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2018 NFL Draft: case for and against Sam Darnold

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If the Bills are in position to draft the passer from USC in late April, this is a preview of the arguments the front office will be hearing

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Sam Darnold is considered one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. The USC quarterback is definitely in the race to be the top overall selection. In today’s article, we break down the pros and cons of his game and make the case for and against the signal caller.

Background

After starting quarterback Max Browne was benched after leading USC to a 1-2 record in 2016, the team turned to a little-known quarterback named Sam Darnold. The redshirt freshman passer was originally recruited to the school by their defensive coordinator in the hopes of converting him to linebacker, but Darnold refused to make the switch. In his first game after being named the starter, Darnold completed 12-of-22 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception while almost pulling off an upset of Utah. After that, he never lost another game in 2016 and led his team to a Rose Bowl victory. After great expectations for 2017, the now 20-year-old quarterback had somewhat of a disappointing year, both statistically and in the win column, with tough losses against Washington State and Notre Dame in addition to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

The case for Darnold

There’s a reason Darnold was originally recruited as a linebacker. He is a solidly built 6’3”, 221-pound prospect with athletic testing numbers that match up with players like Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton. He’s never missed a game due to injury. Despite not being the most experienced prospect at the position, he’s battle-tested, having completed a multitude of second-half and fourth-quarter comebacks. As a passer, his movement and elusiveness in the pocket allows him to extend plays enough for his receivers to shake loose from coverage. His accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field is deadly. At USC, he often threw for completions despite locked-down coverage. He’s able to quickly deliver the ball despite wonky mechanics both in the pocket and while on the run. Overall, he’s decisive and fearless with the football.

Darnold would likely be a strong fit for the offense that new Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would like to run. Daboll is rumored to be bringing a version of the Erhardt-Perkins (E-P) offense, possibly with some college zone-read concepts. The E-P system is predicated on post-snap recognition, accuracy and decisiveness from its quarterbacks, which is good news for a player like Darnold. USC also ran some zone-read concepts as well.

The case against Sam Darnold

After declaring in January, Darnold enters the draft with the least amount of starting experience compared to his peers, having only started 24 college games. His inexperience and gunslinger mentality often leads to him being needlessly reckless with the ball, and resulted in 22 total turnovers in 2017. His decisiveness can backfire as he occasionally is too quick to abandon a clean pocket if his first option is not open. Darnold is not really known for his deep passing ability. On tape, his long throws have a tenancy to flutter. He was somewhat of a rhythm passer in college and incompletions would come in bunches. On quick slants or quick outs, Darnold needs to do a better job on his pre-snap reads and on staring down his targets.

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