Sam Darnold – Quarterback
School: University of Southern California
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Weight: 220 lbs
Sam Darnold NFL Draft Profile
The legend of Sam Darnold begins in 2016 after the Trojans started the season with a measly 1-3 record. After an embarrassing 52-6 loss to number one ranked Alabama and two more losses to Pac-12 foes Stanford and Utah, Darnold led the Trojans to nine straight wins, after taking over the starting job in game number four. He took USC to Pasadena for “The Granddaddy of Them All” against Penn State and won in one of the greatest Rose Bowl games ever played. His 2016 stats? A 67.2 completion percentage, 3,086 passing yards, and a 31/9 touchdown to interception rate.
Coming into the 2017 season, he was a Heisman Trophy favorite and the Trojans, a College Football Playoff candidate as well. After winning their first four games, Darnold and Company were upset by No. 16 Washington State for their first loss of the season. Then after embarrassing Oregon State and narrowly beating Utah, Darnold could only muster up two touchdowns against archrival Notre Dame and lost 49-14 in the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Darnold ended his regular season on a five-game winning streak and USC was invited to play Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Despite completing 26-for-45 passes for over 350 yards, Darnold did not throw a touchdown and lost 24-7. He ended his sophomore year throwing for 63.1 percent for 4,143 yards and having a 26/13 touchdown to interception rate.
Throwing into coverage is one of those things that winning coaches prefer their quarterbacks refrain from doing. It’s a high-risk, high-reward approach to the game and Darnold can throw the ball into tight windows.
He is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation who can throw it accurately into the back of the end zone. He is also one of the best in this draft class who can throw on the run. Darnold should be easy to plug into any system he’s placed in and would have elite potential in a West Coast style offense.
Darnold is listed at 6’4″ and 220 pounds, and at 20 years old he is still growing. Darnold was one of the toughest quarterbacks to bring down in the pocket. He’s a hard player to bring down due to his unique combination of size, strength, and elusiveness. While Darnold is far from an explosive athlete, he has the mobility to work outside the pocket, the craftiness to escape a tackler, and the speed to pick up the first down with his feet. His size and toughness give him some on-field similarities to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
This may sound a little like a contradictory statement, but his turnovers don’t change the fact that Darnold displays impressive poise under pressure. One of his greatest clutch moments was performed over a year ago at the 2017 Rose Bowl Game against Penn State. With a 1:20 left on the clock, Darnold delivered a strike to Deontay Burnett to tie the game at 49, then led his team down the field for the game-winning field. USC set a Rose Bowl record by overcoming a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Darnold tied the record for most touchdown passes with five, and set the record for most total offense yards with 473.
During the 2017 regular season, the USC Trojans witnessed the good, the bad, and the horribly ugly from Darnold. Whether it’s throwing an interception or failing to protect the ball when he scrambles, Darnold has a tendency to take chances that he shouldn’t take.
Darnold threw 13 interceptions last season, which caused some to question whether he was NFL-ready. Beyond the numbers, he tested his limits as a thrower by too often forcing throws into tight coverage. In addition to needing to make better decisions as a passer, Darnold must be more responsible when he’s holding the ball when he leaves the pocket. He keeps the ball loosely protected, which creates the possibility of a strip sack or a forced fumble when he tucks it and runs.
One of the biggest knocks against Darnold is that his throwing motion isn’t exactly fluid. He has acknowledged that this is an issue by working to retool it, a sign that even he knows it’s problematic.
Darnold puts a significant amount of pressure on his elbow with the way he cocks the ball back and rifles it forward. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll suffer an injury, but it’s an issue that he’s proactively addressing. Darnold also needs to shorten his throwing motion if he’s going to be able to get the ball out quickly in the NFL. Without him throwing at the Combine, scouts will have to wait until his Pro Day to see his tweaked throwing motion.
Darnold was one of the most talked about players in college football but he is now leaving USC and taking his talents to the NFL. While Darnold is incredibly raw, he will likely be one of the top players selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. He is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short-to-middle part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to pick up yards after the catch.
NFL Player Comparison
Teams With Need At Quarterback
Cleveland Browns (1st and 4th Overall Picks), New York Giants (2nd Overall Pick), Denver Broncos (5th Overall Pick), New York Jets (6th Overall Pick)