Draft a QB in the top 10, and history proves NFL teams hit on roughly 50% of those selections.
Draft a QB in the top 10 and provide him with a pathetically porous offensive line, zero perimeter weapons and a twice-clueless head coach, and the success rate plummets to 0%.
Sorry, Sam Darnold, but this is your sad reality. At least with the Jets. They have failed you in such an astonishingly inept manner, I actually feel sorry for you. They told you to drive, but took the keys. And ripped off the wheels. And neglected to fill it with gas.
Now, to be fair, as much as fans want an immediately identifiable, linear path to success, it doesn't always work out that way. Take former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, for example. Smith, like Darnold, suffered through several coaching staffs before finally popping at age 27. It took that long to fumigate the losing stench and the instability around him, or rather, that quickly for Jim Harbaugh to show up, immediately assess Smith's strengths and weaknesses and build around them.
We've long lived in a world of bold declarations, especially when it comes to sports and especially when tens of millions of pseudo-GM’s weigh in on social media. But the uptick in Smith's production was palpable courtesy of Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
In Smith's first season, 2005, he was 2-5 as a starter, with a ghastly completion percentage of 51%. He threw a single TD pass and was intercepted 11 times. His second season represented some growth, but nothing that jumped off the page, including a completion percentage that hovered below 60%. There was very little evidence the 49ers selected the right QB. Year 3 was worse, as he completed 48.7% of his passes in limited duty, amassing a 2-5 record with only 2 TD passes to go along with 4 INT's. Year 4 was completely wiped out due to a shoulder injury and years 5 and 6 did nothing to significantly bolster the confidence level of management, as Smith pieced together a combined record of 10-12 with a very pedestrian TD/INT ratio. Let's face it, he was a colossal bust.
Enter Jim Harbaugh, who immediately authored a San Francisco renaissance, as Smith won 13 games, throwing only 5 INT's. The next year, he was off to another fast start, compiling a record of 6-2-1 before self-reporting a concussion. That eventually led to Colin Kaepernick grabbing the baton and Smith being shipped off to Kansas City, where he immediately flourished under the tutelage of one the great offensive minds in league history, Andy Reid. In the span of five seasons in KC, Smith won 11 games on three occasions, cementing his reputation as a reliable, productive, tough and winning QB. Or in essence, the complete antithesis of how he was perceived pre-Harbaugh.
Enter the pathetic, miserable New York Jets, a franchise with a history of creative, agonizing ways of losing. Failed draft picks, atrocious draft acumen and even worse instincts when it comes to hiring head coaches. They are a walking meme, a collection of fake spikes and butt fumbles. They are a gift for all of the sports world to mock, to shriek at in horror. The only ones not laughing? Jets fans and, of course, Sam Darnold, who is on the precipice of being ruined, utterly destroyed by stale and antiquated concepts, invisible leadership and a roster that is without question the absolute worst in football. It is straight garbage. This isn't year 1, or year 2. This is year 3, and instead of going forward, the Jets are inarguably less talented than the day Darnold showed up for his introductory presser.
I've defended Darnold passionately, and for some detractors of the former Trojan, perhaps blindly. Misses too many easy throws. Forces too many balls. Seems to repeat the same mistakes. Fair.
But what's impossible to truly delineate is the most important aspect of the Darnold Era: how many of the missed throws are a byproduct of sloppy footwork that is necessarily sped up due to the pocket collapsing immediately? How many of the forced throws into tight windows are a result of Darnold simply trying to make a play because they're trailing? How many are due to his receivers’ inability to gain separation or win 50/50 balls? Or being being behind the chains from the opening series because the Jets running game remains absolutely non-existent?
I love Darnold's toughness, his moxie. His ability to work off script. His steady, quiet leadership. His incredible ability to throw on the run. He's an athlete. He's all about football. It's so obvious. But unfortunately for Darnold, he was drafted by a franchise who is about everything other than winning football games.
In the mid-80's, the Yankees wasted Don Mattingly's prime years because they failed to develop or land quality starting pitching. Sure, they could rake, led by Mattingly, the best player in baseball at the time, along with Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph and Dave Winfield. But still, give Mattingly 600 AB's, and he could still shine, regardless of what was around him, before the back eventually went out.
I watched in abject horror as the Knicks failed to land a second legit piece for Patrick Ewing, instead electing to import stars past their prime and hoping to mask deficiencies that way. Ro Blackman ring a bell? Kiki VanDeWeghe? Hell, even Derek Harper was approaching his mid-30s when he landed at the Garden. Still, despite a C-level cast absent of shooters, Ewing could still rack up a career's worth of double-doubles, push his franchise to the brink of a chip in '94 and carve out an indisputable Hall of Fame legacy.
But Darnold? He can't do a damn thing. Not when he's dropped on his ass five, six times every game. Not when it's always 3rd-and-8, pinned deep in his own territory. Nothing. He's absolutely powerless. No one's blocking. No one's open. Nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide from clueless fans who sadly drop this entirely at his doorstep.
In my heart, I truly believe Darnold would have shined if properly insulated and developed. He would have elevated this franchise from the abyss with just a modicum of help. The comparisons to Mark Sanchez? Ludicrous. Darnold is bigger, stronger, faster, tougher and simply better. By a wide margin. Much better.
Listen, it's one thing to draft the wrong player. Teams have been doing that for decades and will continue to make blunders, especially at the most important position in sport. But to trade up specifically for a player, to part with prime draft equity and three years later still not know if he's the guy? That's on you. Think about it. Three years later and we still don't know if Darnold is the guy, because organizationally you failed to provide the bare minimum around him that would give you the answer to the question you so desperately crave and chase every few years. And that is unforgivable.
You are a joke, except it hasn't been funny since my childhood. No one's laughing with you, they're laughing at you. Your fans despise what you represent. Your ineptitude. Your menial, pathetic existence.
You can change uniforms, but you cannot strip away your DNA.
And you know what, I can't strip away mine, either. I'm here for life. We're here for life. Like suckers, you trapped us years ago. We're soldiers, trudging forward. Beaten, bloodied, dazed. But still standing. So while we will continue to watch and hope, let this one sink in, from ALL of us:
Hey Jets, "go to hell!"