If you come up with a prototypical mold of a potential NFL franchise quarterback, USC’s Sam Darnold checks most of the boxes. He has good size, one of the best arms to come out of college in some time, has a solid character and the ability to shake off mistakes.
However, it’s in those mistakes and a slight regression in 2017 that has both scouts and fans puzzled about his future as a pro signal-caller. After the Trojans started a dismal 1-3 in 2016 with Max Browne under center, head coach Clay Helton turned to Darnold and the redshirt freshman phenom didn’t disappoint.
The highlight of that season was one of the better Rose Bowls in recent memory, as Darnold led USC to a 52-49 victory over Penn State back in January of 2017. However, the Trojans lost some important games in 2017, including ones where Darnold turned the ball over with frequency. Because of these issues, questions about his NFL future started to surface after he declared for the draft.
A 19-year-old coming in and salvaging a 2016 season from the dumps for one of college football’s elite programs was something to marvel. But some believe Darnold had moments where he crumbled under the 2017 hype. Still, one has to respect the numbers Darnold put up with USC last year after the team lost much of its 2016 supporting cast.
Weight: 220 pounds
Class: Sophomore (redshirt)
Projected draft position: Top 5 picks in Round 1
Touchdowns: 64 (57 passing, seven rushing)
Completion percentage: 65%
Win-loss record: 21-6 (2016 Rose Bowl win, 2017 Pac-12 Championship win)
If you’re asking this writer, I see Brett Favre. That’s not a direct proclamation that Darnold will become one of the best passers the NFL has ever seen, as was the case with No. 4, but the “gunslinger” attitude, big arm and the innate ability to play a form of backyard football has the penchant to both enamor and frustrate NFL franchises.
When you look at the tape, Darnold makes throws into windows that very few NFL current quarterbacks can, and had the benefit of playing in a pro-style system at USC. However, it’s his youth and his overconfidence in his abilities that sometimes gets him into trouble.
Sure, the Trojans had immense surrounding talent in his years under center, but his rescuing of the team back in the fall of 2016 has to bring merit. Unfortunately, his last game on tape, the blowout loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, showed some warts and a long delivery in which NFL teams will have to monitor.
However, in that game, note the turnovers from his surrounding cast and the terrible pass protection he had up front. And, if you want to look at some insane tape, go back and look at the throws against the Nittany Lions in that 2016 Rose Bowl win.
If we’re speaking for the Bengals, they are not going to pounce on a quarterback this early in the draft. It would require the team to make a massive trade up to get to Darnold. But, Darnold could go to the Browns and become a division rival. There are so many rumors regarding Cleveland that it’s hard to keep up. But we’ll soon know which quarterback the Browns next draft in an attempt to fix their franchise.