New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold stands on the sidelines in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 of the NFL season on September 16, 2018 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Thursday's Jets-Browns game in Cleveland easily could have been a quarterback matchup of Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold -- with Mayfield in green and white and Darnold in brown and orange.
Jets fans may shudder at that thought (they gave Darnold a standing ovation Sunday before he even took a snap), but it very easily could've happened. Darnold was the consensus No. 1 pick for a good chunk of time leading up to the draft before the Browns became enamored with Mayfield.
The draft always provides some great "what if" scenarios, but this year's will be particularly interesting, say, five years from now. Quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 were Mayfield, No. 1; Darnold, No. 3; Josh Allen, No. 7 to the Bills; and Josh Rosen, No. 10 to the Cardinals. Also, Lamar Jackson went to the Ravens 32nd and the Giants passed on a potential franchise quarterback to take Saquon Barkley second.
Mayfield still hasn't played an NFL snap as he holds the clipboard for veteran Tyrod Taylor, but Darnold has already thrown for 532 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in going 1-1 for the Jets.
It's been such a whirlwind for the 21-year-old that he hasn't had time to reflect on the possibilities.
"I thought I could be there [in Cleveland] or several other teams," Darnold said after Monday's practice. "I honestly haven't even thought about it since I got drafted by the Jets. With [Cleveland] having the [No.] 1 pick, I guess there was a good chance I might have gone there, so I was thinking about it before. But ever since the draft, I haven't even thought about it."
It's not as if the Jets have been some sort of dynasty the last few years, but they actually seem like a stable franchise compared to the Browns, who hit rock bottom as a franchise last season, recording only the second winless 16-game season in NFL history.
Since they were reincarnated in 1999, Cleveland has one playoff appearance, two winning seasons, nine head coaches and their recent stretch of ineptitude has reached epic proportions. The Browns are on a 1-35-1 stretch, but perhaps you could say things are looking up because the tie came Week 1 against the Steelers?
So forgive Cleveland coach Hue Jackson if he's not worried about Darnold right now. He's got his own problems to worry about.
"I don't think at this point that really matters," Jackson said Tuesday on a conference call with the New York media about the draft order. "More than anything, what Sam is doing is he's proving he can play in this league as a starter right now for the New York Jets. We have a very young, talented player that we feel really good about who, at some point in time, will get an opportunity to showcase his talent and ability."
Darnold's time is now, but is he ready? It's a fair question given his propensity to turn the ball over. He shows flashes of brilliance, but in 29 games between USC and the Jets, Darnold has turned ball over an astounding 39 times.
That could be especially troublesome against the Browns. Even though they haven't won a game yet, second-year coordinator Gregg Williams' defense has already forced a league-high eight turnovers.
"It's not like he's going to see anything that he hasn't seen," coach Todd Bowles said Monday. "They disguise well, he just has to play his game, and the other 10 guys on offense have to do their job."
One thing Darnold hasn't seen -- and won't see through his growing pains -- is the bench. Mayfield is learning from the sidelines, and it might behoove him in the long run.
Another great "what if" of the 2018 draft.