As far as Greg Buttle is concerned, it’s a no-brainer with Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
“Start him Day 1,” the former Jets linebacker said after watching Darnold put together an impressive debut in his first preseason game Friday night, a 17-0 win over the Falcons. “Let me tell you something. What he’s done in the first week is more than any other quarterback coming in here as a rookie, including Chad Pennington. I’m telling you. I’ve seen them all.”
Buttle, who does pre- and postgame shows on the Jets’ Radio Network on ESPN radio, goes all the way back to Joe Namath, who was in his final season with the Jets when Buttle was a third-round pick out of Penn State in 1976.
“For me to say he’s [a finished product] already, that’s just ridiculous, because he’s got a lot to learn,” Buttle said of Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in April. “But that’s the fastest I’ve seen some guy get into a system, know what he’s doing and control the offense, as limited as it may be.”
Buttle is careful not to anoint Darnold as a star after one appearance.
“I’m not doing cartwheels because it’s against the second team of Atlanta’s defense,” he said. “But you can see it, and your eyes don’t fool you, believe me. You’re not fooled, and that’s good.”
Buttle hardly is alone in how impressed he was with Darnold, and you can expect plenty of support for the notion of starting him right away. After all, this is a league in which young quarterbacks routinely become immediate starters these days, and you don’t invest a top-three pick to have him sit for very long.
Coach Todd Bowles was impressed with Darnold’s debut, but there’s no way he’s ready to decide on his Opening Day starter. He said after Friday night’s game that he probably will need until the fourth preseason game to make a final decision.
Darnold, however, might turn this into a clear-cut move if he continues to play with the kind of composure and confidence he showed Friday.
He finished 13-for-18 passing for 96 yards and a touchdown and was particularly effective on his scoring drive late in the first half. Darnold drove the Jets 64 yards and completed the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Charles Johnson.
“My first scoring drive of my whole career,” a beaming Darnold said.
He said he was “a little nervous going out there, but more excited to finally be able to play in an NFL game, even though it is preseason. Just to play in an NFL game, have fun with the guys. We’ve been working so hard in OTAs, minicamp and now training camp. It’s been awesome to work with them and come out here and see it come to fruition in a real game.”
How does Darnold think he did?
“I thought I played pretty good,” he said. “I put the ball where it needed to be, tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers.”
Darnold wasn’t the only one to impress for the Jets. Former Vikings first-round quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who hadn’t seen this much live action since suffering a devastating knee injury in 2016, looked terrific in his two series, going 7-for-8 for 85 yards and a touchdown.
It’s just another option for Bowles to ponder as he works his way through his quarterback situation. He hasn’t had this much talent at the position in his time with the Jets, and now that it’s Darnold, 21, Bridgewater, 25, and Josh McCown, 39, the coach has plenty of options.
That could include a trade of Bridgewater to earn back some of the draft capital that general manager Mike Maccagnan expended in the trade up for Darnold.
It also could mean that Bowles will get greedy and hang on to all of his quarterbacks.
Either way, there’s no rush. Let the situation play out over the coming weeks, and the answers likely will become obvious.
Darnold certainly did his part Friday to make the case for giving him the job sooner rather than later.