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Rosenthal: Third year's a charm for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold?

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https://www.nfl.com/news/third-year-s-a-charm-for-baker-mayfield-and-sam-darnold-headliners-of-hyped-2018

Third year's a charm for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold?

Published: Sep 07, 2020 at 08:38 AM
 

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Gregg Rosenthal

Around The NFL E

 

The 2018 quarterback class inspired breathless hype for its depth, but the leading men grew obvious as draft day approached: Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were the established stars. By the time Commissioner Roger Goodell hit the podium in AT&T Stadium, the only real mystery was the order in which they'd be selected.

Two years later, the picture is more complicated. Lamar Jackson, the fifth quarterback taken in the first round, has already won an MVP. Belief in Mayfield (the No. 1 overall pick in 2018) and Darnold (No. 3) remains strong in Cleveland and New York, respectively, but it is a more cautious faith, couched in contingencies and the reality that highly drafted quarterback duos can go in a lot of directions.

Will Mayfield and Darnold wind up like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, unable to secure a second contract with their original teams? They clearly are not Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf, so perhaps the answer will defy simplified narratives, like the Jared Goff-Carson Wentz 1-2 punch of 2016. Or Baker and Sam could turn out like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, one-time supernovas who take paths no one saw coming.

Mayfield and Darnold diverge in so many ways, a split that has only grown in the NFL. Mayfield treated the AFC North like the Big 12 as a rookie; now he must show he has more staying power than a hot streak. Darnold runs cooler. He didn't get Baker's endorsements or cover articles -- partly because of personality, but mostly because Darnold's production and surrounding talent were so dull. The split only looks bigger entering Year 3 for both signal-callers.

What is medium for Mayfield?

Before the Browns' Week 15 game in Arizona last season, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told the FOX broadcast team that "we know exactly what [the Browns] are going to do" based on their formations. When a veteran coordinator is confident enough to express that out loud, something is seriously wrong. Joseph proved prophetic. By the end of the depressing game, it took Mayfield 19 plays to score a garbage-time touchdown to cut the final score to 38-24. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was fired two weeks later.

Blaming the messy Browns offense solely on Kitchens is tempting. While most quarterbacks point out the opposing middle linebacker before the snap, Mayfield spent every other play pointing his teammates to the right spot to line up. Cleveland often couldn't run basic screens, even in December. Changing tempo appeared impossible; only three teams played slower when trailing by seven-plus points, per Football Outsiders. After replacing Kitchens with former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the Browns believe such disorganization will disappear. Even an average coaching staff, the thinking goes, won't get in the way of an excellent collection of offensive talent.

Mayfield needs to do his part. Putting all the blame on Kitchens ignores that he was also the one calling the plays down the stretch for the 2018 Browns, who ranked 17th in offensive efficiency before finishing 20th in 2019. The offenses weren't that different, but Mayfield's decision-making was.

According to Pro Football Focus, Baker threw 15 interceptions when protected -- the second-highest figure in the league, just below Jameis Winston's 16 picks from a clean pocket. No other quarterback topped 11. The long-derided Browns offensive line was average. Mayfield ran into many of his sacks, and defenses knew that he was always going to roll right at the first sign of trouble. The second-year QB was effective when the Browns ran play-action, but his numbers without play-action were positively Manzielian: 11 TDs, 15 INTs, 6.4 YPA. Cleveland's front office, now led by general manager Andrew Berry, smartly hired one of the best play-action coaches in the league (Stefanski) to play to Mayfield's strengths. But Baker also needs to excel on plays where his reads aren't defined so easily; he can't continue to lose so many plays before the ball is snapped.

There are a lot of reasons to believe 2020 will be better, and none of them include "moving in silence." Built up too fast on a small sample size as a rookie and torn down too much for a reasonable second season, Mayfield has surrounding talent that'll make it difficult to fall far. If last season was the floor, it wasn't that low. Mayfield finished 19th in ESPN's QBR metric, just ahead of Aaron Rodgers. He finished 19th in PFF's grading among 39 qualifiers. He was average.

