Scouting Report: Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, USC

6’4 225 lbs

Tape Viewed: 2016 v. Cal, 2017 v. Washington State, 2017 v. Ohio State

 

OVERVIEW

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California

Make no mistake, Sam Darnold is a very good quarterback prospect coming out of USC, despite a fall-off in production and some very poor tape at times in 2017.

What sets Darnold apart from most is his willingness and ability to consistently try to place balls in the tightest of windows. He throws his receivers open, and threads the needle with the best of them. While this is an ideal mindset for a franchise quarterback, it has led to a significant uptick in turnovers in 2017. To take his game to an elite level, he must learn situational aggressiveness and read the field better from the pocket.

While Darnold is outstanding in much of the macro elements of playing quarterback, the devil is often in the details. He needs serious help on his footwork and windup. The long windup in particular directly led to a strip sack against Cal in 2016. There have been incremental improvements in both areas this past season, but he also stands to improve in manipulating the defense with his eyes, more subtle pocket movement, and identifying blitzes and hot routes.

Essentially, Darnold is a college quarterback. He’s raw, and will need time to develop before potentially becoming an above average NFL starter. It’s hard to envision Darnold becoming a top 5 quarterback at the next level, but he could turn in a decade’s worth of competent signal calling and, in the right situation, win a ring or two.

 

PASSING

Accuracy: 12 out of 15

When he misses, Darnold tends to miss high, regardless of where he is throwing on the field. That is mainly due to his below average footwork, clean that up, and he has the arm talent to make every throw on the field.

 

Power: 4 out of 5

While Darnold’s power is competent to make NFL throws and hit on deep balls, his velocity is not blistering, and he might struggle in the NFL trying to get the ball downfield beyond 45 yards.

 

On the run: 5 out of 5

Darnold is a natural passer on the run, this points to his outstanding arm talent. He can drive it in the tightest windows when on the run, as his footwork doesn’t get in the way. He’s also clearly more comfortable outside the pocket.

 

Consistency: 8 out of 10

Usually, what you see is what you get with Darnold, and that’s a healthy dose of good and bad. He’s got all of the passing prowess in the world, but struggles to manipulate defenses and can sometimes press and make bad decisions. Against better defenses, he tends to play a little worse, which is nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Field General: 16 out of 20

While Darnold shows flashes of ability in this area, it’s definitely not at an elite level. He’s ahead of spread offenses, or one read and runs, but it’s clear that he sometimes doesn’t see the field and locks in on his first read, as evidenced by the pick six he threw in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against Ohio State.

 

Athleticism: 3 out of 5

Darnold will never be considered a plus athlete and likely won’t run many (if any) designed runs at the next level, but when asked of him, he runs with authority and determination and has decent enough balance.

 

Pocket awareness: 9 out of 10

Clearly, he has that innate sense of pressure, and makes adjustments, my main gripe is in the nuance, sometimes he runs himself out of trouble to get himself in more trouble. He’ll need to learn how to use micro-movements like side steps and shoulder turns to throw off defenders in the pocket or he’ll make some bad plays worse at the next level.

 

Poise: 8 out of 10

As referenced before, Darnold seems to be very comfortable when a play breaks down, and actually seems to thrive when throwing off-platform. The main concern is his ability to diagnose the blitz presnap, identify the hot read or adjust protection accordingly.

 

Clutch: 4 out of 5

Anyone who watched the Rose Bowl in 2016 against Penn State knows what Darnold is all about. The guy is a gamer and often takes his game to the next level under the brightest lights and in the biggest moments. There are some high profile letdowns on tape in crunch-time however. The entirety of the Ohio State and Notre Dame games, as well as the game-losing strip sack against Washington State spring to mind.

 

Size: 5 out of 5

Darnold looks rock solid as a player, with the ideal frame for a quarterback.

 

Reliability: 10 out of 10

No off-field issues to speak of, seems to genuinely love football, and hasn’t missed a game to injury yet in his career. He will be available on Sundays should his team need him.

 

Total Prospect Rating: 84 out of 100

 

Pro Comparison: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions

Sam Darnold

The more I watched of Darnold’s tape, the more I saw the pure grit and determination that exemplifies Stafford’s game. While not considered consistently among the elite, Stafford’s arm talent is second to none, and Darnold has similar ability. Like Stafford, Darnold has all the intangibles one could hope for from a franchise quarterback, but both are also prone to bone-headed mistakes when trying to rally their teams.

