Broncos star LB Von MIller called Jets QB Sam Darnold the best offensive talent in the 2018 draft. Darnold responded on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018.
Andy Vasquez, Staff Writer, @andy_vasquez

FLORHAM PARK — The stats haven’t showed it. The wins haven’t come yet, either. 

But as New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has struggled through his last three games, there have been signs that the 21-year-old is learning on the job. 

And heading into Sunday’s game against the Broncos (1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium) Darnold believes he is on the verge of a breakthrough.

“As a team, I feel like we are really close,” Darnold said this week. “And for me personally I feel like I’m just on the edge. I’ve just got to continue to find completions, hit my guys deep when they are there. It will come, it’s just a timing thing. It’s going to click one of these games, I know it is. It’s just kind of waiting on that opportunity.”

That optimism isn’t in the numbers. 

Through four games, Darnold ranks near the bottom of the league with a quarterback rating of 72.6 (30th in the league), a completion percentage of 57.5 (32nd) and only only four touchdowns (tied for 23rd) and five interceptions (tied for 5th most in the league). 

But every indication is that Darnold is seeing the field, and what defenses are trying to do to him, better than he did earlier in the season.

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The most obvious sign of that in last week’s loss to the Jaguars was that Darnold threw down the field several times for the first time in his career. 

“He continues to get better,” Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “I know we’re not getting the results, the wins that we want at the end of the day, but each individual has to keep growing. 

“I thought the game slowed down for him compared to the Thursday night game, as far as he was able to see things, he played faster as far as his progressions. So, it was a step forward in a lot of things for Sam. We still have to capitalize on some big plays, and you have to find a way to win as a quarterback, because that’s what you get judged on.”

Capitalizing on opportunities was the problem for Darnold against the Jaguars. Three times he had receivers wide open deep and missed them: at the end of the first half he overthrew Bilal Powell and put a throw behind Quincy Enunwa on consecutive plays. And in the fourth quarter, he missed Robby Anderson on a seam route. All three players were wide open. 

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The challenge for Darnold — his own toughest critic — has been to not be too hard on himself when he misses the throws. 

“To be overthrowing those guys, it’s not a great feeling when it happens,” Darnold said. “But at the same time I’ve got to understand that it’s part of the deal, it’s part of what you go through as a rookie quarterback coming into a new team just kind of figuring out the guys. So, that’s just kind of part of it.”

So why did Darnold miss those throws. Is it mechanics? Footwork? Was it just a rookie getting too excited and missing a throw? 

Bates wouldn’t say when asked specifically. 

“I think we just barely missed them,” Bates said. “We’ve got to throw and catch, and I have strong confidence that they will continue to get better. They work on it every day. Those incompletions will turn into completions.”

That’s probably true, given the way Darnold played at USC where he completed 64.9 percent of his passes and threw 57 touchdowns to only 22 interceptions. He didn’t do that by missing open men. The more comfortable Darnold gets, the more likely he is to start delivering throws in stride to his receivers. 

Even if Darnold starts making those plays, there will be other things to improve. For example, the Jaguars dropped two sure interceptions against Darnold last week. He needs to make better decisions with the ball. He has said repeatedly that he needs to do a better job of calling the play quickly — the play clock ran down perilously close to a delay of game several times last week. 

Once Darnold masters that, it’s likely he and the offense will have a breakthrough – and perhaps the Jets’ fortunes will start to change. But even once that happens, he knows there will be plenty more to work on. 

“We’re going to start hitting deep balls and be able to find timing on the little routes and all that kind of stuff,” Darnold said. “Obviously there’s always room to improve. You know, shoot, Tom Brady is still getting better, Josh McCown is still getting better everyday. You never stop growing as a player. So that’s just kind of the mentality I have. Just learn and continue to try to perfect your craft throughout my whole career, not just my rookie season.”


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