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Why Sam Darnold Will be the Best Quarterback in the AFC East

Photo Credit: CBS Sports

With Tom Brady gone to Tampa Bay, the debate over the best quarterback in the AFC East has been heating up. On a recent episode of ESPN’s Get Up, each member of the panel predicted who would be the best quarterback in the AFC East in the next three seasons.

Tim Hasselbeck projected it would be Buffalo’s Josh Allen. Domonique Foxworth predicted it would be Miami quarterback Tua Tagovialoa. Then, he predicted New England’s Jarrett Stidham the second best. Foxworth’s comment caused host Mike Greenberg to literally walk off of the set. Greeny argued that Sam Darnold would be the best in the division over the next three seasons. Granted, Greeny is a Jets fan and he’ll let his fan flag fly on occasion, but is he right? I believe he is. Let’s explore why.

Untapped Potential

Sam Darnold has been in the league for two seasons but has not yet played a full season. He missed three games in 2018 due to a foot sprain and three games in 2019 because… well, you know why. Even though he missed three games, Darnold still managed to lead the Jets to seven wins as a starter. Those seven wins came despite a lack of real talent around him and a patchwork offensive line. Jets fans are hopeful that Darnold can take a big step forward in 2020 in the face of a brutal schedule. But I think he can make that step forward if he remains healthy.

A Rebuilt Line

Last season, no other quarterback in the NFL was harassed more than Sam Darnold. The Jets’ offensive line woes were well documented; between injuries and inconsistent play, the Jets had one of the worst offenses in the NFL. This season, general manager Joe Douglas has been rebuilding the offensive line through free agency and the draft. If the season started today, here’s what the line could look like:

LT Mekhi Becton

LG Alex Lewis

C Connor McGovern

RG Greg Van Roten

RT Chuma Edoga

The Jets have a deeper bench with the additions of tackles Cameron Clark (draft pick, who could move inside to guard) and George Fant (free agent). Without playing a game yet, I can say that this line is much better than last season. With a better line comes better protection and this could help launch Darnold into the elite.

Extra Weapons

While the Jets lost Robby Anderson in free agency, they did pick up wide receivers Denzel Mims (draft pick) and Breshard Perriman, both of whom have size and speed. Mims slipped to the Jets in the second round. Perriman had a strong finish to his 2019 season as a member of Tampa Bay when Mike Evans was injured. An effective passing game can’t work, though, if the running game isn’t strong. Running back Le’Veon Bell had his worst statistical season in 2019 after joining the Jets as a free agent. After the line was rebuilt during the offseason, Bell is poised to enter back into the conversation of elite running backs. He won’t have to carry the burden alone with Frank Gore (free agent) and LaMichel Perine (draft pick) to give him breaks. Add all this to go along with returning tight end targets Ryan Griffin and Chris Herndon and you have the makings of a very good offense.

The Other Quarterbacks in the Division

Josh Allen had a strong 2019 season and helped the Bills to a Wild Card playoff berth in spite of the fact that he didn’t have a true number one wide receiver. That will change this season with the addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. We know that Allen has a big arm, but there are questions about his accuracy. And despite the fact that Allen is mobile, he’s also prone to taking sacks. Then there was the meltdown in Houston in the Wild Card round. Will he and the Bills recover psychologically from that? And what of the odd pick of former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm in this year’s draft? Will that cause a rift in the locker room?

Then there’s Tua Tagovialoa and Jarrett Stidham. Neither of these quarterbacks have taken a snap as a starter in the NFL. Tua was drafted fifth overall by Miami, but who knows when he’ll start. According to some videos on Twitter, he’s making progress after missing half of 2019 with a broken hip. Ryan Fitzpatrick is projected as the starting quarterback in 2020, but will we see Tua at all this season? And while Stidham has offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he has not been impressive in relief. Stidham will have a steady offensive line in front of him, but will he flourish or wilt without a big target at wide receiver?

Darnold has the tools and the talent to make the next step. General manager Joe Douglas has quietly built a team to both protect him and help him flourish. If head coach Adam Gase doesn’t hinder his development, Sam Darnold will be the best quarterback in the AFC East for the next three seasons.

And possibly beyond.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Hit me up on Twitter: @WhoIsRyanMcC. Be sure to read up everything Jets on our Downtown Jets page and also follow our social media pages on Twitter (@DowntownJets) and Facebook.

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