Mock Draft 1.0

  1. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

6′ 233 lbs

Saquon Barkley

It’s time for the Browns to add a dynamic athlete to the backfield, one that teams will be forced to gameplan against, regardless if it’s Tyrod Taylor, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or some other quarterback taking snaps. Barkley has a similar all-around skillset to Ezekiel Elliott, who brought an entirely different dimension to the Cowboys two years ago. Barkley will not make it to the Browns next pick, so jumping on him here makes the most sense in a draft where there is no consensus top player.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Quarterback
  1. New York Giants: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

6’5 329 lbs.

Quenton Nelson

Do I think the Giants will be this intelligent? Not necessarily, but new GM David Gettleman is known to build a running game first, as opposed to Jerry Reese who built a running game never. The word out of New York is that Eli will remain the quarterback this year which, while a mistake, eliminates the likelihood of a player like Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen here.

Nelson himself is an outstanding prospect, perhaps the best guard prospect I’ve ever seen. Watching his tape, it just looks easy for him, and I can’t point out a single flaw in his game. He’s a technician, has ideal size, and outstanding athleticism. He’s just as good in pass-blocking as run-blocking. Putting Nelson on this line will immediately improve a mediocre Giants offense and it is the right move. Will Gettleman make the right move? I’m betting on it, albeit accidentally.

Team Needs:

  • Offensive Tackle
  • Offensive Guard
  • Quarterback
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  1. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

6’4 269 lbs

Bradley Chubb

The way people are talking about Chubb, he reminds me of when Khalil Mack came out a few years ago. If that’s the kind of player he is, the Colts should jump on him immediately regardless of greater needs on the offensive line. It’s likely that Nelson would be the pick here if he were available, but Chubb is arguably the best defensive player in the draft and fits the MO of second year GM Chris Ballard.

Team Needs:

  • Offensive Tackle
  • Offensive Guard
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  1. Cleveland Browns from Houston Texans: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

5’10 191 lbs.

Denzel Ward

Denzel Ward is the top corner available after he blazed a 4.32 at the combine and already had outstanding tape. He reminds me of Chris Harris and that type of impact could mean the world for a Browns defense loaded with talent and on the cusp of contention.

I view Minkah Fitzpatrick as more of a safety, and I’ve noticed a decline in the market of safeties in both free agency and the draft in recent years (Jamal Adams notwithstanding) so I would be extremely surprised if Fitzpatrick or James were the pick here, even with their outstanding potential.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Quarterback
  1. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

6’5 233 lbs.

Josh Allen

This is a case where fit trumps who’s actually on the board at this point. Josh Allen is not the best QB in this class, and he may not be the fifth best, but John Elway has been trying to draft himself for years. To me, this is just another at-bat.

Allen has serious potential, an outstanding arm, and moxie to compete against higher competition which he displayed in the senior bowl. Case Keenum is a nice bridge quarterback, but the Broncos would be smart to start developing a future starter.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Tight End
  • Runningback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  1. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

6’3 220 lbs.

Sam Darnold

Here’s another team with a massive need at the game’s most valuable position even after resigning Josh McCown. Darnold has the potential to be a solid starter at the next level, which would be a massive upgrade at the postion for a Jets team mired in mediocrity for years. More importantly, Darnold can be a symbol of hope for a success-starved fanbase and a catalyst for a team that should continue to play hard for its coach.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Cornerback
  • Running back
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive End
  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

6’6 265 lbs.

Marcus Davenport

The Bucanneers really need a running back, as I don’t buy Peyton Barber as a starter, but their defense was so disappointingly poor last year, that the opportunity of adding a dynamic athlete like Davenport to an already promising pass rush featuring Noah Spence and Robert Ayers can’t be passed up. Davenport is the best player at a position of need, and may be the best available player period at this juncture.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Defensive End
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Offensive Tackle
  1. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

6’0 189 lbs.

