Scouting Profile: Quarterback Sam Darnold

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 12, 2018

USC quarterback Sam Darnold has the potential to come off the board as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft

Sam Darnold, USC

Height: 6’3″
Weight: 221 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.85 seconds
Hand Size: 9.4 inches

A red-shirted freshman who is highly regarded as someone who can develop into an elite-level quarterback. He’s built for the position and plays with a certain edge that only someone who is 20 years old is able to. Some wondered if Darnold should return to college for one more season, but sitting there as the potential No. 1 pick, it’s difficult to argue with his decision.

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Part of the reason some questioned his decision to not come back was based on his regression in his sophomore season, as he lost JuJu Smith-Schuster from his receiving corps and his numbers trended in the wrong direction. He also struggled against Ohio State in the final game of his college career, failing to throw a touchdown pass on 45 attempts in that game. In the end, though, Darnold threw for 4,143 yards, which ranked fifth in all of college football.

Arm Strength/Throwing Motion: 3.5 out of 5 stars
We didn’t get to see Darnold throw alongside his competition at the NFL Combine, so we didn’t get a measurement on the speed of his throws, but judging by his tape, Darnold’s arm is just fine. The ball comes out of his hand so effortlessly, specifically on the deep ball. There’s not a throw he’s unable to make, but his mechanics could use some work. He trusts his arm too much at times and doesn’t follow through with his feet. He needs to step into his throws more often. He also has a semi-long release of the ball as he goes through a clear windup and drops his arm more than you’d like. This is part of the reason he had so many turnovers (13 interceptions, 7 fumbles) in 2017. His arm is a strength, but he needs to understand that it won’t save him in the NFL if his mechanics aren’t sound.

Accuracy: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Sure, his accuracy rate dipped a bit in 2017, but that’ll happen when your receivers are sub-par. While watching his film, his receivers let him down an awful lot. Mechanics flaws prevented him from taking the next step, but he’s going to be good if he becomes a bit more consistent. Because of those flaws, the ball sailed on him at times. There were throws I watch him make and think, “not everyone in the NFL can make that throw,” while at other times, I see him make the same awful decisions that plague strong-armed quarterbacks. Darnold’s accuracy percentage was among the best in college football back in 2016, so we know he’s capable. I believe his drop in completion percentage had something to do with the talent around him in 2017, though him being a tad more consistent in his throws wouldn’t hurt. The one note I wanted to make here is that when he throws a touch pass while setting his feet, he can drop a ball in places where most can’t. If worked with, that’s a very desirable trait for an NFL quarterback.

Mobility: 3.0 out of 5 stars
He’s not going to rush for 500 yards in the NFL or anything, but his escapability isn’t a flaw in his game, either. His feet are always moving, and he shows the ability to evade pressure, though he’s not fast. He’s actually reckless when taking off with the football at times, showing the willingness to put his body in harm’s way to score/get a first down. He doesn’t necessarily want to run the ball, but for a guy who is almost 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he moves very well and won’t avoid contact. This can be looked at as a negative because you don’t want your quarterback taking big, unnecessary hits, but you also love to see his competitiveness come out. Someone I’d compare him to in his mobility is Jay Cutler, who wasn’t considered a mobile quarterback, but one who could make some plays with his feet.

Pocket Awareness: 4.0 out of 5 stars
For someone who played just two years of college football, Darnold has extremely good pocket awareness. He’s very aware of the pressure that surrounds him in the pocket, but doesn’t panic, either. Instead, he’ll hang tough if there’s a target about to hit his break, even if it means he’s going to take a big hit. Some will say the ball has to come out before then, but when he does take those sacks, it seemed like the play simply took too long to develop. He may not be as good at maneuvering players with his agility like Baker Mayfield, but he’s very aware of where the players are on the field and when the ball is supposed to come out.

Vision/Decision-Making: 3.0 out of 5 stars
This is an area I wanted to grade him much higher, as his vision is extremely solid, and he processes things extremely fast. The issue is that he will sometimes trust his arm too much and will try to fit the ball into tight spots down the field. It’s a problem with quite a few quarterbacks, but there are some who never learn from their mistakes. We saw Darnold regress a tad in 2017 with his decision-making, which is concerning, because some just never learn. With that, he’s very young and only has two years under his belt. Again, he processes the field extremely quick, knows how to look off safeties to create a window and has a good sense of where everyone is, but he needs to understand that his arm will not get him out of bad situations all the time.

Anticipation: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Another highlight from his game, as he knows where a receiver is supposed to be and when he’s supposed to break in his route. He’ll throw the ball before the break, before the receiver turns back to him, and the placement is often solid on the intermediate routes, putting the ball where only his receiver can get it. His anticipation on where a defender will be in the secondary may be a different story, though, as he’ll scramble quite often and may forget about a defender coming across the field, only to throw an interception right to him. Still, his anticipation on wide receivers breaking a route would have been on display at the Combine, as it seemed every quarterback not named Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen waited until a wide receiver had fully-cleared his break in the route.

Potential Landing Spot
After going back and watching more of Darnold, the Browns taking him at No. 1 shouldn’t be considered a stretch, though Mayfield is still my top quarterback. Darnold would be an ideal candidate to sit behind Tyrod Taylor for a year and take the mental reps from the sideline. He’d be able to work with the receivers and develop chemistry through practice reps, as I’m sure the Browns would mix him in with the 1’s at some point. Should the Browns pass on him, the Giants, Jets, and Broncos should all be interested.

NFL Comparison
It was pretty tough when searching for a comparison to Darnold, as he seemed to be a mixture of a lot of different quarterbacks. But after thinking about it some more, Andrew Luck is probably the closest comparison I can give. Luck’s arm is a bit stronger than Darnold’s, but they both have above-average arms with great mobility despite their size/speed combination, and both of them show the ability to hang tough in the pocket and take a big hit in order to get the ball where they want it. While it’ll take some time for Darnold to catch up to Luck, he’s probably the type of quarterback Darnold should strive to be.

Don’t miss the other Scouting Profiles on top prospects below:
Saquon Barkley (RB – Penn State)
Derrius Guice (RB – LSU)
Ronald Jones (RB – USC)
Sony Michel (RB – Georgia)
Nick Chubb (RB – Georgia)
Royce Freeman (RB – Oregon)
Rashaad Penny (RB – San Diego State)
Kerryon Johnson (RB – Auburn)
John Kelly (RB – Tennessee)
Kalen Ballage (RB – Arizona State)
Calvin Ridley (WR – Alabama)
James Washington (WR – Oklahoma State)
Courtland Sutton (WR – Southern Methodist)
Michael Gallup (WR – Colorado State)
D.J. Moore (WR – Maryland)
Christian Kirk (WR – Texas A&M)
Anthony Miller (WR – Memphis)
Equanimeous St. Brown (WR – Notre Dame)
Daesean Hamilton (WR – Penn State)
Dante Pettis (WR – Washington)
Keke Coutee (WR – Texas Tech)
Auden Tate (WR – Florida State)
Baker Mayfield (QB – Oklahoma)

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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