The Jets' season is starting to look like a disappointment and is on the verge of becoming as bad as it was last year. But perspective is needed, because the Jets' plans never really focused on this season.
This season was all about developing their franchise quarterback and building toward being a contender in 2019 and beyond.
So keep that in mind when evaluating where they are at the half-way point of the season. With that, here are some first-half grades for a few of the players, decision-makers and decisions that have the Jets sitting at 3-5, but convinced their future is bright.
The excitement is bigger than the actual performance right now, but that's the way it always is for rookie quarterbacks. He's had flashes of greatness and had shown fairly steady signs of improvement until the last two miserable weeks. He makes some incredible throws and bounces back when he makes some incredibly bad decisions. Also, consider he's doing it all with a struggling offensive line, an erratic running game and no real weapons in the passing game. If he ever gets some help, he'll be very, very good.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates
There have been a few mind-blowing calls -- like Darnold's first NFL pass, back across the field, that resulted in a seemingly predictable pick six -- but he has nothing to work with on his roster. There's marginal talent on offense surrounding a rookie quarterback, and somehow he's still squeezing out 24 points per game. Mostly, though, his grade is based on the fact he's also the quarterbacks coach and he's done a pretty good job with Darnold's development overall.
The offensive line
The good news for them is they're not the Giants, so they're not even the worst line in their own town. But they've still gotten the rookie quarterback sacked 17 times, even though Darnold is pretty good at getting out of trouble. There have been games in which they seemed to blast open holes in the run game, but not enough. Too inconsistent overall.
The receivers/tight ends
Quincy Enunwa has missed the last two games and has one catch in the last four, and he still leads the Jets with 22 receptions, which is all that needs to be said. Robby Anderson (17-314) has had a few good moments, but that's it. Jermaine Kearse (19-195) hasn't stepped up to be the reliable target Darnold needs. Rookie tight end Chris Herndon looks like he might be a good one, but he's only got 12 catches for 161 yards so hit the brakes on that for now.
He has three sacks, which is already one more than last year and puts him on pace to approach his career-high of seven, but it still puts him in the category of being a good player, not dominant. That's fine, but remember he was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft and the Jets picked up his fifth-year option for $14.2 million next season. They expect a little more of a player who could be a cornerstone for them. They need him to be more than just average.
He has easily been the Jets' best defensive player, and has really stood out in a secondary that has been ravaged by injuries. He's made plays in coverage and down by the line of scrimmage. He also has continued to emerge as a team leader and important voice in the locker room, keeping everyone positive and even calling for players-only meetings to make sure the season doesn't spiral away.
The rest of the rookie class
There is potential, but it's been mostly quiet potential. Cornerback Parry Nickerson has been solid as a fill-in once injuries hit the secondary. Nose tackle Nathan Shepherd has been OK, but hasn't had much of an impact. Herndon looks like he could be a player, but given how the Jets use so many tight ends his impact has been limited. And running back Trent Cannon's opportunities have been limited after a fairly impressive summer.
The free agent spending spree
The Jets spent a ton of money in the offseason and the returns have been mixed. They signed good young-ish players in LB Avery Williamson and CB Trumaine Johnson, and RB Isaiah Crowell has had value too. Recently-released WR Terrelle Pryor was a bit of a bust. What sticks out most, though, is what GM Mike Maccagnan didn't get. The Jets have a porous offensive line, and other than C Spencer Long, who has been erratic with shotgun snaps, they didn't add much help. They didn't boost their receiving corps or pass rush either. The lack of receivers is a particularly big problem with a young quarterback.
The trading deadline inactivity
The Jets decision to stay out of the pass-rush market was smart, because they have plenty of cap room (and will have a high draft pick) to get their pass rusher in the offseason. In general, not mortgaging the future by giving up picks for short-term help was smart. But again, the lack of receivers is a problem. Would it have helped to add a guy like Demaryius Thomas who can catch some of Darnold's passes and maybe build his confidence? Sure. For a third-round pick though? No. But that's the conundrum the Jets were in.
Head coach Todd Bowles
His team too often seems flat, they still make too many mistakes (some of them stupid) and his clock management remains bizarre at times. But he also has no talent to work with on offense and somehow the Jets have been in most of their games. In fact, they're only a few rookie quarterback mistakes from being .500 or better. If this team was ready to be a contender, maybe he'd be on the way out. But he's being judged on the growth of Darnold and the team, and those results are mixed. His players seem to love him and believe in him, but what happens the rest of the way will be a big factor in whether or not he keeps his job.
GM Mike Maccagnan
His draft record (outside of first-round picks) has just been atrocious, which is why the Jets needed to be so active in free agency. The good thing is, he's managed the cap into two straight years where they have a ton of spending room. He also gets high marks for moving up in the draft where he lucked into Darnold (even if his main target was Kirk Cousins). He just didn't do enough to build the offense around him. Yes, that can happen next offseason, but it would be nice to see Darnold with a better line in front of him and better talent at receiver to help him now, while he's trying to learn how to play in this league.