New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold excels outside of the NFL pocket in ways that are beyond his age and experience.
Big-boy NFL quarterbacks must possess the ability to work within the pocket. Properly reading progressions while understanding timing and windows remain the essential key to professional quarterbacking.
Never are championship quarterbacks born with the legs minus the pocket abilities. Excellent pocket play without the legs is possible (i.e. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc.). If the pocket arm can also do it while working each sideline, forget about it; stars are born.
As a rookie in 2018, Darnold quickly showcased pocket abilities and most importantly, a fearless nature. Look no further than his first throw, a pick-six against the Detroit Lions only quickly turn it around in a blowout victory.
The cherry on top was Darnold’s outside of the pocket demonstration. His offensive line performed poorly all season long which allowed the USC product to showcase insane throw-on-the-run abilities and an uncanny nature after breaking the pocket.
Darnold led the AFC East with an outside-the-pocket passer rating of 65.6 a year ago.
Sam Darnold led the AFC East QBs in grade on throws from outside the pocket in 2018. pic.twitter.com/v7nPyU5nHb
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 27, 2019
The first example has everything. Against a four-man rush, Darnold feels the up-the-middle and left-side pressure. With nothing open, he breaks right.
His eyes are the key. Too many youngsters would give up on something down the field when five yards could be had on the ground. Darnold is another animal. He feels the space around him while keeping his eyes downfield despite nothing opening up.
Note Chris Herndon‘s placement the moment Darnold decides to pull the trigger. Herndon’s movement is moving to Darnold’s right, yet the kid QB knows a left-leading throw would equal danger based on the coverage.
Darnold instead leads his tight end to the right, forcing him to adjust.
Displaying a proactive as opposed to a reactive feel is something potential quarterbacks are born with. It cannot be taught, similarly to a strong safety possessing an uncanny knack for the football.
Against the New England Patriots in Week 17, Darnold flushes to the right at the exact time it was required. Watch the defensive tackle’s swim while also watching Darnold’s movement at a simultaneous time.
For a rook in the NFL, more of a reactive feel would be on display here. Not Darnold.
Of course, he also showcased his brilliant on-the-run throwing ability by nearly pulling off an impossible touchdown to Herndon in the corner of the end zone.
A true mark of a potentially great quarterback comes during the most chaotic of times. When things break down, which arms still make the plays?
Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and even Eli Manning (as evidenced by his play during the most chaotic of plays during the most chaotic of moments in the game) all showcase this attribute. Darnold is built in the same mold.
Against the Green Bay Packers’ max coverage call near the goal line, nothing was open. Time needed to be created.
He bides time. Knowing the three-man rush will have a tough time against his six-man blocking scheme, all he needs is a weapon to get open.
A pivotal moment comes when Darnold decides to pull the trigger. Robby Anderson isn’t even close to finding open space, but the young gunslinger knows he will be open. A Tim Tebow-like jump pass (without the ugly throwing motion) gets it done.
Always understand the situation. This example brings a 1st-and-25 situation.
After a successful zone-blocking-scheme boot that collapses the play-side edge, Darnold rolls to the left against his throwing arm. (The kid can throw equally as great moving left or right.) While the throw itself is stellar, it’s the decision that makes this one special.
Instead of taking either one of the underneath routes, Darnold opts for the big chunk to Anderson on the deep out.
If not for the 1st-and-25 situation, the kid would have probably picked up the easy yards underneath to set up a manageable 2nd-down.
The truest sign of something special is realized when everything breaks down. When the play is gone and technique is thrown out the window, the men are separated from the boys.
Against the Buffalo Bills, Darnold pulled a little Fran Tarkenton on the NFL world.
Notice his head. While feeling the appropriate pressure around him at all times, his vision is never lost. Darnold nearly pulled the trigger on the back-right corner Herndon attempt despite a mass of humanity blocking the way.
It’s special stuff. The underperforming offensive line allowed Darnold to work on that outside-the-pocket game, but it also limited him within the pocket and from an overall progression standpoint.
The moment the New York Jets finally pull out all the stops pertaining to the offensive line will mark the exact time young Sam Darnold is officially on the “greatness clock.” He possesses all the tools, especially his work outside of the pocket, a nearly impossible feat to coach in many regards.