For all of the mental mistakes Mayfield made last season, his physical skills may be even better than they were advertised before he was selected No. 1 overall. The pop in his arm is incredible, whether on the move or in the pocket. He is capable of making all the throws -- and not afraid to try them. He has the supporting cast to make those decisions look smarter.

2019 was Odell Beckham Jr.'s floor, too. Even playing through injury, Beckham was open a lot and routinely failed to bring down catchable passes. Jarvis Landry made the Pro Bowl catching passes from Mayfield. The backfield of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is the best in football. Tight end Austin Hooper has reportedly been the best pass catcher in Browns camp, allowing the team to use more two-TE sets with David Njoku.

An average starting NFL quarterback should put up top-10 numbers with this crew. Mayfield showed as a rookie he can dazzle, but he doesn't have to. Stefanski's last two quarterbacks were mid-tier distributors (Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum, now Mayfield's backup) who kept their offenses on schedule, then were paid handsomely.

There is no "sleeper MVP candidate" buzz around Mayfield this year, as the 25-year-old still has a lot to learn about playing the position. There is no expectation he'll be Andrew Luck in his third season, leading the NFL in touchdown passes while making the AFC Championship Game. The middle ground between Baker's flying start and last season's letdown, however, is an above-average starting quarterback with the tools to delight while improving. For Browns fans in search of a franchise quarterback for three decades, that should be plenty good enough.

Darnold must overcome

The biggest fear for Jets fans, after Darnold slipped past the Giants to Gang Green's No. 3 overall slot in the 2018 draft, is that their organization would find a way to ruin him. Two years in, those fears have only grown. Darnold is the toughest quarterback evaluation in the NFL today because he's had so little help, and so little appears to be on the way.

Darnold already has to break through historical precedents to live up to his draft billing. Since 2004, 13 quarterbacks have posted a negative DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) in their first two seasons, according to The Football Outsiders Almanac. Of that crew, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford have gone on to have the best careers. Darnold's ceiling remains higher, no matter the precedent. He makes at least one throw each week that few other quarterbacks could attempt, plays that keep you coming back for more. But Darnold has a mountain to climb just to get to average and won't have much assistance.

Blaming Darnold's struggles on his organization makes sense; blaming his 2019 struggles on his bout with mono does not. He won AFC Offensive Player of the Week in his first game back, went through a prolonged slump, enjoyed his best stretch in Weeks 10-12 and then played perhaps the worst five-game stretch of his career to close the season.

It's challenging to separate Darnold from his surroundings because football doesn't work that way. There were entire weeks that were not on Darnold, but it was tough to see progress in Adam Gase's system. Like many Gase quarterbacks, Darnold eschewed the tough throw for the safe checkdown. There were a lot of third-down completions short of the sticks. The Jets' offensive line was among the worst in football, with Darnold kept clean at a lower percentage than any quarterback with at least 400 snaps, according to PFF. Then again, when Darnold was protected well enough to throw deep, only Josh Allen and Kyle Allen had a lower completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 50 deep attempts, also per PFF.

"I don't know what Darnold saw," Troy Aikman said with more than a hint of exasperation on Thursday Night Football late last year. It was a sentiment repeated throughout the season, starting with the infamous "seeing ghosts" game against New England. Teams continued to blitz and change their looks after the snap all the season, waiting for Gase, Darnold and a beleaguered offensive line to come up with a counter move. It never happened.

No one expects Darnold to be Drew Brees at diagnosing coverage, but it's not unreasonable to ask for progress after 1,600 snaps. I blame this shortcoming more on coaching than the quarterback, which is the problem. The coaching staff hasn't changed. The team around Darnold hasn't changed enough, either.

The offensive line has a number of new players, but none of them besides first-round left tackle Mekhi Becton are premium talents. Darnold's supporting cast of pass catchers is no better, with Robby Anderson out the door. Tight end Chris Herndon's presumably healthy return bodes well, but Anderson's replacement, Breshad Perriman, is already hurt. Promising rookie receiver Denzel Mims essentially missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury. It's not a good sign that former Patriot Chris Hogan went from the scrap heap to the Jets' starting lineup after a handful of practices.

