QB) Sam Darnold, USC (RS: Sophmore ) –
Weight: 220 lbs.
Viewed by many as a franchise quarterback and the consensus number 1 overall pick heading into the preseason, Darnold has struggled more in his second season than NFL scouts would like. After he burst onto the scene last season as a redshirt freshmen and revitalized USC, leading the team to a dramatic victory in the Rose Bowl, many experts prophesied that a berth in the 2018 college football playoffs and a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony were on the horizon for Darnold. However, the hallmark accuracy that Darnold displayed last season, simply has not been as evident in his play this year. Through 6 games played, he had already thrown as many interceptions (9) as he had through the entirety of last season. It is true that much of the hype surrounding Darnold was predicated on his uncanny ability to fit the ball into tight windows. Nevertheless, the increase in interceptions has lead many to question his decision making, and wonder whether he forces throws too often. Moreover, after losses at Washington State and Notre Dame, this USC team who had been thought of as national title contenders in September, has seen all hopes of a playoff berth effectively crushed. Yet, this is not to say that Darnold is not the most talented passer in the draft, and a potentially franchise changing quarterback. Nor should one buy the narrative that he simply rose to prominence because of his amazing performance against Penn State in last year’s rose bowl.
Those who have watched Darnold play the past 2 years know that his poise, ball placement, and ability to survey the field are something special. At 6’4, 220 pounds, he also has the prototypical size of and NFL quarterback, coupled with a not often talked about ability to escape the rush and extend plays with his feet. Some concerns about his throwing mechanics and relatively average arm strength will linger. In addition, Josh Rosen of rival UCLA, has put together a solid season himself, raising the question of who is the best quarterback prospect in California. But although Rosen is nipping at heals, the consensus still seems to be that Darnold’s rare ability to read the defense has set him apart from the rest of the quarterbacks in this draft class, and established him as the likely number one pick. While scouts expectations from Darnold will no doubt be tempered by a less impressive 2017-18 season, one should still fully expect to hear Sam’s name called first during the upcoming NFL Draft. That is, unless the browns get the first pick. In which case, lets hope the reports that he is considering returning to USC for his junior year are true.