Sam Darnold dressed as a mall Santa Claus recently and gave gifts to children. In the years to come, he hopes to give the Jets and their fans a Super Bowl victory.
If the Jets have anything to feel good about this holiday season, it’s that they have a 21-year-old player who looks as if he can develop into a franchise quarterback.
The Jets need to improve plenty of areas on both sides of the ball, but they seem to be set at quarterback, and that’s where it begins for all good teams.
“I truly believe that this kid is going to be a star,” receiver Jermaine Kearse said. “He just keeps getting better. Big picture, this organization and this fan base have a lot to look forward to with this guy.”
Kearse knows star quarterbacks. He played with Russell Wilson in Seattle and won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.
No one is comparing Darnold to Wilson or Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, whom the Jets (4-11) will face Sunday in New England to close out the season. But Darnold is a reason for hope for a team that has had double-digit losses for three consecutive years and hasn’t made the playoffs in eight years.
What happens next will determine if the Jets take that leap to contender. Changes are coming after the season. Todd Bowles is expected to be fired after the season finale. It’s not certain that general manager Mike Maccagnan will return, but his chances are better.
Many of Maccagnan’s draft picks and free-agent signings haven’t worked out the way he hoped, but one thing he has going for him is the trade he made to move up in the 2018 draft and nab Darnold. He might be given a stay to finish the rebuilding plan and put the pieces around Darnold that could turn around the Jets, who face a huge offseason.
They will have about $100 million to spend in free agency, and edge rusher, running back, No. 1 receiver and offensive linemen likely will be their focus.
The Jets again will have a high draft pick. They’re currently picking third, with an outside shot to jump to No. 1. If the Jets lose to the Patriots, the 49ers beat the Rams and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks, the Jets will get the first pick.
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, the likely top pick, would help fill their pass-rush need and would be a cornerstone-type defensive player.
The current Jets aren’t thinking about draft order, though. Darnold wants to end the season on a good note and continue his impressive play since he returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for three games.
In the last three games, the rookie from USC has completed 66 percent of his passes for 764 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating in that span is 106.2. He had the Jets playing with a lead with less than three minutes remaining in each of the three games, but they won only once.
“I’m happy with myself and the way I’ve been playing,” Darnold said. “But wins and losses are the only things that matter. But I feel like I’m making improvements and improving every single week.”
The three-week injury break certainly seems to have helped Darnold. He said the time off was good for him mentally. It also proved to be good physically.
In the three games before suffering a strained foot, he completed only 47.3 percent of his passes, threw two touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and had a passer rating of 43.3.
The game looks to be slowing down for Darnold now. He’s making plays on the move, is making better reads and has improved in play action.
“He’s continuing to get better,” Bowles said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s maturing. You like what you see.
“We didn’t know what point he would get there. You just want him to keep growing from the week before, and he’s doing that. You’re kind of happy to see where he’s going and you just want to see him continue to get better.”