The New York Jets have been looking for a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath led the team to a Super Bowl win in 1969. The Jets have had success in the 50 years since Super Bowl III, but it has been few and far between. New York has only won two division titles since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, and their last playoff appearance was in 2010.
Jets fans are one of the most loyal and passionate in the NFL, but they have been dying to return to relevancy, and one of their problems is at the quarterback position. We will take a look at all of the quarterbacks that the Jets have drafted since 2000 and see how their NFL career turned out.
Chad Pennington (2000)
The Jets had a great four first-round picks in the 2000 NFL draft, and their third pick was Marshall QB Chad Pennington. The Jets were a good team at the turn of the century and had Vinny Testaverde under center.
Pennington took over in 2002 and led the league in completion percentage at 68.9 percent. In his twelve starts, the third-year quarterback threw for 22 touchdowns and six interceptions, and the Jets finished the season 9-7 after starting 1-4 with Testaverde. With the impressive debut year of Pennington, there were high expectations for the Jets headed into 2003. Unfortunately, Pennington hurt his non-throwing hand during a preseason game against the New York Giants, and the Jets QB was forced to miss the first six games of the season. The Jets were 2-4 without their starting quarterback, and the Jets finished 6-10.
Injuries continued to be a factor in Pennington’s career. In 2004 he injured his rotator cuff and missed three games, and re-injured his shoulder in 2005, missing 13 games. Pennington only played a full 16 games twice in his career, in 2006 and
2008, and both times he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The Jets made the playoffs in 2006 but lost to the New England Patriots in the wild card round.
Pennington had issues staying healthy in 2007, and the same day the Jets signed Brett Farve in 2008, Pennington was released. He then signed with the Miami Dolphins and led them to an 11-5 record and leading the league in completion percentage with 67.4 percent. After the 2008 season, Pennington continued to have shoulder issues, only playing four games in the next two seasons. Pennington attempted a comeback in 2011 but tore his ACL while playing basketball, ending his NFL career. Pennington has a career completion percentage of 66 percent, the second-highest behind Drew Brees.
Brooks Bollinger (2003)
A relative unknown to even the most hardcore Jets fan, Bollinger was picked in the sixth round out of Wisconsin and only made ten NFL starts. Nine of which came in 2005 when Pennington re-injured his shoulder, the Jets were 2-7, and Bollinger threw seven touchdowns to six interceptions and had a QB rating of 72.9. Bollinger left New York the following season and spent two years with the Minnesota Vikings and one year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Kellen Clemens (2006)
The same year as Pennington’s comeback season, the Jets took Oregon’s Kellen Clemens in the second round. So Clemens’ only real shot in New York came in 2007 where he started eight games and threw ten interceptions to only five touchdowns. Clemens did make a spot start in 2009 and won, but in 2011 he signed with the St. Louis Rams, where he spent three seasons and made twelve starts. Clemens then signed with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, where he spent the last four seasons as a backup to Philip Rivers and threw 18 passes in the previous four years of his career.
Mark Sanchez (2009)
For the first time since drafting Namath in 1965, the Jets drafted a quarterback in the top-five when they picked USC’s, Mark Sanchez. The rookie beat out Clemens in training camp and was named the starter for the 2009 season.
Sanchez got off to a hot start, leading the Jets to a 3-0 start but then dropped six out of their next seven. At 4-6, the Jets won five out of their last six to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs as a wild card team. With a great defense and rookie QB, the Jet made an improbable run to the AFC Championship, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets made a deep playoff run despite Sanchez’s poor performance, completing only 53.8 percent of his passes and throwing 20 interceptions to 12 touchdowns.
New York made it to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, and Sanchez had improved, or maybe just not as bad. The Jets finished 11-5, and Sanches still had a poor completion percentage at 54.8 percent, but he limited the turnovers, throwing 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
Sanchez continued as the Jets starting QB until 2012; he finished with a record of 33-29 and threw 68 touchdowns to 69 interceptions. Sanchez signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and filled in for Nick Foles after an injury and started the remaining eight games, going 4-4. Sanchez lost his two starts with the Eagles in 2015, then spent 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys, 2017 with the Chicago Bears, and 2018 with the Washington Redskins.
Geno Smith (2013)
New York was looking for a new quarterback post-Sanchez, and they thought they had it when they drafted West Virginia’s Geno Smith in the second round, but things got worse. The Geno Smith era of the Jets was short and ugly.
Smith started all 16 games of his rookie season, and the Jets finished with an 8-8 record. The rookie was able to tally 3,046 yards and six rushing touchdowns but threw 21 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns. Smith started 13 games in 2014, and the Jets went 3-10; he became a backup in the final two years of his time with the Jets.
Smith bounced around the league a little bit, staying in New York and playing for the Giants for a year before going to the Chargers in 2018. It seems Smith has found a home with the Seattle Seahawks, spending the last two seasons as Russell Wilson’s backup, and is signed to the 2021 season.
Sam Darnold (2018)
After the short-lived Geno Smith experiment, the Jets took another USC quarterback in Sam Sarn Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Just like Smith and Sanchez, Darnold was named the starter in the preseason his rookie year. Unlike Sanchez, Darnold did not have an elite defense to aid him, and his weapons on offense were not much better.
Darnold’s rookie season was better than Smith’s but the USC star had high expectations coming out of college, and going 4-9 in his first season was a disappointment for New York. Darnold completed 57.7 percent of his passes and threw 17 touchdowns to 15 interceptions in 2018. His sophomore season was his best statistical and winningest year with the Jets, completing 61.9 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and New York was 7-6 in his 13 starts. But 2020 was a disaster; the Jets were 2-10 in Darnold’s 12 starts and was sacked 8.8 percent of his dropbacks, the most in his career by far.
The Jets fired Adam Gase after the 2020 season and hired Robert Saleh. NFL experts wondered what would happen to Darnold with the regime change; it was clear that the QB needed a change of scenery, but who would be the trade to the fourth-year quarterback. In April, the Carolina Panthers traded three draft picks to New York in exchange for Darnold.
The former Jets quarterback is now on another team that is expected to miss the playoffs, but the tools Darnold has in Carolina are exponentially better than those in New York. Even with the struggles in his three years as a Jet, Darnold still has an upside and could prove doubters wrong with a bounce-back season as a Panther.
Zach Wilson (2021)
With a loaded quarterback class in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jets were expected to take a QB with the second overall pick, and their man was BYU’s, Zach Wilson. Starting 28 games for the Cougars, Wilson completed 67.6 percent of his passes and threw for 7,652 yards with 56 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Wilson wowed scouts with his arm strength and accuracy and drew comparisons to Steve Young, who also came from BYU. Saleh is a defensive-minded head coach, and he has brought in Mike LaFleur from San Francisco and made him the Jets offensive coordinator. There is a lot of unknown with how the Jets coaching staff will do and the production of another rookie QB. Jets fans are optimistic about the new era and hope that Wilson is the future and can increase their odds to win the Super Bowl.
The Jets have been a laughingstock in the NFL for the past 50 years, and it starts with their quarterback picks. Pennington had potential, and if he’d stayed healthy and played during the AFC Championship runs, the Jets might have gotten their second Super Bowl. In the last decade, New York has drafted some of the biggest names in college, and they have all been NFL Draft busts.
The jury is still out on Darnold, but Sanchez and Smith gave Jets fans hope only to be ultimately let down. Wilson has gained a lot of hype since the end of the 2020 college football season, and with five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, all five will be compared throughout their NFL careers. Wilson might be in the toughest scenario to find success.