The New York Jets were handed their franchise quarterback in the most unlikely of ways—directly by the New York Giants. With the opportunity to take Sam Darnold at no. 2, New York’s elder franchise opted against taking a quarterback or trading down and instead took Penn State running back/outside receiver/slot receiver/punt returner/any-position-you-can-think-of Saquon Barkley. Now the quarterback that was projected to go no. 1 overall up until the past few days fell into the Jets’ lap at no. 3—and it could become a legendary subplot in New York sports history.
Pairing Barkley with Odell Beckham Jr. puts potentially two of the best playmakers in the league together, and combining them with tight end Evan Engram and wideout Sterling Shepard gives New York one of the NFL’s more talented skill groups. The Giants forgoing the chance to take a quarterback is a firm endorsement from the new regime of GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur that Eli Manning still has productive years left at quarterback—or that they didn’t see his heir among the options at no. 2 overall.
”When you’re picking this high, if you make a mistake, you’re done,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said earlier this month. “Yeah, it’s a big decision, but as long as you’ve done your homework and turned all the rocks over, you will come to the right answer.”
Even among those who didn’t feel the Giants needed to replace Eli Manning, the Barkley pick is of questionable value for the Giants. Considering the relative ease with which the Giants could have traded down and collected more draft picks, along with the checkered history of running backs going at the top of the draft returning strong value, it’s fair to wonder whether the Giants would have been better off trading down with another team—after all, the Colts got three second-rounders to just move down three slots. Barkley is the most fun pick the Giants could have made, but he may not be the most prudent.
On the green side of MetLife, the Jets are hoping that the Giants made a mistake passing on Darnold, who is the youngest quarterback drafted in the first round in the Super Bowl era. The Jets have messed up developing a young USC quarterback before —Mark Sanchez was a lightly experienced quarterback seen as a developmental prospect when he was thrown into the fire during his rookie season in 2009, and we all know how that turned out. But this time, the team has safeguarded against that type of mistake by adding veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and retaining willing mentor Josh McCown this offseason.
The Jets entered the 2017 season being accused of tanking. They were supposedly trying to, as the saying went, “Suck for Sam.” The Jets won more games than expected and needed to send three second-round picks to Indianapolis to move up from no. 6 to no. 3, but the campaign came to fruition. The Jets have their quarterback of the future, and the Giants punted on the chance to get him. Barkley and Darnold won’t just be inextricably linked for the rest of their careers; they’ll be sharing the same stadium.