Last Updated: 2017-12-30
From the moment Sam Darnold stepped on the field, he proved he wasn’t ready to make the leap into the 2018 NFL Draft.
The USC Trojans finished with an (11-3) record. They won the PAC-12 Championship. They even had quite a few electrifying moments on offense. However, Darnold displayed his pro prospects should have been put on hold. Oh, we’re not talking about during the 24-7 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. We’re talking about the 49-31 win over the Western Michigan Broncos in the season-opener.
Simply put, Darnold has a lot of tools that NFL scouts covet. He’s big. Darnold stands at 6-foot-4 220 pounds. He’s athletic. When Darnold escapes the pocket, he runs as well as most quarterbacks in the world. Darnold also throws a nice ball on most occasions. He can really zip it. However, Darnold, the Trojans and the NFL team that may select him doesn’t want him to become the second-coming of Rob Johnson. They don’t want him to be the second-coming of Matt Leinart. In fact, they don’t want Darnold to turn into Mark Sanchez. Remember, Sanchez was another USC quarterback that left the program entirely too early. Although Sanchez helped lead the New York Jets to back to back AFC Championship games, he quickly became the model citizen as a backup quarterback. That’s hardly the outcome Darnold has in mind for his NFL career.
Darnold finished the 2017 regular season with 26 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. He produced 356 yards on 25-of-46 passing against the Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl. Darnold’s lone touchdown came on an interception to Damon Webb in the second quarter. In all, Darnold accounted for three turnovers, including a pair of fumbles that thwarted promising drives. Overall, he threw at least one interception in 10 of the 14 games. Darnold even started the season with interceptions in the first six games. He also had four games without a touchdown pass. The first three games were accompanied by four rushing touchdowns. However, Darnold did not find the end zone on Friday night.
Darnold is currently the No. 4 passer in college football with 4,143 yards. As a result the stats are going to look better than the actual play on the field. In two seasons with the Trojans, Darnold has 7,229 passing yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. However, it’s not just the interceptions that are the problem. He has been incredibly careless with the ball in the pocket. Furthermore, his overall pocket awareness needs to get better, especially if he expects to thrive at the NFL level.
Still, it’s hard to pass up being rated at the No. 1 or 2 quarterback in the draft. The scouts don’t do these quarterbacks any favors with their rankings. For example, a lot of these guys aren’t watching the game. Certainly, they do their due diligence on film study, hopefully. However, live game action provides the intangibles needed to see if a quarterback can withstand the pressure. How do they react to unfortunate plays or bad calls? How do they react to facing a hostile crowd? These things can’t be calculated by watching film clips.
In the end, Darnold will make his decision soon. If he decides to forego his final two seasons at USC, that means NFL organizations have to decide if a turnover prone quarterback is worthy of a Top five pick.
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