Welcome back to the Dynasty Vault series! Alex Rollins will be working with us to deliver video breakdowns on prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft. We’re excited about the opportunity to work with Alex and hope you enjoy the content. Please leave any questions, comments and suggestions in the comments section below.
The Dynasty Vault series is back. Last time, we focused on the trash-talking, competitive and electrifying Baker Mayfield. Today, it’s Sam Darnold, the more ‘traditional’ top QB.
He has the size, the arm, and the ‘leadership’ you’d expect from your high-first-round quarterback. However, what happens when we turn on the tape? We’ll break down Darnold’s biggest weakness, then get to the positives.
First, how do Darnold’s statistics stack up (from Sports-Reference.com)?
The numbers were good, but they dipped in 2017. Plus, what you can’t see here are Darnold’s 11 fumbles last year. The turnovers have been a big criticism of Darnold, as previously covered in our 20/20 profile. Considering he only played two seasons and seemingly took a step back in the second, there are reasons for concern. However, we’re here to break down the “why”. That’s where Alex begins.
Immediately, it’s clear to Alex that Darnold may be more of an athlete at this point than a polished NFL prospect (0:19). On an occasion where USC has the perfect call and Darnold reads the movement of the safety to correctly identify his open man, his footwork costs him a touchdown. Alex explains how the lack of synchronization between Darnold’s feet, hips, eyes, and head could cause concern.
This footwork not only can lead to missed throws, but also unnecessary (and poor) pocket movement. Even when presented with a clean pocket, he naturally drifts away from it rather than stepping up (1:33). Again, his footwork and body move him towards the right sideline, even when the left side of the pocket is completely empty (1:55). These are the times when “he looks more like an athlete running around, as opposed to a soft-footed, comfortable quarterback”. Alex presents one more example where Darnold’s unnecessary movement causes a catastrophic mistake. He tosses a bad interception caused by an errant, off-balance throw (2:14).
However, it’s not all bad on the ‘athlete’ front. Since he is a more dynamic athlete than the average QB (he was a high-school linebacker), when he does use his feet to his advantage, it can lead to great things. On one play against UCLA from last year (2:31), he may have bounced around a little too much and not displayed soft feet, but he was still able to make an insane throw perfectly placed to his receiver on the sideline in front of three defenders. NFL teams want their quarterbacks to play ‘within structure’, but sometimes it simply doesn’t go as planned. Darnold can make plays as a scrambler that’ll make jaws drop.
The UCLA game, in particular (late in 2017), was one where Darnold’s best form was on show. As well as the plays outside of the pocket, he showed that he can stand tall in it, and keep his base intact and feet within his body (3:19). Similarly, when he does calm his feet, remains unpanicked and starts to settle, he’s able to display his best footwork – and therefore, put the ball in the right spot (3:36).
We’ve covered the big question mark, but how about the good stuff? There must be some reason he’s a clear top-five pick in the majority of mock drafts and number one overall in five of the seven mock drafts at NFL.com.
We return to the Mills Concept (discussed in Mayfield’s Dynasty Vault) to show some of the greatness that Darnold is capable of. In a play against Arizona State in their 2017 matchup (3:49), watch how he identifies zone coverage as his tight end crosses the formation and knows the safeties will play a Cover 2 zone based on where they are lined up. He then picks up on the lack of depth by ASU safety Chad Adams, which allows him to throw a perfect strike for a touchdown. Darnold’s smarts and fantastic arm talent are both on show here.
If you are going to succeed in the NFL, you have to have an ability to know what’s coming next and make it happen. Darnold excels in this area, as Alex illustrates (4:46, 5:00). Here’s what Stanford head coach David Shaw had to say about Darnold’s anticipation:
“He’s the best college quarterback I’ve seen at anticipating since Andrew Luck. When you evaluate quarterbacks who can play at the next level, you’re looking for guys who can see a play before it happens and get the ball out of their hands quick. He’s the best I’ve seen in years.”
On quick outs and hitches, Darnold knows when and where to put the ball when a cornerback is playing off-man coverage. He is confident in throwing the ball well before his receiver turns around to locate the ball (5:11). Similarly, against Cover 2 zone, he knows when and where to release the ball even when his receiver is covered and a free blitzer is attacking him head-on (5:31). As Alex shows, his anticipation can devastate opposing defenses.
On the team’s first offensive play in overtime in a 27-24 win over Texas, Darnold again shows high-level anticipation yet again. He launches the ball to Deontay Burnett well before he bursts open deep on a skinny corner-post route, and the receiver hauls it in for a score that his QB made look easy (5:50).
There’s good and bad with Darnold, but Alex “can’t get over” his highly-inconsistent footwork and what that can do to his throwing mechanics. In the final set of plays (6:14-6:58), we see some examples of his inaccuracies due to this footwork.
Alex cites Blake Bortles as a comparison, as both men are big, athletic and can make plays outside of the pocket and when plays break down. However, the unnatural throwing motion and poor footwork might be too much to overcome – he’ll need to land in an ideal coaching situation to reach his full potential.
We hope you enjoyed the latest edition of ‘Dynasty Vault‘! Please let Alex and James know what you thought by leaving any and all feedback in the comments section.