Calvin Ridley

The Bears also have serious deficiencies at each level of their defense, despite a bevy of promising young playmakers on that side of the ball. What they really need is to support the growth of their young quarterback by providing him with NFL-level talent to throw to. Even after signing Allen Robinson, they could still use more talent. Forget the combine, Calvin Ridley is a polished route runner with great hands and adequate NFL speed. He’s exactly the kind of quarterback friendly target Trubisky needs, and reminds me a lot of Michael Crabtree, who was integral to Derek Carr’s development.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  1. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia

6’5 250 lbs.

Tremaine Edmunds

Wow, the word from this kid is wow. 19 years old. 6’5 250 lbs, with the ability to excel in both pass coverage and run defense. The sky really is the limit for this kid, though having said that, he may not look brilliant on the field in his first year and whoever drafts him is drafting him on talent and potential and will have to be patient. The 49ers have a serious problem on their hands in the middle of the defense if Reuben Foster can’t get out of his own way with his off-the-field problems. Edmunds can be a worthy insurance policy if it doesn’t work out with Foster, and form an awesome tandem with him if it does.

Team Needs:

  • Wide receiver
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Defensive End
  • Offensive Tackle
  1. Oakland Raiders: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

6’8 312 lbs.

Mike McGlinchey

This pick is based on the idea that the Raiders never value their need at linebacker as highly as they should (although it is dire). I believe the weakness of that offensive line has always lied on the right side, where a move like this will allow them flexibility to move around their assets. Donald Penn may not be the option at left tackle he once was, but this could be a perfect transition whenever McGlinchey and Penn are ready to switch spots. As for McGlinchey himself, playing next to Kelechi Osemele should mask nearly all of his minor issues.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Wide receiver
  • Defensive tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Right tackle
  1. Miami Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

6’4 226 lbs.

NCAA Football: California at UCLA

Do I think Rosen lasts this long? Maybe. I definitely think two of the top four should survive the top ten, whoever they are. This isn’t a premium QB class by any stretch, although I do expect the usual trading frenzy to affect the top half of this first round. Because this is a non-trading mock draft, we’ll stick with the current order and in this scenario, I think the Dolphins jump at the chance to reset their quarterback position with a promising (and more pro-ready than Ryan Tannehill is now) talent in Josh Rosen.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Right tackle
  • Linebacker
  • Tight End
  • Running back
  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

6’0 230 lbs.

Roquan Smith

Smith could fall, due to the medical red flag that popped up during the combine. We don’t have extensive details on the issue, but a similar injury (paired with concerns about his ability to diagnose offenses) caused Reuben Foster to fall last year. I view Roquan Smith as perhaps the surest thing in the draft not named Quenton Nelson, and worthy of a top 5 pick if fully healthy. I’m splitting the difference here, and the Bengals would be ecstatic to add a playmaker of his caliber after getting by with journeymen like Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey in recent years.

Team Needs:

  • Tight End
  • Left tackle
  • Right Tackle
  • Left Guard
  • Linebacker
  1. Washington Redskins: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

6’3 218 lbs.

courtland sutton

The Redskins swung and missed bringing Terrele Pryor in to help compensate for the loss of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. They need to keep swinging, because Alex Smith has virtually no one to throw to right now. I’m honestly quite surprised about the lack of excitement surrounding Courtland Sutton. His height weight speed combination is ideal and he was highly productive in college. There are questions about his ability to separate, but I think an accurate thrower like Alex Smith is just what Sutton needs to maximize his potential early in his career.

Team Needs:

  • Wide receive
  • Offensive line
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  1. Green Bay Packers: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

5’10 189 lbs.

Mike Hughes.jpg

Even before the Packers dealt Damarious Randall to the Browns, this move made a ton of sense. This is an opportunity to infuse a stale as day-old-pizza secondary with some young playmaking talent for new GM Brian Gutekunst. Hughes was a big reason why UCF was able to complete an undefeated season last year. He’s an ascending player that should only get better with NFL coaching and already has all the athletic gifts one could want in a corner.

Team Needs:

  • Pass rusher
  • Center
  • Tight End
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  1. Arizona Cardinals: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

6’1 215 lbs.

