Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookie Update: Sam Darnold, QB USC

Kyle Pollock

Editor’s Note: To help you dominate your rookie drafts, this series will feature a look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of over 40 dynasty rookie draft prospects and run all through the month of May and even into June. We’ll cover all the premier prospects but also give you critical information on some of the lesser known talents. All of these rookie updates will be loaded into our ever-evolving 2018 Rookie Draft Guide – the ultimate resource for dynasty enthusiasts all over the world.

Name: Sam Darnold

Position: Quarterback

Pro Team: New York Jets

College: USC

Draft Pick: Round one, third overall

Video Highlights


Combine Review

  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 221 pounds
  • Hand Size: 9 3/8”
  • Arm Length: 31”
  • Bench Press: N/A
  • 40 Yard Dash: 4.85
  • 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.40
  • 60 Yard Shuttle: N/A
  • 3 Cone: 6.96
  • Broad Jump: 105” (8 feet 9 inches)
  • Vertical Jump: 26.5 inches

College Production

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  • 2017: 14 games, 4,143 yards, 63.2% completion percentage, 21 TD, 9 INT
  • 2016: 13 games, 3,086 yards, 67.2% completion percentage, 31 TD, 9 INT


Outside of Josh Allen, Darnold has the most pro-ready frame of any quarterback in this class. He’s a big, strong player and this shines through in his tough playing style. He’s able to bounce off hits in the pocket and stay upright while facing a rush.

Going along with this, he’s an incredible escape artist, as his pocket mobility is the best in the class. This elusiveness is exemplified through his tremendous three-cone time of 6.96. Putting this all together, Darnold becomes one of the most impressive quarterbacks in terms of mobility and throwing on the run that I’ve seen. His arm strength, touch, and accuracy are essentially the same as they are from the pocket. This will help him greatly with a team like the Jets, who don’t have the best offensive line in the league.

Darnold also has excellent touch on his throws. He’s shown the ability to squeeze the ball into tight windows and lead his receiver perfectly. It shows through on his deep balls, where he consistently is able to put the ball where only his man can catch it. He throws beautiful balls with tight spirals and proper trajectories. Combine this with his big arm and you have a quarterback with immense upside.


The biggest concern with Darnold is his decision making. He has 35 turnovers in 37 career games, which leads the nation over the course of the past two years. While he can squeeze the ball into tight windows, he is a bit too confident sometimes and makes throws he shouldn’t. I’m more concerned about his ability to read coverages than this overconfidence, as he will only see tougher defenses at the next level. Not only that, he’s lost 13 fumbles in the past two seasons. He may have to be willing to throw some balls away or take sacks instead of trying to extend the play.

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Another concern about Darnold I have is his mechanics. His motion is wildly inconsistent, as on one throw he will drop the ball below his waist and use an elongated windmill style motion, and on others, he has a crisp delivery right next to or over his head. On the whole, he tends to have a more elongated motion, which usually leads to a longer release time. While Darnold’s release time doesn’t appear to be an issue against college defenses, it could be at the next level.

The bigger concern about his mechanics is his footwork. While his motion is inconsistent at best, his footwork is erratic and rarely seems to be in the proper place. He ends up with his feet parallel to the line of scrimmage or completely facing away from his receiver far too often to continue these bad habits at the next level. I found this quote while reading an article on the Ringer about Darnold, and I think it’s very informative of why this issue needs to be resolved immediately:

“Oh my God, [syncing footwork with routes is] a lot easier said than done,” Bears backup quarterback Mark Sanchez told the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Wiederer in November 2017. “Things are happening all around you. You’re moving, trying to maintain your base. And the problem is if you don’t learn that (stuff) early and you’re blessed with arm talent, you can make up for (sloppy footwork) and you start getting away with stuff. … Now you’re shooting fadeaway 3-pointers and the worst thing you can do is make one.”


The theme with this year’s rookie quarterback class appears to be that each one will need to beat out an incumbent starter, and I think Darnold has the best chance to do this and open the year as the Jets’ starter. Josh McCown is back with the team and likely ahead of him on the depth chart, and I think this is a great situation for Darnold. It will be good to have a veteran presence who has a future in coaching; McCown served as a player-coach for the Jets in week 17 last season. The team also has Teddy Bridgewater on a mostly non-guaranteed deal as well as Christian Hackenberg. Neither should present an issue for him.


There’s no real threat in either the short or long term for Darnold. If he doesn’t start at least half the year I would be a little concerned about his development if I were a Jets fan, but I don’t believe that should be a problem. He has almost a completely clean bill of health; he never missed a college game and was only pulled early once due to an ankle injury.

That being said, playing behind a poor offensive line is cause for concern. The Jets offensive line will likely be one of the worst in the league, and the skill position talent isn’t doing much to help that. The team’s top three receivers, Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor, and Robby Anderson, each have concerns of their own. Anderson has been arrested twice in the past nine months and has a trial set to start August 6th, while Enunwa is coming off a bad neck injury that caused him to miss the whole season. Pryor was downright bad last year and is on a one year prove it deal. Not counting quarterback, the team currently has 24 skill position players on the roster, so hopefully one or two will develop for Darnold’s sake.

Short-Term Expectations

Darnold should start the year on the bench, but I would be shocked if he didn’t start at least half the year. However, he’ll be in a bad offense that may hinder his fantasy potential. Unless he’s able to rack up garbage time numbers, I can’t see him being anything more than a low-end QB2 or high-end QB3 in two-quarterback leagues.

Long-Term Expectations

In the Jets offense and with his concerns, I’m not sure I can see Darnold consistently being a QB1. If he continues to be turnover-prone and struggles with mechanical issues while also being on a bad offense, fantasy points will be hard to come by. If he’s able to cut back on these issues, find a consistent receiver and connect on a big play every few games, then he could become a consistent low-end QB1/high-end QB2 type.

Pro Comparison

Another quarterback who struggled with turnover issues, has an ideal frame, and immense upside is former number one overall pick Jameis Winston. While Winston has been a solid NFL quarterback, he’s certainly not in the conversation of top ten quarterbacks, and hasn’t produced a QB1 season yet (although he did finish as QB13 in 2015). Many of the issues that Winston had as a prospect still are just that: issues. And while he still flashes tremendous talent quite a bit he’ll likely never reach the heights of what most expect of a number one pick. I don’t think Winston’s a bust at all, he’s certainly a quarterback you can win with, but I don’t think he’s one you win because of. If Darnold doesn’t clean up his issues he’ll likely fall victim to the same fate.

Projected Rookie Draft Range

Darnold is coming off the board as QB4, which I feel is right where he should go. Pick 26 feels a little bit high, but if you need a quarterback and three have already been taken it’s certainly appropriate. In a vacuum, I’d rather have players like Antonio Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton, J’Mon Moore, and Mark Andrews than him, as these players have both short and long-term upside at positions that I think are more valuable than quarterback.