Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic

The New York Jets might have struggled in 2018 but one trend points towards success for them, and more importantly, Sam Darnold.

Michael Nania

The New York Jets finished Sam Darnold’s rookie season with a disappointing 4-12 record that resulted in the firing of Todd Bowles, but recent history suggests a result like that probably should have been expected. Teams tied to rookie quarterbacks have tended to struggle – but success has usually followed.

2018 was an absolute prime example of both ends of the spectrum. On the rookie side, success was limited. While Lamar Jackson took over for the Ravens and led them to the playoffs, each of the four rookies selected in the top 10 of the draft had a losing record as a starter.

Meanwhile, the three first-rounders from the 2017 Draft saw tremendous year two leaps.

The first of the bunch, Mitch Trubisky, probably had the most impressive jump. He struggled mightily in year one, going 4-8 as a starter while posting a 77.5 passer rating and a ghastly 31.6 QBR. He threw only seven touchdown passes in his twelve appearances and averaged a measly 6.6 yards per attempt.

The Bears got aggressive and surrounded Trubisky with talent, and an astronomical surge followed. In 2018, Trubisky led the Bears to an 11-3 record in his 12 starts, culminating in an NFC North title and the third seed in the NFC. Trubisky threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for another three, while he averaged a solid 7.4 yards per pass attempt posting very respectable numbers with a 95.4 passer rating (16th in the league) and a 72.8 QBR (fourth). He also ranked fifth among quarterbacks in rushing with a sizable 421 yards.

Deshaun Watson, the third signal-caller off the board in 2017, followed suit. Watson had a groundbreaking rookie season in which he accounted for 21 touchdowns in only seven games, but it was cut short due to injury.

It was a huge question whether or not Watson could return and match those numbers, but he answered it resoundingly. The former Clemson star played in all sixteen games and threw for 26 touchdowns (rushing for another five) against only nine interceptions while throwing for a robust 8.2 yards per attempt (sixth in the league). His 103.1 passer rating ranked sixth in the league, and his 551 rushing yards ranked third.

The Texans went 11-5 and won the AFC South.

While both Trubisky and Watson took gargantuan steps towards becoming longtime franchise faces in their sophomore seasons, it was the 10th overall pick and second of the bunch that shined the brightest.

Sam Darnold
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes sat out for most of his rookie season behind Alex Smith. He started one game in a meaningless Week 17 contest, throwing for 285 yards and one interception.

The Chiefs traded Smith having confidence that the man they traded up for was ready to take the keys to the franchise. Mahomes proved them resoundingly correct.

Mahomes threw an absurd 50 touchdown passes, which lead the league and tied Tom Brady for the second-most all-time in a single season.

He threw for an astounding 8.8 yards per attempt and led the entire league with an 82.0 QBR, while his 113.8 passer rating trailed only Drew Brees.

Kansas City went 13-3 to win the AFC West and claim the top seed in the conference. The Chiefs defeated the Colts in the Divisional Round to advance to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1993.

In 2018, first round quarterbacks set the bar high for second-year progression. The question now becomes, can Sam Darnold measure up?