Jets have quarterback of future: Draft Sam Darnold at No. 3

It turns out the Jets did not have to “Suck for Sam” to land USC quarterback Sam Darnold.

Gang Green selected Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick Thursday night, a slight surprise because Darnold had been projected to go No. 1 by many people for the past month.

The Browns took Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick and the Giants selected Saquon Barkley at No. 2.

That left the Jets with the choice at No. 3 between Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen, considered three of the top quarterbacks in the draft along with Mayfield. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan chose Darnold, hoping the 20-year-old can become the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for since Joe Namath left town after the 1976 season.

Darnold, who is from Capistrano Beach, Calif., spent three years at USC and started the past two seasons. He became the first USC quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. His legend grew in the 2017 Rose Bowl when he passed for 453 yards in a comeback win over Penn State. That game turned Darnold into a celebrity and people began hyping him for the 2018 draft immediately after.

He led the Trojans to a 20-4 record as a starter. Last season he completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns. He ran for another five touchdowns.

The biggest knock on Darnold is his turnovers. He finished 2017 with 13 interceptions and nine lost fumbles. He turned the ball over 37 times in 26 games for the Trojans. There is also concern that he has an elongated throwing motion.

Overall, though, many draft experts view Darnold as the most complete quarterback in this draft. He may need to sit as a rookie to learn under Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, though. The Jets re-signed Josh McCown with just this kind of scenario in mind. McCown could start the season, help Darnold along and then Darnold could take over late this season or next year. Teddy Bridgewater also may change those plans if he plays well in the spring and summer.

This is the first time the Jets have taken a quarterback — or any offensive player — in the first round since 2009 when they traded up to take Mark Sanchez, another USC quarterback, with the No. 5 pick. The Jets hope Darnold has more success than Sanchez, who flamed out after some early success in leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games.

The pick is the culmination of a long process for the Jets. The talk of the Jets taking a quarterback in this year’s draft began before last year’s draft, when they started unloading veteran players with an eye on rebuilding in 2018.

The chatter before the season centered on whether the Jets were tanking, with some questioning whether the team would go 0-16, for a shot at landing the No. 1 pick this year. Instead, the Jets went 5-11 and ended up with the No. 6 overall pick.

At the beginning of the offseason, the Jets targeted top free agent Kirk Cousins as their quarterback of the future. Cousins chose to sign with the Vikings, though, forcing the Jets to turn to Plan B. That involved re-signing McCown, adding Bridgewater and looking for a quarterback in this draft.

Just days after being rebuffed by Cousins, the Jets swung a trade with the Colts to move up to the No. 3 pick in return for two second-round picks in this year’s draft and a second-rounder in 2019.

Through March and April, the Jets crisscrossed the country attending pro days and private workouts with the top quarterbacks. They also had each of them come to Florham Park for pre-draft visits.

Now, Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles have to hope they made the right choice. After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, their job security will depend on it.

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