Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
While talking about how Sam Darnold has been developing during the offseason, Adam Gase gave the impression that Darnold has been obsessively asking questions about and watching film of Peyton Manning.
Darnold would obviously love to emulate Manning's success in Gase's system and it would be a dream come true for Gase if Darnold can run his system as efficiently.
Is this a realistic goal, though?
Manning, on whose recommendation Gase was reportedly offered the head coach job in January, had the best statistical season of his career and went to a Super Bowl with Gase as his offensive coordinator.
However, he was already a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback with a wealth of experience. In fact, for much of his career, it was said that he didn't need an offensive coordinator, because he carried out that role himself, on the field.
Darnold, on the other hand, is entering his second season following an inconsistent rookie campaign. Jets fans are extremely excited about how good he looked down the stretch, though. If Gase's system proves to be the ideal system for him, perhaps he can develop as swiftly as Manning himself did.
When Manning entered the NFL, he was viewed as the surest of sure things. By contrast, while Darnold was a highly respected prospect, experts still had concerns about his accuracy, mechanics and pocket presence. However, there are similarities if you look at their body of work in the college game.
Manning was a four-year starter, mainly because he opted to stay in school for another year rather than be drafted by the Jets. Conversely, Darnold came out early, so he only had two years as a starter. A direct comparison of those two years with Manning's last two years at Tennessee shows that they were uncannily similar statistically.
Manning completed 62 percent of his passes for 7,106 yards, 56 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Darnold, while throwing 11 fewer attempts, completed 65 percent of his passes for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
Their rookie seasons weren't altogether dissimilar either. Manning passed for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns while Darnold only passed for 2,865 and 17 touchdowns, albeit in three fewer games. Darnold also posted a better completion percentage, a better touchdown-to-interception ratio and won four games to Manning's three.
It may seem far-fetched for Darnold to ascend as fast as Manning, who led the Colts to 13-3 in his second season and went to the Pro Bowl, but it's certainly a good measuring stick to gauge his progress against.
Manning did things throughout his career, especially in his later years in Gase's system, that had a multitude of positive impacts. His ability to recognize blitzes, change protections at the line, anticipate where the pressure was coming from and get the ball out quickly would mitigate any deficiencies in his offensive line, by not exposing them to difficult matchups where they'd have to sustain their blocks.
It would be huge for the Jets if Darnold could do the same for their beleaguered line.
That's not all, though. Manning's ability to pick apart opposing defenses got all his receivers involved in the offense and made for a versatile attack. Also, he was able to make pre-snap reads that not only benefited the passing game, but the running game too, as he was able to audible out of runs he could see would fail.
Darnold isn't Manning, but at the same time he brings more mobility to the table, especially when compared with the post-neck injury Manning that excelled with Gase. Manning also didn't throw the corner route very often late in his career, whereas that's a pass Darnold has had some good success with.
It would be concerning if Darnold tried to become Peyton Manning overnight. You need to be able to walk before you can run and it would be dangerous for Darnold to put too much on his plate before he is ready. That was something that seemed to affect Geno Smith as his development stalled early on in his career.
Some additional reports have suggested that Darnold has also been watching film on Jay Cutler, which is probably a good sign because it suggests Darnold is not just obsessed with Manning and instead is looking to take different attributes that can work within Gase's system and add them to his own game.
So long as Darnold takes a pragmatic approach to following in Manning's footsteps, it could set him on a viable development path. Darnold needs to adapt his own game to add the most beneficial attributes to it, in much the same way as Gase should be adapting his offensive system to make the best use of what Darnold does well.