You’re in charge of building an NFL team from scratch, and you’ve got some big decisions to make. Starting with the biggest choice any general manager faces: Who’s your quarterback?
As the Giants and Jets prepare to square off on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the quarterback issue is front and center with both teams. Jones and Darnold are top 10 picks who are being counted on to lead their respective teams for the next dozen or so years. But the early results for either player haven’t been entirely promising.
Jones, the sixth overall pick this year out of Duke, had a spectacular debut when he was named the Giants’ starter after Eli Manning got off to an 0-2 start. Jones had two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores, including the game-winner in a 32-31 comeback win over the Buccaneers in Tampa. But he has struggled ever since, throwing nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions, as well having seven fumbles in the following six games. The Giants are 1-5 in those games and are mired in a five-game losing streak after Monday night’s 37-18 loss to the Cowboys.
Darnold, drafted third overall last year out of USC, had a promising rookie season with 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, and looked especially sharp the final month of the season after returning from a foot injury. But with one notable exception this year — a 24-22 win over the Cowboys after recovering from mononucleosis — Darnold has shown disturbing signs of regression.
The sophomore slump has been most pronounced since the Dallas game; after throwing two TD passes in beating the Cowboys, he has just three touchdown throws, eight interceptions and two fumbles in losses to the Patriots, Jaguars and previously winless Dolphins.
It is far too soon to pronounce either quarterback a failure. Both passers are just 22 years old with their careers ahead of them, and a much larger sample size is needed to determine whether they are true franchise quarterbacks or whether the Giants and Jets screwed up in selecting their most important players.
But in today’s NFL, truly good quarterbacks can achieve plenty at a relatively early age, so getting an accurate read on Jones and Darnold won’t require an inordinate amount of time. Take the Class of 2017 as an example.
The first three quarterbacks taken that year: Mitchell Trubisky (Bears), Deshaun Watson (Texans) and Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs). Mahomes has turned into arguably the best quarterback in the NFL after spending his rookie season as a backup to Alex Smith, and Watson has been a star for the Texans. Trubisky has shown significant regression in his third season as the Bears’ starter, and there is even talk that the team might have to move on from him.
Last year’s draft also offers some intriguing evaluations. While it’s obviously too soon to make definitive judgments on the class at large, there are some promising — and some troubling — trends. There were five quarterbacks taken in the first round last year: Baker Mayfield (Browns), Darnold, Josh Allen (Bills), Josh Rosen (Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (Ravens).
Mayfield showed potential last year after replacing the injured Tyrod Taylor early in the season, but he has struggled with turnovers in the Browns’ 2-6 getaway this season. Allen has been solid, if not entirely spectacular, in guiding the Bills to a 6-2 record, and Rosen is already out after just one season with the Cardinals. He was traded to the Dolphins but can’t beat out journeyman, and former Jet, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Jackson? He’s the early star of the class, leading Baltimore to a 6-2 record and earning mention as a potential MVP candidate this season. Jackson is a dynamic passer who adds another dimension as a runner, and he showed off both qualities in a 37-20 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots Sunday night.
Quarterback development in the NFL is occurring at a much more rapid pace than previous eras, with players coming into the league much better prepared to operate sophisticated offenses. So, while Jones and Darnold deserve the benefit of more time and more patience, it only goes so far.
Both quarterbacks are hoping to improve their game.
“I think I can play a little bit faster, go through reads a little faster,” Darnold said. “We’ve put together drives every now and again where we show really good things, and other times we go three-and-out. It’s just about staying consistent and playing good football.”
Jones is particularly frustrated at the recent results.
“To lose a lot of these games that we should have won, especially that one [against Dallas], we were in a position to win and we did a lot to hurt ourselves, I was frustrated,” he said. “But we’re all frustrated. As a team, we know we can play better than we have at times. That’s the frustrating part for us.”
There will be no playoffs this year for either quarterback, but there is still plenty of meaning to the second half of their seasons. As they face one another for the first time on Sunday, they do so with their respective teams counting on them to be more than they’ve been.
They need Darnold and Jones to be the answer.
Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold enter the Giants-Jets game Sunday with these numbers in the 2019 season:
7 STARTS 5
161 COMP. 110
257 ATT. 174
62.6 PCT. 63.2
1,676 YARDS 1,077
11 TDs 6
8 INTs 9
82.8 RATING 70.5