Rose Bowl Game - Oklahoma v Georgia

I think Mayfield has all the potential to be the best in this class. He reminds me a bit of Sam Bradford (who incidentally just signed a one-year deal here) coming out with his outstanding completion percentage and the fact that they’re both from Oklahoma. Mayfield has the added bonus of not being made of glass and having plus athleticism to boot. Forget his height, and forget the long list of quarterbacks that haven’t made it at 6 foot and under, Mayfield, like Brees, Wilson, Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkenton before him, is the exception to the rule.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Offensive tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  1. Baltimore Ravens: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

5’10 200 lbs.

Christian Kirk

I love me a true polished route runner. You can see just how much a player like that can transcend an offense by looking no further than Adam Thielen in Minnesota. Kirk has that kind of ability, though I think he compares a bit more to Jarvis Landry. He’s what Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense has been missing for years.

Team Needs:

  • Wide Receiver
  • Right tackle
  • Offensive guard
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  1. Los Angeles Chargers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama

6’1 215 lbs.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

If you’re curious why Minkah Fitzpatrick would fall this far, you’re right to be because he probably won’t. I’ve explained earlier that I believe the safety position is being devalued, and Fitzpatrick has very little game experience as a corner. Some team will fall in love with his potential and combine numbers, and he’ll probably end up with a team in some kind of trading scenario. With no trades and as the board falls, I couldn’t find a place where fit met need until here with the Chargers. Fitzpatrick, if he does make it this far, could transcend a defense that’s already threatening to be one of the most exciting units in the NFL headlined by the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

Team Needs:

  • Right tackle
  • Center
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  • Defensive tackle
  1. Seattle Seahawks: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

6’1 192 lbs.

Josh Jackson

After jettisoning Richard Sherman (finally), and with the secondary rebuild already begun last season, pairing the ultra-athletic Shaq Griffin with a true ball-hawk like Jackson would be a coup. The Seahawks will need to find some answers at safety as the Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor connection seems destined to be broken, but with this pick, they will complete an impressive two year reset at one of the game’s most important positions.

Team Needs:

  • Tight end
  • Right tackle
  • Guard
  • Defensive end
  • Cornerback
  1. Dallas Cowboys: Derwin James, S, Florida State

6’3 215 lbs.

Derwin James

The Cowboys haven’t had an elite athlete at the safety spot since Darren Woodson, and it’s time to remedy that situation with a player whose stock fell just enough from last season for the Cowboys to reap all the benefits. Without his heart condition, Maurice Hurst would have been the pick, but the Cowboys can’t afford to pass on another elite secondary player after Choosing Ezekiel Elliott over Jalen Ramsey in the 2016 draft.

Team Needs:

  • Safety
  • Defensive tackle
  • Wide receiver
  • Left guard
  • Tight end
  1. Detroit Lions: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

6’4 347 lbs.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington

The ideal cut-and-paste replacement for Haloti Ngata, who will likely share a rotation with him for the next couple of years. Vea will help Ziggy Ansah maximize his massive potential and free up lanes for last year’s top pick Jarrad Davis to attack the running game. In short, he’ll make the whole defense better with his impressive athleticism and even more impressive size.

Team Needs

  • Linebacker
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Guard
  1. Buffalo Bills: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

6’2 282 lbs.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan

Hurst doesn’t fall too far due to the heart condition, since I believe he’ll be ready to contribute for a defense immediately and should play at least through his first contract. It’s the team that wants to sign him in free agency five years from now and make the highest paid defensive player that will need to worry. Hurst’s ability can’t be overstated and he’s an ideal replacement for the departed Marcel Dareus precisely because they’re not the same type of player. Hurst is a penetrator and will add a pass-rushing edge to the middle of the Bills defense that they’ve been needing for years to disrupt Tom Brady’s rhythm.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  1. Buffalo Bills from Kansas City Chiefs: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

6’5 235 lbs.

Mason Rudolph

And for their second pick, a quarterback who has been underrated throughout the process. Few quarterbacks are as natural with the deep ball as Rudolph is, but his massive production in the Oklahoma State offense suggests he gets it to all areas of the field effectively. Rudolph also has ideal NFL size, and that makes for a welcome change for Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott and company who struggled with the limits of their offense with Tyrod Taylor as a starter.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  1. Los Angeles Rams: Arden Key, OLB, LSU

6’6 238 lbs.

