has been a big problem. Over the last two seasons, Darnold has been pressured on 39% of his dropbacks. Only Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Josh Allen have been pressured at a higher rate.
The difference between Darnold and this group is that Watson, Wilson and Allen have all held onto the ball for at least a tenth of a second longer than Darnold on average. That may not seem like much time, but the fact that Darnold is releasing the ball faster than all three is an indictment of the play of his offensive line.
This becomes especially problematic when you look at just how poorly Darnold has performed when under pressure.