Gase wasn't around when Darnold was drafted and, at this rate, probably won't be around when his rookie contract ends. Gase also wasn't hired by the Jets' current GM, Joe Douglas, and has consistently coached below-average offenses. If Darnold is going to take a third-year leap -- and he still has the athleticism and arm to pull it off -- he will have to do it despite his organization. He will have to make those around him better. That's unfair to ask of a 23-year-old, but it's also what transcendent quarterbacks can do. Unfair expectations come with being selected in the top three overall picks, a reality that Darnold and Mayfield understand better now than they did on draft day.

Even if Mayfield's commercial portfolio slimmed down along with his body this offseason, he's surrounded at camp by young offensive stars and a legendary O-line coach in Bill Callahan. Baker has backers.

Darnold, meanwhile, was held scoreless in six possessions during a scrimmage last month against the Jets' backup defense. It takes a village to raise a young quarterback, and too often, it feels like Darnold is going it alone.

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We’re counting on this kid to do it himself. It’s neither particularly realistic, nor is it the sign of good management. I’m nervous that we’re on the verge of throwing away a promising talent because of our coach and the terrible roster building in the last decade. 

I just hope the offensive line can be middle of the pack so I can see if Darnold is the real deal. Everything is pointing towards this being a rough year for us. My optimism has faded. 

Sam Darnold needs to be truly excellent for us to even compete. That’s a lot to ask for considering the talent around him... but that’s the position we’re in. 

Goddam I hate this franchise. 

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10 minutes ago, Jetlife33 said:

“then played perhaps the worst five-game stretch of his career to close the season.“

 

huh? He went 3-2, Completed 59% threw over 1,100 yards for 6 touchdowns & 3 picks during the last 5 games. Not saying he was great but definitely wasn’t his worse stretch of his career. Just trying to fit his narrative. 

Yeah I didn’t think that was right. I don’t feel like we go 6-2 in the final 8 if he had the worst 5 game stretch of his career towards the end of the season. That really doesn’t make much sense.

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28 minutes ago, Mogglez said:

Drafting Lawrence, Fields, or Lance is going to feel extremely bittersweet knowing that the Jets literally used Darnold like a jizzrag before tossing him aside.

What this organization has done to him should be a criminal offense.

Literally?

Yes, this would indeed be a criminal offense.

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I'm so tired of these conversations. We'll know soon enough if Sam is the guy or not.

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The line about Gase not countering is what bothers me the most about this team.  For whatever reason Gase is so stubborn and overconfident that he refuses to adapt his scheme, even when its clear its not working.

The seattle SB vs Denver is a classic example. His offense was getting obliterated and he didnt make a single change. He simply sticks with whatever he wants to do and refuses to adapt, its a terrible trait in a coach.

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12 hours ago, Mogglez said:

Drafting Lawrence, Fields, or Lance is going to feel extremely bittersweet knowing that the Jets literally used Darnold like a jizzrag before tossing him aside.

What this organization has done to him should be a criminal offense.

Meanwhile Hopkins and his all-pro trophies sign with Arizona to bolster Murray. Sick.

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14 hours ago, Mogglez said:

Drafting Lawrence, Fields, or Lance is going to feel extremely bittersweet knowing that the Jets literally used Darnold like a jizzrag before tossing him aside.

 

 

Darnold has time on his side. The only way he gets replaced is if the incoming coach wants a new QB. 

 

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15 hours ago, y2k8 said:

I'm so tired of these conversations. We'll know soon enough if Sam is the guy or not.

Fixed: We'll know soon if Gase is the guy or not. 

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Darnold has to look good not just one game but the whole year!!! IMO, the Jets don't have the weapons that a great QB should have at his disposal. Be honest what weapons can we compare on this team with those of playoff bound team or a team that makes the playoff every year? To me that is the key for Darnold to succeed and make the playoffs. 

Darnold needs to adapt and improvise by using what he has for weapons and win games!!!! Only then will he be able to open peoples eyes. But what's keeping him from succeeding is the boneheaded mistakes and not playing a full season. Darnold needs to do it now not in another season!!!!

