The 2018 NFL Draft created a clear, geographical inflection point between the two New York football teams. The Giants, with an opportunity to reboot their franchise and create a seamless transition from Eli Manning to the next No. 2 overall quarterback, passed on the chance and drafted Saquon Barkley, a running back described as a generational talent by GM Dave Gettleman.
But still a running back.
The Jets sat there slack-jawed, unable to comprehend how Sam Darnold, the player they coveted from the very start of the draft process, landed in their laps at No. 3. This hapless franchise hadn't been able to find a quarterback since Joe Namath strutted up and down Broadway, and here one of the best prospects in recent memory had fallen in their laps.
Darnold wasn't a perfect prospect, and there is certainly risk with any quarterback. But plenty of smart people ranked Darnold up there with any quarterback over the past few years.
The Giants chose Barkley because they believed he was the best player on the board but also because they believed Barkley could slide into their lineup and, with the additions to the offensive line made in the offseason, rejuvenate Eli's career and the Giants offense. The axiom of not drafting a running back high has been proven wrong in rather ironic fashion: Barkley looks incredible, and it's not enough to turn the Giants into contenders.
Instead, they added a potential superstar running back and find themselves at 1-5 and hurtling towards another top-five pick. The Giants own a bottom five point differential and are winless at home, with two humiliating losses coming to the Saints and Eagles in high profile games. Owner John Mara is angry, and he should be. This could have been avoided.
The Giants now look like the Jets, and the Jets, who eagerly snagged Darnold in the draft, look more like the Giants. Darnold has looked like a rookie at times, but, uh, he's a rookie. And he's playing on a team with some obscure, albeit talented, wide receivers. The offensive line is below average.
But Darnold's game is progressing quickly. You can see maturity when you watch the Jets beat up on the Colts, with Darnold going through his progressions in a calm fashion, looking downfield to pick up chunk plays, but being more than willing to take his checkdown option if the deep shot isn't there. He finished that game 24-of-30 (80 percent) with 280 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception. He should have had another score, but Robby Anderson dropped a deep pass Darnold put in the perfect spot.
It's easy to harken back to halftime of the Browns game in Week 3, when Baker Mayfield made his electric debut and stole Darnold's early lead in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race as the Browns beat the Jets. But in the three starts each has made since, Darnold has been dramatically better.
He's completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 645 yards (7.5 yards/attempt), six touchdowns and two interceptions. Mayfield is completing 52.3 percent of his passes for 875 yards (6.7 yards/attempt), four touchdowns and five interceptions. Mayfield has been asked to throw more -- over 40 times per game! -- but Darnold has been more efficient.
Darnold is throwing with anticipation, putting balls into tight windows and giving Jets fans reason to be hopeful for the first time in roughly a decade. This season might not end in a playoff berth and it might not even end with the Jets finishing above .500, but Jets fans should feel secure in believing they landed a franchise quarterback. Put the right pieces around Darnold and let him develop properly, and this could flip the tables on the New York football scene pretty quickly.
But, hey, at least the Giants have a productive running back they'll have to give a market-breaking extension to in three or four years.
Yell at me on Twitter @WillBrinson with your complaints, questions and (unlikely) compliments and make sure to check out my daily NFL podcast, the Pick Six Podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes here.
To the rankings:
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|What a freaking way to close out Monday Night Football. Only a few guys can do that.|
Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
|Didn't have big stats in the blowout win over the Browns, but Rivers is playing as well as anyone in the NFL right now.|
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
|Coming off a bye, he's one of the top MVP candidates right now with a big test at Baltimore coming.|
Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
|Brady did what Brady does often: outduel a young up-and-comer on his home turf and lead a clutch, game-winning drive for a Patriots win.|
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|Rough first half in Foxborough but Mahomes lit up the scoreboard. He's probably the top MVP candidate right now and proving himself capable of handling any situation.|
Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts QB
|If you can name four of Luck's currently healthy receivers off the top of your head, I'll buy you a beer.|
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers QB
|Hope you got your licks in on the Steelers early, because this team is starting to round into form.|
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
|Sure, the Falcons aren't WINNING much, but Ryan is playing lights out right now.|
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
|The undefeated Rams are going for their third road win in as many weeks. That would be impressive.|
Cam Newton Carolina Panthers QB
|Bad playcalling on the final drive might have cost Cam a better look at a winning touchdown, and D.J. Moore hosed him with some horrible fumbles too.|
Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles QB
|Returning to his MVP form from last season as we get to the midpoint of the season.|
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
|Getting very worried about Watson's ability to finish the season healthy given all the shots he's taking. A partially collapsed lung??|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Cousins is playing lights out right now without an offensive line and a patchwork run game. The Vikings made the right move at quarterback, even if it was an expensive one.|
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
|Nice to see Wilson actually cut loose in London, but he is under an offensive coordinator operated leash right now.|
Jameis Winston Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|Do not be surprised if Winston climbs these rankings. He's gonna throw some picks, but he's got a good schedule and a terrible defense. There will be stats put up in a big way.|
Matthew Stafford Detroit Lions QB
|Off a bye so maybe some recency bias dropping him a bit -- big time game for the Lions down in Miami this weekend.|
Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals QB
|Dalton's gonna get a chance to put up some numbers against the Chiefs defense, but it will come in prime time.|
Mitchell Trubisky Chicago Bears QB
|Not sure how the Bears blew that game against the Dolphins but I don't put it on Trubisky.|
Joe Flacco Baltimore Ravens QB
|Easy day at the office for Flacco against the Titans. He might have to stretch his wings a bit against the Saints this coming week.|
Alex Smith Washington Redskins QB
|Smith wasn't dominant at all against the Panthers but it was definitely an improvement over his prior week. Massive game against the Cowboys.|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|Hey! Using the read option actually makes the Cowboys more effective on offense!|
Sam Darnold New York Jets QB
|It's a pretty impressive state of things when the top rookie quarterback, leading his team to 3-3, manages to only be 22 on this list. The NFL is loaded with good quarterbacks right now.|
Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns QB
|Playing well enough to keep his team in a lot of games, but they're asking a lot out of the rookie making him throw 40 times a game.|
Josh Rosen Arizona Cardinals QB
|The guy flying under the radar will get a big test in prime time against the Broncos on Thursday night.|
Marcus Mariota Tennessee Titans QB
|Horrible stretch of football for Mariota and the Titans offense. Completely out of sync and needs to find something against the Chargers in London.|
C.J. Beathard San Francisco 49ers QB
|This almost feels too low after his heroic effort against the Packers on Monday night. Shame that work was wasted.|
Case Keenum Denver Broncos QB
|Defense isn't helping him at the moment but it might not matter with Chad Kelly breathing down his neck.|
Blake Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|Not playing like a top-tier quarterback right now and the Jaguars don't have a running game to bail him out at the moment.|
Brock Osweiler Miami Dolphins QB
|WELCOME TO BROCKTOBER BABY.|
Derek Carr Oakland Raiders QB
|Things are going south FAST in Oakland and you can bet Jon Gruden is going to kick his QB under the bus at some point.|
Eli Manning New York Giants QB
|The Giants are in an impossible situation with this Eli thing.|
Derek Anderson Buffalo Bills QB
|The Bills signed him last week, so he's basically just taking Nathan Peterman's spot on this list.|