Sam Darnold could have been Eli Manning’s backup as a rookie, could have been playing for the Giants against the Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
But the Giants didn’t want him. The Giants wanted Saquon Barkley instead. Loved Barkley more. Thought Barkley was the sure thing. A HOF thing.
So now Darnold gets his chance to show the Giants, who fell in love with Daniel Jones in the 2019 NFL Draft, what they missed out on.
I asked Darnold if he thought the Giants might draft him once the Browns made Baker Mayfield the first pick in 2018.
“I wasn’t really sure what was gonna happen, so I was kinda waiting for a phone call, and things were kinda out of my control from there,” Darnold said, chuckling at the memory.
Then I asked him: Any part of you want to show them what they missed?
“No. No.” Darnold said.
Why wouldn’t you want to show the Giants what they’re missed?
“That’s not how I’m wired,” Darnold said. “I’m just gonna go out there and try to play ball. Try to play good football, you know, watch tape and go out there and just try to execute. Like I said, we need a win, and so any way we can get it, I’m just gonna go out there and try to do that.”
The best way for the Jets to get their second win in nine tries and wash out the taste of rancid Dolphin in their mouths is by Darnold outdueling Jones.
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The Giants passed on him and this is his chance to pass on them.
Darnold and Jones have mutual friends and are both represented by CAA. Darnold has watched Jones play at Duke and again with the Giants when he was quarantined with his mono.
“I think he’s a super-talented quarterback,” Darnold said.
Darnold gave Jones some pre-draft pointers.
“Just how crazy it is, things like that, what to expect talking to teams,” Darnold said. “There’s so many different things to be aware of in the draft process, how to just take it slow and make sure that you’re aware of getting ready for the season, not just the combine or anything like that, but still preparing your body for a 16-week season and hopefully beyond.”
There will be no beyond, of course, for Darnold or for Jones and Barkley. Nevertheless, The Battle of New York will remind Darnold of the UCLA rivalry when he quarterbacked USC.
“Battling with UCLA, every single year was awesome,” Darnold said. “The crosstown-rivalry thing, you get to know a bunch of kids that go to UCLA, so it makes it that much more fun … and it makes it that much more intense too. It’s a fun game, but it’s a very serious game too.”
Darnold will be compared in coming years with Jones, and forever will be linked with Barkley, whose 79-yard TD run in the Rose Bowl against USC is legendary.
“Saquon’s a super-talented player,” Darnold said. “Obviously nothing but respect for him. Hopefully he doesn’t make too many plays against us, but obviously he’s an electric player, and he’s capable of anything.”
Darnold is as well … when he’s not battling the same ball-security issues that Jones has been fighting. Darnold’s end-zone interception in Miami should have been a throwaway.
“The message for us with Sam when things like that happen: ‘You can save everyone else’s mistake. No one can save yours,’ ” offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Dowell Loggains said.
Darnold has been intercepted eight times in his past three games. He swears his confidence has not wavered.
“It can’t,” Darnold said. “For me, I’m confident in my game and how I prepare. So with that being said, it’s not gonna waver.”
Darnold has been more vocal offering feedback to head coach Adam Gase as to which plays he prefers. It is a necessary part of the evolution of a young quarterback.
“After kinda getting a feel for the offense, first year being in the system, I’ve gotten a way better feel of the offense and what I like and dislike, so I’ve kinda voiced my opinion there,” Darnold said.
That won’t be a ghost he’ll be seeing across the line of scrimmage, but an old friend named Leonard Williams. Darnold texted Williams immediately after his trade to the Giants.
“I just wished him luck. I haven’t talked to him at all this week though,” Darnold said with a smile, “but I know what a presence Leo is in the middle of the defense, and we know how much of a threat he could be.”
The possible return of big-bodied tight end Chris Herndon would give Darnold a much-welcome threat of his own.
“Hopefully he can go out there and be an impact player for us,” Darnold said.
Darnold, more than anyone, is the one Adam Gase and the Jets need to be an impact player to beat the Giants.
Show ’em Sam. Show ’em what they missed.
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