Sam Darnold spends part of his free time in the offseason watching tape of Aaron Rodgers. Darnold watches for work and for fun because he’s so impressed with the Packers’ quarterback.
“I look at Aaron all the time, just to watch some of the cool throws he’s able to make,” Darnold said during a Monday conference call. “He really is the most talented person I’ve ever seen — the way he’s able to get rid of the ball and throw the football. From that aspect, it’s fun as a quarterback.
“Knowing how hard the position is, knowing how hard it is to play it, it really is cool to be able to watch someone really make it look so easy.”
Darnold should get a front-row seat to see Rodgers on Sunday in the Jets’ home finale. There has been speculation about whether Rodgers will play, because the Packers are eliminated from playoff contention and he’s been battling through injuries.
Rodgers, a Super Bowl champ and two-time league MVP, is widely considered among the elite quarterbacks. Darnold said he watches Rodgers with his trainer and other quarterbacks he works out with, and also by himself. That will continue this offseason.
“He’s a really good player,” Darnold said. “How I need to improve is to be a little more decisive and understanding when something is there, being able to take it. Aaron does a really good job of that. If I’m by myself and I feel like watching tape, I’ll be more likely to turn on his tape because of the cool throws he’s able to make.”
The Jets rookie is coming off perhaps his best game Saturday against the Texans. He threw for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 29-22 loss. It was Darnold’s first two-TD, no-pick game, and he led a touchdown drive that put the Jets up 22-19 with five minutes left. Afterward, Texans star lineman J.J. Watt gave Darnold a huge compliment. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year told him “you’re going to be a great pro.” He appreciated it, but said he’s a long way from hitting his stride.
“It means a lot coming from a guy like that,” Darnold said. “At the same time, I got to continue to work hard and continue to sharpen all the tools in my toolbox so that every single time I play a good player like him, I can continue to play well and do my thing.”
Darnold seems to be a much different and sharper player since returning from a three-game absence with a foot issue. That improvement has the Jets and their fans excited about the future.
He threw one touchdown pass and four interceptions in the two games before sitting out, and he led only one touchdown drive. Darnold has thrown three TD passes and one pick in the two games since. He also led the six touchdown drives and took fourth-quarter leads in both games.
“You see a lot of growth,” center Jonotthan Harrison said. “You see him getting more and more comfortable each day, each practice, each game with the NFL as a whole and running an NFL offense. It’s very comforting to see the growth and he’s just exuding that much more confidence in the huddle.”
Darnold said the game is slowing down and that he’s seeing the field better. While he was sidelined, he watched how Josh McCown prepared and handled everything.
“It was awesome being able to learn and watch him, and I think that’s the reason for me playing a little better,” Darnold said. “And I think the break — you don’t want to get hurt, and it [stinks] when I’m not able to play — and being able to just relax and have some time off was actually really good for my mind as well.”