Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold will be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets for the Week 1 matchup against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 10, according to the NFL Network. He is the youngest quarterback to start a season opener in NFL history, at 21 years and 97 days old.
Darnold was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, coming off a successful career at USC. In 2016, he led the Trojans to a nine-game win streak and a legendary Rose Bowl victory against Penn State. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold pulled off a 52-49 win to claim the title surrounded by current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster.
In his two years at USC, he threw for a total of 7,229 yards and 57 touchdowns. He constantly struggled with turnovers but could still manage to pull off the win. Darnold’s USC career ended with a disappointing Cotton Bowl appearance where the Trojans were defeated 24-7 by Ohio State.
When the NFL Draft rolled around, there was a high probability of Darnold going as the No. 1 pick to the Cleveland Browns; but the Browns went with Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield instead. The Jets took Darnold to become their next franchise player, and he was immediately placed in the New York spotlight to impress the coaches over the summer.
“He’s everything you’re looking for in a young quarterback as far as the ability to go out there, and the game isn’t too big for him,” Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates told ESPN after preseason Week 3. “The stage isn’t too big for him. Really, when the lights come on, he gets better.”
Darnold came out in the first two preseason games ready to show off his talent. In Week 1 of the preseason against the Atlanta Falcons, he led the team to a 17-0 win by throwing 96 yards and completing 13-of-18 passes. He topped off his debut by throwing his first NFL touchdown. Preseason Week 2 was less of a show, as Darnold compiled only 62 yards, one interception and no touchdowns. The rookie put up a 64.4 percent completion rate for 244 yards with two total touchdowns in preseason so far. Darnold has always had a calming presence on the field and an impressive ability to make reads, both areas in which he impressed the Jets staff.
Darnold’s preseason starts were strong hints that he would take the starting spot, but it became obvious when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was traded to the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday. New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles and his staff expect to make the decision official after Thursday, when the Jets play the Philadelphia Eagles in their final preseason game.