Is USC pedigree an asset or liability at this point?
Sam Darnold’s electric performance in the 2017 Rose Bowl clearly established him as a frontrunner for the 2017 Heisman Trophy and potential 2018 first overall pick. Unlike his southern California counterpart, both in origin and university, Josh Rosen, Darnold is understated and mellow. In contrast to Rosen, who flaunts the California QB cockiness that Aaron Rodgers embraced before him, Darnold is reserved and careful to say the right thing-a major difference from Rosen’s tacit implication that he would rather not go to Cleveland.
Off the field, Darnold presents a very different persona than that of Rosen, who he forever he compared with-but does that really matter?
Scouts love Darnold’s burly frame and big game moxie, giving him that “gamer” feel that old time NFL scouts love. Darnold is a linebacker at heart, not playing quarterback until his sophomore year in high school due to an injury ahead of him on the depth chart.
While intangibles are great, it’s important to keep sight of what should be evaluated when considering quarterbacks-how well they can actually throw the football.
After lighting the world on fire and staking his claim as the best QB in the country after coming back to beat Penn State in the absolutely thrilling 2017 Rose Bowl, expectations were sky high headed into the 2017 season. Darnold mostly fulfilled them, but Rosen’s excellence and Josh Allen’s raw arm strength combined with a worrying turnover habit developed by Darnold ignited nationwide debates over who deserves to be the number 1 overall pick.
When I see Darnold play, I see a player that has the potential to be a franchise guy, but isn’t quite there yet. The mechanics are a little loose, perhaps too much so for NFL defenses that allow for a razor thin margin of error. His ceiling is Andrew Luck, but he is a ways away from that right now.
Watching Darnold play against an Ohio State defense chock-full of NFL talent in this years bowl game was worrisome. He missed open receivers and looked skittish in the pocket. The guy I couldn’t help seeing was Eli Manning on a bad day. Now, Eli on a good day is a Hall of Famer. But young, inexperienced Eli and the old, washed up Eli can lose you games you should otherwise win.
None of this is to say that Darnold shouldn’t be a top pick in the draft. Eli went No. 1 overall, and absolutely lived up to the billing. But proceed with caution before expecting Darnold to come out the gate and play like Andrew Luck. The USC kid has got talent and experience, but he may be a tad overrated.