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Sam Darnold (QB, NYJ) - 2019 Fantasy Football Sleeper


The New York Jets and quarterback Sam Darnold enter 2019 expecting to improve upon their 4-12 record from a season ago. To achieve this, they have brought in free-agent running back Le'Veon Bell and former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase. The Jets feel that adding these two pieces should significantly improve their offense, which finished 29th in the league with 4,787 yards of total offense.

A big part of the Jets' offense in 2018 was their passing game. They finished the season with 3,165 passing yards, which was only good for 25th in the league, but accounted for 66 percent of their total offense. Adam Gase is known for getting creative with offenses. However, his passing offense in Miami was even worse than the Jets, putting up a putrid 2,900 passing yards in 2018. He did have less to work with while in Miami, so it is more than feasible that having the likes of Darnold, Bell, Robby Anderson, and Chris Herndon IV at the skill positions will lead to improvement.

For the Jets' offense to take flight in 2019, Darnold will have to step up the most. As a rookie, he threw for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions across 13 games. He missed three games from Weeks 10-13 due to a foot sprain. He recovered and performed admirably down the stretch, finishing with 931 passing yards and six touchdowns to one interception over the final four weeks of the season. Let's take a look at why he should continue to improve in 2019.

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Darnold to Fly in 2019?

The addition of Bell will help Darnold grow in 2019. Darnold loves throwing to the running back position. This is exemplified by him throwing 74 passes for 47 completions and 447 receiving yards between Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, and Trenton Cannon in 2018. In 2019, Bell will give him a single back that can handle this workload. In 2017 (Bell's last season), he recorded 106 targets for 85 receptions and 655 receiving yards. Bell has had over 600 receiving yards in every season except his rookie season in 2013 and an injury-shortened 2015. Having a running back with the receiving abilities Bell possesses is going to boost Darnold's production immensely.

The metrics surrounding Darnold are not overly impressive, but it is important to remember 2018 was his rookie season, and there is plenty of reason to believe he will improve. One area where Darnold performed well was with his aDoT (average depth of target). In 2018, Darnold's aDoT was nine yards, which ranked him in the top 31% of quarterbacks league-wide. One reason this stands out is that it shows he was not afraid to take shots down the field. Rookies often come into the league and have coaches that pare down the offense, which translates to dinking and dunking their way down the field. That was not the case with Darnold.

He also had 56 deep ball throws, which ranked him 20th among quarterbacks. This being said, his deep ball accuracy will need improvement moving forward. He completed just 26.8 percent of deep ball throws in 2018, which ranked him 30th in the league. Another year behind center should bring about improvement.

Another area where we could see improvement in Darnold's game is his average receiver yards after the catch (YAC). While YAC is not entirely in the quarterback's control, ball placement is very important to achieving a high total.  Last season, Darnold's receivers finished with an average YAC of 5.5, which ranked him right at the 50% mark. Another year behind center plus the addition of Bell and Jamison Crowder, who are YAC machines, will bring about improvement. Bell was third in the league in YAC in 2017, meanwhile, Jamison Crowder finished 2018 with 7.3 YAC, which was good for the top six percent in the league. Quincy Enunwa also averaged 7.4 YAC in 2018, which placed him in the top five percent of the league. 2019 looks good for Darnold from a YAC standpoint as his targets should be able to help add to his overall totals.

One final tidbit that instills confidence in Darnold moving forward are the sure hands of his number one target, Anderson. Darnold targeted Anderson 94 times in 2018, which resulted in a total of one drop. Anderson's drop rate of 1.1 percent placed him in the top 23% of the league. Anderson is listed as the number one wide receiver on the Jets' depth chart and will be counted on again as Darnold's number one wide receiver target. Anderson being sure-handed will only help Darnold improve in 2019.

Darnold has a lot going his way in 2019. He has one year of NFL experience under his belt, has a new offensive-minded head coach, and has talent at the skill positions surrounding him. The addition of Bell appears to be the biggest boom he could have asked for and will be a key cog in his development in 2019. As long as Darnold continues to grow and continues to get comfortable in Adam Gase's offense, he should increase his totals from a season ago. He currently has an ADP of 181 and is going as the 24th quarterback off the board. Be aggressive here and take him as your backup quarterback with an ADP of 150-160 instead of someone like Tom Brady.

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