Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines Jets QB Sam Darnold, who has performed well thus far but still develop better pocket efficiency/ownership.
As my colleague Mark Schofield showcased, Sam Darnold has shown promise as an NFL quarterback at winning the cat-and-mouse game with defenses. Let’s look at an area where Darnold has always struggled and why it’s the difference between him becoming a competent starter and a top performer: Pocket Ownership.
When evaluating Darnold in the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication, I noted that Darnold’s lack of efficient movement in the pocket causes him to miss the second and third reads in his route progressions. While great at buying time as an improviser, Darnold does so with an athletic skill that’s unrefined and leaning on raw quickness and strength.
The cost of this skill is that Darnold can lose position and space to execute what should become the next easiest solution in his progression plan and as a result, has to buy additional time to make a throw on a broken play or run the ball.
This play against two-high safeties with the post as the second of two routes working from the right side of the field is a perfect example.
If he’s more controlled with his movement after the three-step drop, Darnold would have had the space to locate the post and deliver an accurate target. Instead, Darnold has to leave the pocket and run for the first down. He’s capable of doing so right now, but most quarterbacks lose that ability within the next 4-6 years or, gain the wisdom and skill to avoid running when there’s a more efficient and productive solution.
Top NFL quarterbacks spot the easiest solutions. If Darnold can be more efficient with the space he uses, he’ll spot more of them.
Darnold has shown the same promise with the Jets that he displayed at USC. His footwork is one of the next priorities to address so he can take the next steps — and efficiently.
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