It was just before midnight Thursday in a room off the Jets’ locker room and coach Adam Gase faced a question about his quarterback, Sam Darnold.
It had been another up-and-down game for the 22-year-old signal-caller. At moments, he made you believe he was the answer for the Jets. Other times, he made you wonder. But Gase went all-in when asked about Darnold.
“It’s coming. He’s improving every week,” Gase said after the 42-21 loss to the Ravens. “The entire year, every week he gets better and better. There’s going to be a point where he’s going to be a really good player.”
Thursday’s loss was Darnold’s 24th game as a pro. He has now played 1 ½ seasons. Evaluating him is a football version of a Rorschach test, with different people seeing different things. There are the throws that make you say, “This guy has it” and then there are turnovers that make you wonder “What was he thinking?”
Not every quarterback can be Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes and have instant success. Teams around the league have young quarterbacks that remain question marks, from Mitch Trubisky in Chicago to Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.
So, is this who Darnold is? How much improvement can Jets fans expect?
These questions are impossible to answer right now. But to get some idea of how hard it is for quarterbacks to make a leap, The Post looked at the statistics of quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2005 who have made at least 24 starts. Now, that eliminates a bunch of bad quarterbacks immediately who could not even make it to 24 starts. Guys like Matt Leinart and Johnny Manziel did not get close.
There were 29 quarterbacks who fit the criteria, excluding Darnold and the Bills’ Josh Allen, who will make his 25th start Sunday. Out of those 29, three of them have improved by 10 points or more in QB rating beginning with start No. 25. Seven more have improved by five points or more. Only three have gotten worse by five or more points.
The biggest leap was made by Alex Smith, who had a 65.3 rating through 24 games with the 49ers. His career rating is 87.3, a 22-point jump. The biggest drop has been Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has gone down 7.2 points, from 96.8 to 89.6.
If you’re looking for a comparison to Darnold that will make you optimistic, his 80.8 rating is close to Andrew Luck’s 80.9. Luck’s career rating ended up being 89.5. If you want to be a pessimist, Josh Freeman had an 80.4 rating and ended up with a 77.6.
Whatever the numbers show, Gase believes Darnold is on his way.
“I can’t sit here and stare at the [quarterback] rating and be like, ‘Well, I wish that was higher,’ ” Gase said. “When you have a couple of games where he threw a lot of interceptions, which we’ve had two games where it hasn’t been ideal, than that is going to happen, you put yourself behind the eight ball. So if that was strictly what we were going on than I would probably say something different, but the fact that I’ve seen him improve every week and I look at all the little tiny details that nobody can see or really knows about, that’s what makes me feel really confident that he is going to be a really good player.”
Darnold has faced plenty of obstacles this season that are not his fault. It is his first year in Gase’s offense, he missed time with mononucleosis, his offensive line has been shuffled repeatedly and he is missing some key targets due to injuries.
Darnold took the blame for his turnovers Thursday night and echoed his coach that more experience will lead to less negative plays.
“I think with experience those plays will start going down,” Darnold said. “I won’t be making as many mistakes, hopefully, with more experience that I get. Obviously, I’m not using that as an excuse. I’m making decisions in very limited time, they’re split-second decisions that I have to make and on one given play during a game where you might have 60 plays. If I make one bad decision, then that hurts the team and they can go down and score the football or put the ball in the end zone and it might change the game. Again, it’s just about eliminating those one or two and if I can do that, I think I can put our team in a lot better position than I did last night.”
The Post looked at the 29 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2005 who have made 24 starts, the same number as Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, to see how much they improved their quarterback rating or saw it go down. Here’s a look:
Biggest increase: Through 24 games Career +/-
Alex Smith: 65.3 to 87.3, +22
Ryan Tannehill: 77.8 to 89.1, +11.3
Matthew Stafford: 78.5 to 89.3, +10.8
Sam Bradford: 74.6 to 84.5, +9.9
Matt Ryan: 85.7 to 94.7, +9.0
Marcus Mariota: 96.8 to 89.6, -7.2
Jay Cutler: 91.6 to 85.3, -6.3
Robert Griffin III: 93.8 to 88.2, -5.6
Patrick Mahomes: 112.1 to 109.2, -2.9
Josh Freeman: 80.4 to 77.6, -2.8