Rookie Rundown: QB Sam Darnold, USC

Rookie Rundown: QB Sam Darnold, USC

NFL Draft

Rookie Rundown: QB Sam Darnold, USC

(Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)

This time last year, Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold, coming off of a marvelous first year as a starter, was entering the ’17 offseason with expectations through the roof.

Fast-forward to present time and the 2016 golden boy remains the top prospect of the class, despite losing some luster after fumbling 11 times and throwing 13 interceptions his sophomore.

Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 220 pounds
40 time: 4.85 seconds

The high school Offensive Player of the Year for Orange County (Calif.) red-shirted in 2015 behind Cody Kessler and Max Browne. A prototypical pocket passer, Darnold played fairly well, all things considered, as a sophomore. He still averaged more yards per attempt and managed to complete more than 63 percent of his throws. Darnold was still voted first-team All-Pac-12, leading the Trojans to a conference title.

Sam Darnold stats (2016-17)

YEAR
CMP
ATT
PCT
YDS
AVG
TD
INT
ATT
YDS
AVG
TD
2016
246
366
67.2
3086
8.4
31
9
62
250
4.0
2
2017
303
480
63.1
4143
8.6
26
13
75
82
1.1
5

In two career bowl games, Darnold was magical and forgettable. In 2016’s thrilling 52-49 win over Penn State, he racked up 453 yards and five touchdowns. A year later, Darnold threw for 356 yards, on 57.8 percent passing, and didn’t find the end zone against Ohio State.

Pros

  • Mature beyond his years — coachable and a natural leader
  • Strong build to withstand hits and shake off would-be sackers
  • Plus accuracy and arm strength — can make all of the necessary throws and limits a slow release
  • Adept at pre-snap reads of the defense and recognizing mismatches
  • Quick-minded reaction to incoming blitz
  • Short memory for mistakes and doesn’t get down on himself
  • Sees the field well and displays nuanced ability for creating plays, looking off safeties, and understanding separation windows.
  • Tough in the open field and fights for extra yards, especially in the red zone.

Cons

  • Elongated throwing motion — likely contributes to his high turnover figure. At a minimum, it telegraphs his intentions to NFL-caliber defensive backs.
  • Needs to dial down the velocity on short throws and improve touch
  • Too willing to take a sack or contact in the open field
  • Lower-body drive in throwing motion is erratic. Tends to display too much willingness to rush throws from an unstable platform.
  • Less than two full years of starting experience at USC
  • Suffered broken foot and finger in high school

Fantasy outlook

It would surprise many pundits if the Cleveland Browns passed on Darnold with the No. 1 overall pick. He could learn from the pine behind Tyrod Taylor for as long as the coaching staff deems necessary.

In the event Cleveland somehow passes on Darnold, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see the New York Giants (No. 2) bypass more pressing needs to add him as Eli Manning’s heir apparent.

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Should the USC star miraculously fall out of the first two slots, the New York Jets didn’t trade into the third pick to ignore their future quarterback.

Darnold has the long-term upside of being among the league’s top players at his position. His floor is higher than most incoming quarterbacks with as much hype over the past few years. In Year 1, regardless of where he plays, trusting him in fantasy is a huge mistake. He has the skill set to blossom in Year 2 and beyond after a little time to season.

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