Sam Darnold and the Jets Are a Lot of Fun, but Are They Ready to Be Great?

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 13, 2019

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold throws a pass during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New York Giants Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Michael Owens)
Michael Owens/Associated Press

The Jets are having a lot of fun right now.

Sam Darnold and the starters looked like they were having a blast when they marched 75 yards for a touchdown on seven plays against the Giants on Thursday night. And Darnold sounds like he's eager for more.

"With this offense, we haven't found anyone that shies away from the bright lights," Darnold said after practice Sunday, noting many of his teammates upped their intensity in the preseason opener. "It's going to be really fun, and we're just going to continue to go out there and have fun playing football."

Head coach Adam Gase doesn't come across as a jolly sort of guy. But "fun" has also been his mantra over the last few days.

Gase said last week that it would be "fun" for his staff to finally coach the Jets against a real opponent. And he said Sunday he was having such a good time against the Giants that he had to remind himself to pull Darnold from the game.

"Mentally, I had to be like, 'He's out,'" Gase said. "I wanted to keep going, because those guys, they make it fun to call plays."

The Jets break training camp Tuesday—a mostly symbolic occasion, as the team practices at its headquarters and not some college in the countryside—and everyone appears to be in a great mood. Why not? The first-team offense looked great against the Giants. The first-team defense looked good enough. The strong preseason performance was followed by a crisp Sunday practice in which Darnold and Co. picked up where they left off Thursday night, according to a report by NJ Advance Media's Matt Stypulkoski.

With Darnold, Le'Veon Bell and a receiving corps led by rising stars Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa and dynamic new arrival Jamison Crowder, the Jets promise to be fun, fun, fun this year.

But will they be any good?

The Vegas over/under for the Jets is 7.5 wins. Their moneyline for reaching the playoffs is +320, making them a longer long shot than the Jaguars (+250) or the 49ers (+200). The house and public appear to be approaching the Jets with a mix of cautious optimism and healthy skepticism: They will almost certainly be better than they were last year, but clearing that low speed bump doesn't necessarily mean they will be one of the teams that matter come late December.

Football Outsiders Almanac projects the Jets to win 7.7 games this season, with a 32.4 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Those projections are based on thousands of simulated seasons using cutting-edge analytics. Here's the full spread of Jets probabilities, per Football Outsiders:

  • 0-5 Wins: 12%
  • 6-7 Wins: 35%
  • 8-10 Wins: 37%
  • 11+ Wins: 16%

New Jets coach Adam Gase has liked what he has seen from his offense in training camp, telling reporters it has been fun to call plays for the group.
New Jets coach Adam Gase has liked what he has seen from his offense in training camp, telling reporters it has been fun to call plays for the group.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

The good news in those projections is that the Jets are more likely to be at or above .500 than below. The bad news is that it's close. And as the author of the Jets chapter of the Almanac (me) pointed out, the win projection is bolstered by a soft schedule featuring the rebuilding Dolphins twice and beatable nondivisional foes like the Giants, Bengals, Redskins and Jaguars.

In other words, the Jets probably won't be having as much fun once the games start to matter.

None of this is a knock on Darnold, whom the Football Outsiders are as high on as nearly everyone else is (Darnold's official projection, for you fantasy types, is 3,702 yards and 24 touchdowns). It's also not a rip of Gase, who still seems a little like a cross between the typical retread head coach and a Batman villain. The tempered projections and sportsbook odds have little to do with the Jets kicker carousel or the usual aches and sprains of training camp.

The Jets might not be that good because it's hard to tell if any of their edge-rushers will provide pass pressure.

But that's not all.

Their secondary was thin before Marcus Maye spent two weeks on the PUP list (he returned Monday) and Trumaine Johnson suffered a hamstring injury.

The offensive line remains a work in progress, prompting the Jets to grab linemen off the retirement list (Ryan Kalil) and off the trading block (Alex Lewis) since the start of camp.

Despite some flashes of brilliance, the three young receivers haven't proved much yet.

And the depth at nearly every position is coffee-filter thin.

To quote the Almanac, the Jets "look like a sub-.500 team with some expensive pieces but too many critical weaknesses."

So Jets fans shouldn't plan any playoff parties just yet. But they shouldn't despair either, because "fun" is often a steppingstone to "good" in the NFL.

The Jets have a young quarterback to get excited about and a head coach who is excited about that young quarterback. There are plenty of guys to root for on both sides of the ball: superstar-in-waiting Jamal Adams, newcomers like Bell and C.J. Mosley, breakout candidates like Anderson, lovable rookie Quinnen Williams and others. Compared to the last two years, the Jets are downright stacked with talent.

Jamal Adams is among a growing group of promising playmakers fronting a somewhat thin Jets roster.
Jamal Adams is among a growing group of promising playmakers fronting a somewhat thin Jets roster.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

That doesn't mean they will be this year's Chiefs, reach the AFC title game and threaten to rewrite the offensive record book. They may be more like last year's Browns, sputtering a bit at the start, then getting hot when everything comes together and getting the bandwagon rolling for 2020.

Joe Namath summed up the situation succinctly when he spoke to reporters Monday. "Expectations and hopes are two different things," the Jets legend said. "I hope we can win a championship, but I don't know if that kind of talent is here right now. It remains to be seen."

And what about all that fun the Jets are having?

"I like a good, upbeat, happy atmosphere," Namath said. "Winning does that."

The Jets still have a lot of problems to solve and only a few weeks left to solve them. But at least they're fun to watch and having fun themselves. That's a step up from the Jets' status quo. And while expectations should be tempered, the Jets finally have a little hope.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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