Sep 10, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

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Keidel: Will Giants Come To Regret Not Drafting Darnold?

Jason Keidel
September 11, 2018 - 1:32 pm
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When Sam Darnold rolled right, looked left, and heaved that medicine ball across his body, Giants fans had to grin when the Lions picked off that disastrous first pass of Darnold's career and sprinted into the end zone.

Same old Jets. While the Giants lost their first game of the 2018 season, they at least drafted a workhorse running back, Saquon Barkley, who flashed some of his athletic splendor during his 68-yard TD dash on Sunday. 

But that was Darnold's first and last scalp-scratching mistake. After a 7-0 deficit 15 seconds into Darnold's career, the Jets rolled the Lions at Detroit on Monday Night Football, 48-17, embarrassing the home team for the next 59 minutes. The Jets were fantastic on defense and fabulous on special teams. But it's Darnold who owns the headlines this morning, completing 16 of 21 passes, for 198 yards, two TD and one INT. 

And while Monday (and sometimes Tuesday) mornings are fertile ground for comical overreactions, you had to wonder what the Giants' fans and front office are feeling right now. NFL clubs, from the GM to the last man on the roster, are rehearsed in team speak, dropping platitudes about their singular focus on their team, their job, and their next opponent. Forever in the moment, they never look past or behind today's task.

But all Big Blue has to do is look down the bowels at MetLife Stadium and see their possible future franchise QB now in a Jets uniform. The Giants lost to the Jaguars for many reasons, but Eli Manning did not play like a QB who has Tom Brady's physical and spiritual vaccine for the aging process. Eli didn't look lost as much as he looked old. It was just Week 1 and the Jags' ornery defense can make any offense ordinary, but part of the fun of football are these theatrical mornings of doomsday projections.

Let's assume you're still enamored with Barkley's performance, even if he averaged two yards a carry aside from that long TD scamper. Let's assume Giants fans are fantasizing about 1,800 yards from scrimmage from their prized rookie RB. Let's stretch the dream bubble a decade, with Barkley putting the final strokes on the best career for a halfback in Big Blue's history.

Even at his galloping best, Barkley will always be a halfback, and will never have the influence over an offense that Manning does. Or that Darnold will someday. Most of us figured the Giants were content with handing the Manning mantle to Davis Webb, the rubber-armed QB the Giants drafted (presumably) as Eli's successor. But the Giants shocked the media and masses by cutting Webb, despite the backup QB having a robust preseason.

'Boomer & Gio': Darnold Gets An ‘A+’

Instead of Webb ready to assume the throne, the Giants have a troubling QB pecking order of Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta. With the second overall pick in the draft and a gaggle of high-grade college QBs available, the G-Men demurred on a passer, drafted Barkley, and thus shoved all their future chips onto Eli Manning's lap. Clearly head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman think Eli has three or four years left in his arm, not three or four months. But if you took a secret poll among Giants fans today, you wonder if they would still have taken Barkley over Darnold.

Sure, Mark Sanchez had a glittering start to his career. Even Browning Nagle had a glamorous opening night in Gang Green colors (21-for-37, 366 yards, two TD, 0 INT, 108.6 passer rating to open the 1992 season). And yes, there's the dual-concerns that follow fellow USC quarterbacks, and those who don't play at least three years of college ball.

But Darnold looks different. The new face of the Jets franchise is hulking and humble, focused and fearless. After his woeful start, Darnold stood tall, with way more wink than blink in his gridiron personality. He reminds you of a young Eli Manning. The defining difference today, of course, is Manning is now 37 while Darnold, 21, just became the youngest QB to start a season under center for an NFL franchise.

Surely the Giants noticed, too. It's way too early to take a bow, but last week this space said the Giants would regret drafting Barkley while watching Darnold blossom into a franchise quarterback. So far, so good, or so bad, depending on which local team you love or loathe.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.