NFL

The Jets’ Sam Darnold Has the Most to Gain at the NFL Draft

You’ll have to pardon Sam Darnold if he’s more excited about the upcoming NFL Draft than Joe Burrow, who’s merely going to be selected first overall on April 23 if you believe the experts.

Burrow is the LSU quarterback who appears destined for the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton is the New York Jets quarterback who’ll be gifted one or more outstanding rookie receivers by the time the draft concludes.

Sam Darnold needs more weapons to work with this fall

The New York Jets’ idea of upgrading at wide receiver thus far this offseason has been to sign Breshad Perriman, who caught 36 balls for six touchdowns and a nice 17.9 yards per reception last fall for the Buccaneers. But what does it say about Perriman that Tampa Bay, admittedly strong at wide receiver, let him go even as the Bucs were committing to free-agent quarterback Tom Brady?

With Robby Anderson having signed with the Carolina Panthers last week, quarterback Sam Darnold’s only other real receiving option is Jamison Crowder. The fifth-year pro caught a career-best 78 balls for the Jets last season but isn’t a deep threat and is also a candidate to be cut as a cost-saving measure.

That’s why the upcoming draft must be a relief for Darnold. With the Jets holding the 11th, 48th, 68th, and 79th picks in a draft dripping with talent at wide receiver, they could wait until the middle of the second round and still come up with a potential instant starter.

Draft history is on Sam Darnold’s side

Analysts have said this looks like one of the best groups of receiving prospects ever and that five or six wideouts can be selected in the first round. But with the way offensive tackles – a need area for the Jets – and quarterbacks are projected to come off the board early, all the top receivers could still be there when it’s time for New York to pick at No. 11.  

If that’s the case, how could they not give Sam Darnold a boost for his third season by grabbing a receiver – and then potentially go back for another in the later rounds? Florida’s Van Jefferson, the son of Jets receivers coach Shawn Jefferson could still be there in the fifth or sixth round. Such a move would certainly boost a team coming off a 7-9 season with an anemic offense.

This would be the year to do it. There were only 28 receivers (just two in the first round) drafted last year, the lowest number since 2013, but there are more than 20 underclassmen alone available at that position this time around. Add in the usual bounty of seniors and there will be plenty of options.

Who are the top receivers in the draft?

The four receivers at the top of most draft lists are CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma, Justin Jefferson of LSU, and the Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.

Ruggs is the ultimate speed receiver, having run a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. But he wasn’t a big-play receiver or the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 option.

Any of the other three could make Sam Darnold look awfully good next fall. Lamb is the most rugged of the bunch with his knack for shaking off tacklers and he’s also adept at returning kickoffs and punts, which makes him useful even if he doesn’t crack the starting lineup right away.

Jeudy averaged 17.1 yards on 145 catches and scored 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons, which speaks to his moves once he comes down with the ball. Jefferson caught 111 balls and scored 18 touchdowns in his final season at LSU and would look good as Darnold’s slot receiver.