When it comes to developing a top quarterback prospect, the book says to play him ASAP. Of the 17 top-10 picks in the past 10 drafts, 14 started at least 10 games as a rookie -- and it sounds like the New York Jets are willing to follow that path with Sam Darnold.
"He's going to get every opportunity to go out and earn that spot," general manager Mike Maccagnan said Monday on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN 98.7 FM -- the first public acknowledgement by the team that Darnold could be the Week 1 starter.
The Jets face a fascinating decision. They don't have to rush Darnold into the lineup because they have a couple of hold-the-fort players in Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater (if healthy). At the same time, it would be prudent to give Darnold substantial action this season. Every quarterback experiences NFL growing pains, and they might as well start the clock as soon as possible. That way, they can hit the ground at full speed in 2019.
If the Jets are seeking an ideal model, they should study Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams kept the 2016 No. 1 overall pick on the bench for half his rookie season, finally transitioning to him for the final seven games. It was ugly, but he blossomed last season, with the help of a coaching change.
For all his physical ability, Darnold still is a raw talent with a lot to learn. He started only 24 games at USC and attempted just 846 passes, which means he still hasn't experienced a lot of football situations. By comparison, Baker Mayfield attempted 1,497 passes in college.
Darnold, who doesn't turn 21 until June 5, could use some time to develop because he picked up some bad habits last season -- interceptions (13), lost fumbles (nine) and happy feet in the pocket. The Jets' personnel people believe some of the hiccups can be attributed to a supporting cast that was a lot younger than 2016. Some in the NFL scouting community have questioned USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin and his playcalling.
Darnold will benefit greatly from being around Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and McCown, a coach in waiting. In fact, Darnold spent two hours with Bates in his pre-draft visit to the Jets' facility. He has a gym-rat mentality and will absorb their wisdom, but nothing beats on-the-job training.
The Jets must -- repeat, must! -- make sure Darnold starts at least half the season. The idea of "redshirting" a quarterback is an antiquated philosophy, and the reason is because the current collective bargaining agreement -- in effect since 2011 -- limits practice time during the offseason and training camp. If you're not playing, you're not getting a whole lot of reps.
"There's a ton of room for growth," Darnold said after being picked by the Jets. "That's the thing I'm really excited about. Just being 20 years old, I know there's a lot of room for growth, but I'm also very confident in my ability to go out there and play."
Over the past 10 drafts, the only top-10 quarterback not to start a game as a rookie was Jake Locker (2011) -- a bust. Patrick Mahomes started only one game last season -- a meaningless finale -- but it's too soon to put a stamp on his career.
The danger, of course, is rushing an impressionable quarterback into the lineup and shattering his confidence if things go awry. The Jets are in a good situation because they can afford to be patient.
To a point.