Arden Key

This is perhaps the most natural fit for me of any of the first round picks. Wade Philips gets his true 3-4 OLB and elite pass rusher in Arden Key, who (if he keeps his nose clean) should be able to benefit from the elite talent around him. The defense the Rams are building is starting to look scary, and adding a top 10 talent like Key without having to trade up following a playoff season has to be considered a serious win for GM Les Snead.

Team Needs:

  • Inside Linebacker
  • Outside Linebacker
  • Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Running back
  1. Carolina Panthers: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia

6’2 300 lbs.

Isaiah Wynn

The Panthers simply have to replace Andrew Norwell to keep that running game moving forward. It won’t go otherwise, and a roadgrader like Wynn should pair with the rest of the Panthers interior line nicely to form an intimidating power running game. Of course, they’ll also need to consider adding an every down runner at some point this offseason, as I don’t think McCaffrey is a true workhorse.

Team Needs:

  • Guard
  • Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive tackle
  • Cornerback

 

  1. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

6’3 252 lbs.

Harold Landry

It’s been far too long since the Titans had a high-impact pass rusher at the end spot. Brian Orakpo was past his prime by the time he arrived. Landry may not have the best tape in 2017, but it’s worth the chance late in the first round that he can regain his 2016 form.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive end
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Guard
  • Tight End
  1. Atlanta Falcons: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

6’2 311 lbs.

Da'Ron Payne

Don’t get me wrong, I like the talent at defensive tackle in this year’s draft. There are some excellent players, but the needs and fits caused some highly talented players to slide and the Falcons are happy to grab a cheap, young replacement for Dontari Poe as Dan Quinn continues to build a talented and exciting young defense to compete with some challenging and complex offenses in the NFC.

Team Needs:

  • Guard
  • Defensive tackle
  • Free Safety
  1. New Orleans Saints: Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa

6’1 235 lbs.

Josey Jewell

I think I might be onto something here, as I feel New Orleans likes to throw curve balls and the end of the first round is where lines start to get blurred. I believe the Saints are candidates to trade up for defensive talent, but Josey Jewell perfectly fits the high football IQ, competitiveness and desire the Saints have come to all-but-require in their players. I believe he’s a highly underrated prospect and the Saints, should they choose to go this direction, will be rewarded handsomely.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive End
  • Tight end
  • Linebacker
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

6’4 256 lbs.

Leighton Vander Esch

This is a case of perfect fit after the devastating, and very unfortunate, injury to Ryan Shazier (among the most exciting young linebackers in the game prior to his injury). Vander Esch may not have played against the strongest competition in the mountain west, but he was a production machine and flashed elite traits, which combined with his ideal size make him a highly enticing gamble at the end of the first round.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Quarterback
  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

6’6 250 lbs.

Dallas Goedert

The Jags offense needs more sure-handed targets for Blake Bortles to throw to. With plenty of talent on the defensive side, the Jags find a player here at the bottom half of the first round that has the potential to be one of the best playmakers coming out of this class.

Team Needs:

  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Quarterback
  • Tackle
  • Linebacker
  1. Minnesota Vikings: Conor Williams, OT, Texas

6’5 320 lbs.

Connor Williams

The Vikings fully revamped their offensive line after mighty struggles in 2016, now it’s time to start building on that foundation with a young stud like Conor Williams. Adept in both pass protection and run blocking, and with ideal size, I expect to see the more dominant 2016 Williams than the 2017 variety which struggled at times.

Team Needs:

  • Tackle
  • Guard
  • Cornerback
  • Strong Safety
  • Running back
  1. New England Patriots: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

6’4 291 lbs.

Taven Bryan

Make no mistake, somebody will be trading up to get Lamar Jackson, and I expect that to happen with this pick. Stay tuned for my trade-filled post free agency mock for all of that action. As it stands now, Taven Bryan looks like he could be a physical stud in the mold of Dominique Easley (who the Patriots drafted in about this spot a few years ago). The Patriots need more talent in the front 7 to continue to maximize their Super Bowl window.

Team Needs:

  • Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver
  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

6’3 234 lbs.

AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama

Evans falling this far seems surprising, but guess what? Surprising things always happen on draft day. Evans is rough around the edges and may not be quite ready to contribute from a technique standpoint as a starter. He is, however, a good pickup for a team with two established starters in Hicks and Kendricks, and represents very good value.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver