Mike Maccagnan attended his first Sam Darnold recreation on Oct. 27, 2016, on the Los Angeles Coliseum, however he definitely wasn’t there to scout the redshirt freshman. No, he flew cross nation to take a look at the different quarterback, Cal’s Davis Webb, however what he noticed that evening from Darnold — extra essential, what he heard about him — would resonate for the following 18 months.
It culminated final Thursday when the New York Jets, blown away that Darnold wasn’t picked by the Cleveland Browns or New York Giants, fortunately took the previous Southern California star with the third total alternative within the NFL draft. When he realized the Giants have been taking Saquon Barkley, the Jets’ normal supervisor flashed a “I-can’t-believe-this-just-happened” look to his proper-hand man within the warfare room, Brian Heimerdinger.
It was a kind of moments scouts and personnel dream about.
The Jets scouted Darnold so intensely final season that Maccagnan flew to the West Coast on 4 consecutive weekends to observe him play, twice returning on crimson-eye flights instantly after the sport so he may watch the Jets on Sunday. From final September to April 15, the day of a secret exercise on the Southern California campus, Maccagnan made seven Darnold journeys to California. Every time, he left considering the identical factor: We love him, however we’ll by no means get him.
Properly, they bought him, and so they imagine he has the potential to turn into their first true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath a half-century in the past. Here is a take a look at the way it unfolded:
Oct. 27, 2016: Throughout pregame heat-ups, Maccagnan struck up a dialog with a member of the Southern California teaching employees. Unsolicited, the employees member began gushing concerning the 19-year-outdated quarterback who saved their season. The Trojans began 1-2, modified quarterbacks and now they have been driving a 3-recreation profitable streak with the precocious Darnold in cost. You are going to need this child in a 12 months or two, the man instructed him.
Maccagnan had heard of Darnold, however he actually did not know a lot about him. Now he was getting an earful from the staffer, who went on and on about Darnold — how he dominated because the scout-staff quarterback and the way, upon his promotion, he bought all the staff to imagine in him in a brief time frame.
Scouts reside for this sort of intel, so Maccagnan filed it away in his reminiscence financial institution. He returned to the enterprise at hand, scouting Webb, however he could not assist discover Darnold that evening. He threw 5 landing passes in Southern California’s 45-24 victory.
Sept. 2, 2017: This was a busy time within the NFL — cutdown weekend — however Maccagnan squeezed in a visit to Los Angeles to observe Darnold in his season opener towards Western Michigan. He flew out shortly after finishing the blockbuster Sheldon Richardson commerce, which netted a second-spherical choose — certainly one of three second-rounders they used six months later to commerce as much as No. three total. Now a nationwide sensation after his epic Rose Bowl efficiency, Darnold did not have certainly one of his higher video games, throwing two interceptions. The Trojans gained 49-31.
Sept. 9: Maccagnan returned to Los Angeles to observe Southern California in a chief-time recreation towards Stanford. As regular, he sat within the stands, not the press field, giving him an up-shut view of the motion. He purchased a ticket behind the Southern California bench to watch what cannot be seen on TV: participant interplay on the bench, physique language and physique construct.
Most expertise evaluators choose the attention-in-the-sky perspective, however Maccagnan believes he can be taught extra about gamers from the bottom degree. Are they one of many guys? How do they deal with adversity? On this evening, he noticed Darnold working the bench, congratulating teammates after large performs and offering vitality in his California-cool type of means. He threw 4 touchdowns towards a troublesome protection, main Southern California to a 42-24 win.
Afterward, Maccagnan took a crimson-eye so he may attend the Jets’ season opener in Buffalo.
Sept. 16: With a section of the Jets’ fan base hoping the staff would “Suck for Sam,” Maccagnan was again on the L.A. Coliseum, scouting Sam. On this evening, in a nationally televised thriller towards Texas, his affinity for Darnold grew appreciably. The quarterback made clutch play after clutch play, together with an improvised soar go that made the spotlight reveals. What stood out was how effectively Darnold learn three ranges of the protection and the way he anticipated throwing home windows earlier than they opened.
Darnold rallied the Trojans from a fourth-quarter deficit, pulling out a 27-24 win in double extra time. Afterward, Maccagnan made his means all the way down to the sector and stood about 20 ft from Darnold as he was interviewed by a TV reporter. The interview was carried on the stadium’s big display, so he may hear all the things that was mentioned in bigger-than-life vogue. The quarterback credited his teammates and talked about how they emphasised clutch conditions in follow.
The takeaway: So younger, but so poised.
