University of Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold is already hyped as a franchise-changing player. The easygoing California kid has met expectations since taking the field as USC’s starting quarterback.
However, just like most prospects who are hyped, Darnold is not completely polished for NFL action yet. Not only are his mechanics slightly off, but his decision making is questionable.
But don’t let his correctable deficiencies fool you, Darnold has the talent to be a top draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Trojans QB has completed 359/541 passes for 4,475 yards, 40 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His completion percentage has dipped from his freshman year of 67.2, to 64.6 this season. This may be a product of Darnold trying to do too much by forcing passes that shouldn’t be thrown. However, this gunslinging mentality isn’t a concern, and the immaturities on the field can be taught by leadership and coaching in the NFL. Darnold’s talent gives us reason to believe he will be a top three candidate for the Heisman trophy at the end of the season.
Strengths: Darnold has everything NFL teams want in a starter. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), makes quick, accurate throws and has a strong arm that can make every throw. He’s shown the leadership and poise to lead the team during clutch moments in ball games as a red-shirt sophomore. Darnold does a nice job standing tall in the pocket and evading pass rush while keeping his eyes scanned downfield. His progression reads are advanced beyond the average college sophomore, showing patience and maturity. The ball jumps off his hand when he releases it quickly in short to intermediate throws, and he’s able to escape the pocket and squeeze throws on the run into tight windows. Not only can he throw deep bombs, but he can add touch to balls over the top of cornerback coverage without overthrowing his man -- something not many college QBs can consistently do. He’s not going to outrun many defenders, but he has enough athleticism to extend plays.
Sam Darnold: DUAL THREAT QB pic.twitter.com/acr0IAQKmt— Barstool SoCal (@BarstoolSC) September 30, 2017
courtesy of Barstool SoCal.
Weaknesses: Darnold has thrown too many interceptions to start the 2017 season — he has thrown seven in the first four games — but that may be a product of Darnold trying to do too much. He’ll need to improve his decision making when under pressure to avoid crippling turnovers at the next level.
He has an unorthodox, wind-up delivery that will need adjustment. Despite his ability to make quick decisions, the ball occasionally comes out slow, allowing defenders to jump the short to intermediate routes. It’s as if Darnold sees the open man but can’t release the ball as immediate as he’d like to.
Overall assessment: Darnold isn’t ready to start in the NFL today, but he has all the tools to start tomorrow. With guidance, refinement and repetition, Darnold can step in and become the franchise QB every team longs for, within the first few weeks of the 2018 NFL season. He needs to finish the season strong and limit mistakes by checking it down more often and not playing hero ball. He’s everything a team wants in a quarterback, but he needs to refine his mechanics to be successful at the next level.
Prediction: Top-three pick.