Welcome to the 20/20 series. As part of our continued Dynasty Scouts coverage and in preparation for the NFL Combine, we will be profiling 20 of the top incoming rookies of the class of 2018 by giving you 20 facts you must know.
1.) Player name – Sam Darnold
2.) College – USC
3.) Height/Weight – 6’4″, 220 lbs
4.) Birth date – 06/05/1997 (20 years old)
5.) Class – Redshirt Sophomore
6.) Basic college stats – 2016: 246 of 366 (67.2%), 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions and a passer rating of 161.1. 2017: 303 of 480 (63.1%), 4,143 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. 148.1 passer rating.
7.) NFL Draft round projection – Darnold could be the number one overall pick and is very likely to be selected in the top six.
8.) Current NFL comparison – The two names banded around with Darnold’s are Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers. I see the comparison to Rivers stylistically as a passer, especially with his funky throwing style. The Luck comparison is derived from a combination of size, strength, and athleticism – and that comparison is fair too. Whether or not he has the talent of these two is another question.
9.) Best possible destination – The ideal scenario is that Darnold is the one QB to slip through the early net and a more talented team either catches him on the way down or moves up to grab him. From pick 15, there’s a stretch of teams – the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills a little later on – who could do with a new face of the franchise moving forward.
10.) Worst possible destination – Believe it or not, there’s realistically an argument to be made that Cleveland’s amount of talent makes them an enticing team to join. The potential of Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and David Njoku should get fans excited.
However, we’ve seen time and time again that coaching is arguably the most important aspect of quarterback development – and Hue Jackson hasn’t proven to be competent in that area yet. While Darnold won’t be tied to his head coach forever, working with the man who told DeShone Kizer “this league’s about completions, baby” wouldn’t be an ideal place to start – even though it’s highly likely.
11.) Best current skill – He is the NFL quarterback prototype with the height, weight, strong arm, accuracy and leadership skills pro teams covet. Whether or not that leads to success, we can’t be certain. However, it will certainly be enough for franchises to invest in him.
12.) Skill that needs to be improved – Turnovers. While he has the ‘talent’, one main concern is his knack for turning the ball over. In 2017, he threw 13 interceptions and lost nine fumbles. During his college career, he threw 22 picks in total. The last time he went two games in a row without throwing a pick was in the first month of 2016.
13.) Past/current rookie ADP – Among our rookie rankers, Josh Rosen comes out on top almost completely across the board. Darnold settles in as the number two. This will change with draft position and team, but these two should remain the top QBs in rookie drafts.
14.) Projected dynasty value – Generally when rookie QBs first join the ADP data, they tend to settle between the QB20-30 mark. This is behind the proven stars but in with the questionable veterans. In all likelihood, they remain there for year one, then begin to move up with speculation heading into their second campaigns. From there, it’s mostly up.
My view is that if you have the roster space, you should invest in quarterbacks in rookie drafts. They are more reliable than deep fliers at other positions and generally stick around the league longer, and are at their cheapest. In the second round of rookie drafts; invest. Similarly, don’t hesitate to snap them up early in 2QB/super-flex rookie drafts.
15.) “USC Quarterbacks don’t win” – Darnold is the next in a long line of USC quarterbacks entering the NFL after Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and before them; Carson Palmer. Many of them failed, and no USC quarterback has reached the Super Bowl. This story will crop up between now and April.
However, don’t let this affect your view on Darnold as a prospect. Every player was unique in college – as was their coaching, teammates, opponents and almost everything else around them. In order to judge prospects properly, it’s important to eliminate arguments like this.
16.) Which year tells the story? – As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Darnold burst onto the scene. He led his team to wins in the last nine games after they had begun 1-3. 31 touchdowns to just nine interceptions (along with two scores on the ground) meant he was recognized as a clear top prospect and had a bunch of awards to show for it.
In 2017, he threw five fewer touchdowns, four more interceptions and had a worse completion percentage. He lost four more fumbles than the season before. He also dropped from 250 rushing yards down to 82 – even though he scored five times on the ground. In his first season, he completed more than 62% of his passes in every game, whereas last year there were five occasions in which he was below 58%.
We still regard Darnold as a top player in the draft, but should we worry? Prospects shouldn’t be judged purely on production, but it’s worth noting the drop. That said, both years on their own were terrific.
17.) Throwing motion – He joins Carson Wentz and Blake Bortles as recent draftees who will have their unorthodox techniques scrutinized. Darnold loops the ball towards the ground during his windup, which may allow defenders to react a tad faster than they would against a quick release. Similarly, the issue could go hand-in-hand with his fumbling problems.
However, Bortles played well enough down the stretch to reach the AFC Championship game, and Wentz was an MVP candidate. Ultimately, deciding who to throw to and being able to put the ball in the right place is more important than how it gets there – especially since Darnold has the strength and velocity when he does turn it loose.
18.) Athleticism – He’s universally praised for his athleticism, and as mentioned above, he managed to rack up some nice rushing numbers. Darnold had 137 attempts, 332 yards, and seven touchdowns during his two-year career. The way he uses his legs is similar to Aaron Rodgers – if presented with wide open space, he’ll take off, but otherwise, he stays put and looks to throw.
19.) Number one – According to mock drafts on NFL.com, CBS Sports and Bleacher Report, Darnold will be taken number one overall by Cleveland. As much as we like to break down prospects and have our own takes, sometimes it’s worth stepping back and considering the basics of dynasty football. If he’s the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft, he’ll have ample opportunity to shine as a starter. And that’s valuable, regardless of your personal view.
20.) Rose Bowl resilience – The last of USC’s wins in Darnold’s freshman year was a 52-49 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Not only did he have a tremendous game with 453 passing yards and five touchdowns, the team also overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, setting a Rose Bowl record. Darnold’s line in the fourth quarter: ten passes, ten completions, 135 yards, and one touchdown.
As well as editing for DLF, James writes for Sky Sports and can be found on Twitter at @JS_Football