As the only winless team, the Jets could be in position to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The speculation among fans and media already is rampant, putting Darnold in an awkward position.
“Yeah, you know, I mean, I have social media,” Darnold said Thursday, addressing the Lawrence hype for the first time. “I’ve seen some of the things, but … Yeah, we’ve got a game to win this week and that’s all we’re worried about.”
Darnold is battling to get back in the lineup after missing two games with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. He appears to be trending toward a return to the lineup Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4-2), as both he and coach Adam Gase seemed encouraged by his progress.
Darnold admitted “there’s a little bit of pain, but it’s nothing crazy. I feel like I’m capable of dealing with it.”
For the Jets (0-6), the game is meaningless in the standings, but Gase is fighting for his job and the organization would like to use the remainder of the schedule to evaluate Darnold for a possible quarterback decision in the offseason.
Darnold, drafted third overall in 2018, did his best to deflect the Lawrence speculation, trying to focus on the Bills.
“For me, it’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m here to do my best and help this team win games.”
Darnold has struggled in his third season. He ranks 29th out of 30 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR (46.3). His inconsistency could be blamed, in part, on injuries to his wide receiving corps.
Rookie Denzel Mims is poised to make his NFL debut Sunday, which means they could have their starting three intact for the first time. But now leading receiver Jamison Crowder is a question mark; he didn’t practice because of a groin injury that occurred Wednesday.
“I don’t think I’ve played well enough to win, that’s just shooting it straight,” Darnold said. “We haven’t won any games, so obviously I haven’t played well enough.”
Gase always is fiercely defensive of Darnold, perhaps because his job security hinges on Darnold’s performance. Gase said “it’s unfair to judge” the former first-round pick because he has had to play with a patchwork group of receivers.
“Some of those games have been hard to put on him and evaluate him,” Gase said. “It’s survival mode because of what’s going on injurywise. How many games has he had with the group we put together at the start of the season? We haven’t seen what it looks like with the group we drafted and signed.”
Darnold’s career record is only 11-19, but the Jets are 0-8 without him — which shows his value.
For now, his goal is to get ready for Sunday.
“I feel good,” he said. “The last two days have gone really well. I’m throwing the ball and I’ve recovered pretty quickly. Obviously, it’s still to be determined what’s going to happen Sunday as far as who’s starting, but I’ve felt really good the last couple of days.”