The New York Jets are a land of contrasts. On one hand, it’s a snake-bitten organization terminally falling over its face in spite of representing the largest and most influential city in the United States. On the other hand, a side-winded football team on the banks of New Jersey is exactly what that rotten town deserves.
Polemics aside, the Jets are entering a new era. Sam Darnold, proud Trojan he is, enters the seedy North Atlantic den, desperate to bring some proper University of Southern California education and poise to an organization oft wanting of such. He might actually be good, and that would make this alum proud. Fight on, baby.
To understand this, and other contrasts in the land of New York, we reached out to Gang Green Nation, and Michael Nania offered to be our Virgil. We enter now the first ring.
1. Are the Jets on the right path?
It all depends on two words: Sam. Darnold. The Jets have finally rebuilt the correct way, tearing down an old mediocre roster and going all-in for a blue chip quarterback to place in the middle of a promising, albeit incomplete, young roster.
As we’ve learned from many franchises over the past few years, the quarterback can be all it takes. Get that position locked down correctly, and everything else just seems to fall into place. The Jets do have a lot of other issues they need to work on long-term, including their offensive line, pass rush, tight end position, and cornerback depth. However, there are still quite a few promising young players on the team—and this is a squad that was inches away from 6-7 wins with Josh McCown at quarterback and a roster most thought would be hard-pressed to win two games. Their five wins last year was no monumental accomplishment, but they saw a lot of exciting progression and saw quite a few young players showcase intriguing potential.
At the end of the day, it all depends on the quarterback. Darnold had a tremendous offseason and won a fair competition against a pair of opponents who were not going to be cakewalks to beat out. McCown is highly experienced and played very well within the system last year, while Bridgewater is a young former Pro Bowler who had a great offseason in his own right. Yet, Darnold still ascended from the bottom of the depth chart to the obvious No. 1 by the end of the first preseason game. He looks legit. The Jets absolutely would not force him out if they didn’t believe the same (see how they went with a 4000-year old over two of their own draft picks last year, who both didn’t look ready). We shall see how Darnold develops.
2. Besides quarterback, what’s the most improved part of this team?
Cornerback. Trumaine Johnson was the big money addition of the offseason, coming in on a huge deal to fill a huge hole on the outside of the secondary. Morris Claiborne had a surprisingly decent season as the team’s No. 1 corner last season, playing above-average football for about half of the year, but fell off after a mid-season injury. The Jets didn’t have any reliable starters beyond Claiborne, rotating players opposite him at outside corner, including the slot-specialist Buster Skrine. This caused a lot of schematic problems. Todd Bowles is an aggressive defensive coach who loves to blitz (and has to blitz with the lack of pass rush) and press his corners to accommodate that. With the lack of talent and depth the Jets have had at cornerback the past two years, they have been unable to play the type of defense that got Todd Bowles into a head coaching spot.
Johnson is a perfect fit for Bowles and has a positive ripple effect on the entire secondary. He’s a physical, strong, long press corner who thrives most at the line of scrimmage. Bowles finally has the type of player he can rely on to jam receivers effectively in blitz situations. Johnson will also allow Claiborne to shift to a more favorable role against No. 2 and No. 3 options, while also sending Skrine back to a higher portion of snaps out of the slot, allowing Bowles to dial up more of the slot blitzes that worked for him so well when the Jets won 10 games in 2015.
2017 sixth-round pick also had a tremendous offseason and was lockdown against backup competition in the preseason. His emergence should add even more depth to the unit. Rookie sixth-round pick Parry Nickerson, a slot corner, also flashed throughout training camp and the preseason.
3. USC quarterbacks are cursed to doom and mayhem, and a collective virus ate everyone’s memories of Darnold’s 2017 season. Explain why he won’t be monkey paw’d. Do it for me, a Trojans guy, tell me he’ll be bright. I don’t know there’s a lot of emotions here.
Few things annoy knowledgeable Jets fans more than hearing someone complain about past USC quarterbacks as a reason that Darnold will fail. There. Is. Zero. Relation. It’s almost like saying Darnold has a high likelihood of failing because other quarterbacks named Sam have busted in the past, or other quarterbacks who eat cereal for breakfast have not succeeded.
(Editor’s note: These are all true points actually, and worthy of further research)
Different coaching staffs. Different schemes. Different (arguably worse) supporting casts. Different eras. Darnold has traits Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley, and Cody Kessler didn’t. Darnold is no lock to succeed - nobody is. Of course he could bust, but if he does, the place he went to college will have nothing to do with it.
4. How much trouble are folks in?
5. What’s the best case scenario for this team?
If Darnold has a phenom-level rookie season, the offensive line stays healthy enough to avoid being a major roadblock, and the secondary can compensate for a bad edge rush, I can see the Jets getting a sneaky 10 wins as an absolute best case. More realistically, Darnold should have a solid, but up-and-down rookie year that seems him falling around average. The offensive line will battle injuries but likely avoid major catastrophe. Some youngsters will develop, some won’t. The secondary will be solid, as will the defensive line, but not neither good enough to carry the defense above-average with such an anemic group at outside linebacker. All told, I think the Jets will win either seven or eight games. Which is a perfectly fine stepping stone as long as Darnold is healthy and promising. They’ll compete and flirt with a playoff spot, but just aren’t good enough yet to lift a rookie quarterback into the postseason—unless that rookie quarterback is good enough to do the opposite and carry this roster in.
Thanks to Michael for putting up with our nonsense.