NO MORE EXCUSES!!!!! 

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23. Years. Old. 

This may as well be viewed as Darnolds rookie season. He could take 2 more years to develop and still have a 15 year career for us. As long as I see progress, I'm going to be happy. 

I'm not comparing him to Baker. Baker is 2 years older than Darnold and had 3x the college experience, and also has an NFL team that is far superior talent wise. Technically Darnold should be behind Baker in development anyways. 

I'm comparing him closer to Joe Burrow. Their college experience is closer to the same, and their surrounding talent in the NFL is roughly the same. 

Until I see Sam hit puberty and get a competent set of recievers, I'm going to relax a bit.

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54 minutes ago, neckdemon said:

unless he is into gay bukkake

kurt angle milk GIF by WWE

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The part of Darnold’s (and the Jets’) season that too often gets overlooked in the wrong way was the 3-game mono stretch. The “if Darnold didn’t get mono” too often gets blanketed with presumptions of good play in those games. The likelihood is he’d have had an outright embarrassing outcome in at least 1 of those 3 games: he lucked out of humiliating himself in the first Pats game, when their D was looking like the 2000 Ravens revisited (except arguably better).

Beyond that, neither the offense around him nor his own play was nearly consistent enough to expect 2 out of 2 good outings against Cleveland and Philadelphia, and perhaps not even 1 of 2. 

It seems unlikely he’d have prevented Garrett from running through Beachum like he wasn’t even there, nor does it seem likely he wouldn’t have roughed the passer just because it was Darnold. This is further before Osemele’s & Kalil’s seasons weren’t mercifully ended inside. The only thing that masked  their pass rush a little was Falk throwing nothing but dumpoffs all game. I take for granted that Darnold would have made more deep attempts and there’s every reason to believe at least a couple of those passes would have ended in turnovers, either by strip sacks or picks. 

Maybe he’d have had a good game on the road against the Eagles, as their D was nothing to brag about, but a big part of the reason for that was that they faced better QBs/offenses than Darnold & the Jets. Not to mention he’d have been fresh off a NE whooping and he didn’t exactly bounce back immediately after that in the NE game he did participate. 

He wasn’t out there messing things up all by himself, as Maccagnan did him no favors with the sorry-ass team around him. But while they still have to play the games before counting the outcomes, there’s every chance we’d have still gone 0-3 in that stretch with the QB and offense in general looking pretty bad throughout. Yet people still glossed over those 3 games as though the presumption is we’d have gone at least 2-1 behind excellent QB play. 

With him in the lineup the Jets still lost to 2 winless teams plus only eked out a 16-point showing against a playoff team resting its starters in a meaningless game for them. The talent around him, and the protection in particular, is better on paper. He clearly has the tools, which made him such a hot prospect in the first place, but I’d like to see him put it together - against stiffer competition that isn’t pre-weakened - in spite of a meh cast, since that’s what’s expected from such a steep investment.

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I don't think Darnold will ever be the advanced metric DYAR, PFF, etc.. darling because he will always I think be a little more prone to the interception. But I also think Darnold is WAY better than his statistics suggest. He will prove to be at minimum a Top 5 QB this year.

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43 minutes ago, johnnysd said:

I don't think Darnold will ever be the advanced metric DYAR, PFF, etc.. darling because he will always I think be a little more prone to the interception. But I also think Darnold is WAY better than his statistics suggest. He will prove to be at minimum a Top 5 QB this year.

lol

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4 hours ago, AL047 said:

Darnold has to look good not just one game but the whole year!!! IMO, the Jets don't have the weapons that a great QB should have at his disposal. Be honest what weapons can we compare on this team with those of playoff bound team or a team that makes the playoff every year? To me that is the key for Darnold to succeed and make the playoffs. 

Darnold needs to adapt and improvise by using what he has for weapons and win games!!!! Only then will he be able to open peoples eyes. But what's keeping him from succeeding is the boneheaded mistakes and not playing a full season. Darnold needs to do it now not in another season!!!!

NO MORE EXCUSES!!!!! 