The GM flew up the coast to Oakland, the place the Jets would face the Raiders the following day. By now, after three consecutive Saturdays in La-La Land, Maccagnan was just like the well-known burger chain.
Sept. 23: Maccagnan was again within the Bay Space, watching Darnold enhance to four-zero with a 30-20 win towards Cal. There was no relaxation for the weary. It was a crimson-eye again to New Jersey to catch the Jets’ dwelling opener towards the Dolphins. Thoughts you, the GM wasn’t solely centered on Darnold. He additionally scouted the opposite prime prospects, together with 4 Baker Mayfield video games. He had quite a lot of assist, because the Jets’ space scouts blanketed the quarterbacks as effectively.
Nov. 18: With the Jets having fun with their bye, Maccagnan and Heimerdinger, the vice chairman of participant personnel, used the free weekend to scout Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen in essentially the most anticipated quarterback matchup of the season. Darnold was outplayed by Rosen, however Southern California gained the sport 28-23. Afterward, Darnold, hailed as a conquering hero, stood atop a stepladder on the sector, brandishing a sword and main the varsity’s marching band in music.
The Jets bought a kick out of that. Relaxation assured, that scene by no means will play out at MetLife Stadium, however his future employers favored the best way he dealt with the second. He by no means acted like an enormous shot although he was.
March 2, 2018: The NFL scouting mix. Lastly, the Jets’ brass had its first formal assembly with Darnold: the usual 15-minute session at evening. Groups name it velocity relationship as a result of it is arduous to get in-depth in simply 15 minutes. After pleasantries and small speak, they confirmed Southern California performs from final season, asking Darnold to interrupt them down conceptually. He did not blow them away, nevertheless it was a stable interview — a great first date, so to talk. The feeling within the room was how younger he appeared in individual. He does not flip 21 till June 5.
March 21: The Jets dispatched their prime choice-makers to Southern California’s professional day — Maccagnan, Heimerdinger, coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. By now, the league-wide buzz was that Darnold was going No. 1 to the Browns. In truth, Browns proprietor Jimmy Haslam was sitting within the stands with Darnold’s household in what seemed to be a not-so-refined message to the quarterback-needy groups in attendance.
Like everybody else, the Jets have been impressed by Darnold’s efficiency. Within the pouring rain, he “threw the s— out of it,” in accordance with one scout in attendance. The Jets’ contingent observed how Darnold wanted just a few heat-up tosses to prepare. Most elite quarterbacks have an elaborate prep interval to get free. Not Darnold. He spent a lot of the time hanging out with teammates, encouraging them throughout their drills. When it was his flip, he let it rip, parting the raindrops with soggy footballs that traveled at excessive velocity.
The Jets’ takeaway: This child exudes cool. However as they left the campus, Maccagnan & Co. lamented what seemed to be a sure destiny: We’re by no means going to see him with the third choose.
April 15: After weeks of attempting, the Jets lastly have been in a position to organize a non-public exercise with Darnold. Extremely, it managed to remain a secret till after the draft. It by no means bought reported. Maccagnan, Bowles, Bates and director of faculty scouting Matt Bazirgan flew to Los Angeles and managed to conduct an early-morning exercise on campus. No spectators, no media. Three huge receivers and a good finish ran routes for Darnold, who as soon as once more shined. Afterward, they went inside and talked ball for a few hours.
As soon as once more, the Jets left campus with a hole feeling: Was this all for naught?
April 17: Very long time, no see. Two days after the non-public exercise, Darnold visited the Jets at their Florham Park, New Jersey, facility. Six staff reps, together with CEO Christopher Johnson, dined with Darnold at a close-by restaurant. Darnold sat subsequent to Johnson and the dialog flowed all through the night. All of them had a great chuckle when cocktails have been ordered, as they realized Darnold nonetheless wasn’t sufficiently old to drink alcohol.
Darnold spent the following day on the facility. He met with Bowles, Bates, Maccagnan, the coach and the director of participant improvement. He additionally ran into quarterback Josh McCown and so they talked for a couple of minutes. The go to resulted in Maccagnan’s workplace. After an exhaustive scouting course of, the GM had run out of questions for Darnold. His due diligence was full. He wished him effectively and despatched him on his approach to the airport. Later, Bowles remarked they’d in all probability by no means see him once more. They weren’t optimistic about him falling to them.
April 26: Draft day started with a stunner. Mayfield went first, adopted by Barkley. Initially, there was silent disbelief within the Jets’ warfare room, then handshakes and congratulations. Eighteen months after he first set eyes on Darnold, Maccagnan had his man.