FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The last time Sam Darnold was under center for the Jets, his rookie season was in a freefall.
In his last three games, he had completed just 47.3 percent of his passes for 588 yards, with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. He had a dismal passer rating of 43.2.
This Sunday, he is expected to return in time to face one of the three first-round quarterbacks the Jets could have taken instead of him - Josh Allen, who was selected seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills. But the Jets won't be looking across the field with regret because they have none at passing on Allen, Arizona's Josh Rosen, or even Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.
If the NFL held it's draft all over again tomorrow, there's no doubt the Jets would take the 21-year-old Darnold again.
That has been the strong feeling inside the Jets organization all season long, even when the rookie began to struggle. They've loved everything from his physical tools, to his ability to learn the offense, to the way he bounces back after a bad game or throw. They love his poise, his leadership, his ability to handle the pressure of the fans, and the New York media.
The Jets remain convinced they have finally found the franchise quarterback who will lead them for many years to come.
"What happened to him over his last three starts happens to a lot of rookies," one AFC scout said. "There's no reason to start doubting him. He just looked like he got lost for a while. But he's got the talent. He'll bounce back. He still might end up as the best of his class."
Right now, the best of the Quarterback Class of 2018 is clearly Baker Mayfield -- the No. 1 overall pick who has been lighting it up for the somewhat-revived Cleveland Browns. But he was obviously off the board by the time the Jets picked third. So they chose Darnold over Allen, Rosen and Jackson. And according to many sources in the organization, it was a very easy call.
It also looks like the right one based on the season so far. Both Allen and Rosen have struggled as much as Darnold, and overall have accomplished less. And while Jackson is 3-0 as a starter with the Ravens, he has a much better team around him, and has done most of the damage with his legs, not his arm.
Of the three, the comparison between Darnold and Allen is the most interesting because many scouts and NFL personnel loved - and still do love - Allen's skills. The 6-foot-5, 237-pounder was always thought of a developmental quarterback, but there was no doubt he had the strongest arm in the draft.
"It's probably stronger than any I've seen in a long time," said Jets coach Todd Bowles. Asked to name another quarterback he's seen with that kind of arm strength, he said "Maybe (John) Elway."
But Allen has predictably had trouble reining that arm in. He's completed just 52.9 percent of his passes for 1,223 yards, with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. To his credit, he has gone 3-4 with a terrible Bills team. He also shocked a lot of people over the last two weeks, rushing 22 times for 234 yards.
"That's impressive in its own right," Bowles said. "He's a dual threat - more of a dual threat than you thought he would be coming into the league."
Darnold isn't that kind of dual threat, but he has proven to be good at moving out of the pocket and throwing on the run. He's also struggled with his accuracy at times, completing 55 percent of his passes for 1,934 yards with 11 touchdowns and a league-high 14 interceptions.
But he has had brilliant stretches, such as his outstanding debut in Detroit and the win over Indianapolis when he was 24-of-30 for 280 yards.
Allen has yet to have a game like that. In fact, last week was the first time he threw two touchdown passes in a single game. Rosen -- the 10th overall pick, who has completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 1,670 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions -- has only thrown for 250 yards once, and over his last three games, he averaged 130 passing yards per game.
And while Jackson, the last pick of the first round, has gotten a lot of hype over the last three games, consider this: He's averaged 88 yards rushing and 150 yards passing in those games, which isn't usually the formula for NFL quarterback success. Overall, he's completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 540 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while running 82 times for 404 yards.
Those are all just the early returns, though. It's crazy to fully evaluate quarterbacks in their rookie season. History is littered with quarterbacks who struggled at the start, then went on to productive - even Hall of Fame-caliber - careers. It will take three years, maybe even more, to really get a sense of whether the Jets made the right decision.
For now, though, they seem very confident they did.