Hmmm, welcome back?

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8 hours ago, Vader said:

Meanwhile Hopkins and his all-pro trophies sign with Arizona to bolster Murray. Sick.

Hopkins was traded to AZ...He wasn’t a FA.

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3 hours ago, JTJet said:

23. Years. Old. 

This may as well be viewed as Darnolds rookie season. He could take 2 more years to develop and still have a 15 year career for us. As long as I see progress, I'm going to be happy. 

Sam Darnold is young in his career development 

he is not young in his Jets development. This is year 3. Year 4 they have to make a 20 million decision on  year 5. Which leads to a 100 mil plus type of extension 

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7 hours ago, JTJet said:

kurt angle milk GIF by WWE

lol i think one of the mods erased my post though. thats weird

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8 minutes ago, neckdemon said:

lol i think one of the mods erased my post though. thats weird

Eh, strange consider we have an entire thread revolving around Odell Beckhams focal fascination. 

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8 hours ago, 82nd Airborne said:

Fixed: We'll know soon if Gase is the guy or not. 

He isn't.

Sam has been done no favors here.

Mid season coaching replacement please.

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Not shooting the messenger, but I didn't bother to read it. I couldn't give two sh*ts about that midget Baker Mayfield or his nasty underwear line. I shudder. C'mon, he has a fat stomach. I know it's there even with the Photoshop abs. What was this about again? The 3rd year comparison something something Mayfield's fat stomach with Darnold's big ass. Right. There was quite the brouhaha over the The Boot's thickness last year. OK, over and out on nasty underwear endorsements, fat stomachs, and big asses. I have to go break a town ordinance and water my lawn. 

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7 hours ago, Sperm Edwards said:

The part of Darnold’s (and the Jets’) season that too often gets overlooked in the wrong way was the 3-game mono stretch. The “if Darnold didn’t get mono” too often gets blanketed with presumptions of good play in those games. The likelihood is he’d have had an outright embarrassing outcome in at least 1 of those 3 games: he lucked out of humiliating himself in the first Pats game, when their D was looking like the 2000 Ravens revisited (except arguably better).

Beyond that, neither the offense around him nor his own play was nearly consistent enough to expect 2 out of 2 good outings against Cleveland and Philadelphia, and perhaps not even 1 of 2. 

It seems unlikely he’d have prevented Garrett from running through Beachum like he wasn’t even there, nor does it seem likely he wouldn’t have roughed the passer just because it was Darnold. This is further before Osemele’s & Kalil’s seasons weren’t mercifully ended inside. The only thing that masked  their pass rush a little was Falk throwing nothing but dumpoffs all game. I take for granted that Darnold would have made more deep attempts and there’s every reason to believe at least a couple of those passes would have ended in turnovers, either by strip sacks or picks. 

Maybe he’d have had a good game on the road against the Eagles, as their D was nothing to brag about, but a big part of the reason for that was that they faced better QBs/offenses than Darnold & the Jets. Not to mention he’d have been fresh off a NE whooping and he didn’t exactly bounce back immediately after that in the NE game he did participate. 

He wasn’t out there messing things up all by himself, as Maccagnan did him no favors with the sorry-ass team around him. But while they still have to play the games before counting the outcomes, there’s every chance we’d have still gone 0-3 in that stretch with the QB and offense in general looking pretty bad throughout. Yet people still glossed over those 3 games as though the presumption is we’d have gone at least 2-1 behind excellent QB play. 

With him in the lineup the Jets still lost to 2 winless teams plus only eked out a 16-point showing against a playoff team resting its starters in a meaningless game for them. The talent around him, and the protection in particular, is better on paper. He clearly has the tools, which made him such a hot prospect in the first place, but I’d like to see him put it together - against stiffer competition that isn’t pre-weakened - in spite of a meh cast, since that’s what’s expected from such a steep investment.

true enough about darnold's mono problem.  but the disease did set him back so the better indicator of what he can do is in the second half games.  he didn't make anyone forget about namath but he did finish with a winning record and that's with the same bad oline.

we'll see soon enough if this team has sorted itself out.

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