Sam Darnold is projected to be a top 5 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, according to ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. There is a lot of hype surrounding Sam Darnold, who has declared for the draft coming out of the University of Southern California. While he has proven to be an adept quarterback in the NCAA, the NFL is an entirely different matter altogether. There are two main reasons why he will be a bust: 1. USC had a relatively easy schedule this past season which involved more than a few blowout wins which made him seem better than he actually is, and 2. USC quarterbacks get eaten up when they come into the league.
USC this past season had a record of 11-3 atop the PAC-12 South division, and became eligible for the Cotton Bowl. According to SportsReference.com, Sam Darnold threw for 26 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a completion rate of 63% in the 2017 season. According to the stats, Darnold is a solid quarterback…in the NCAA.
Of course the NFL and the NCAA have different rules, and some would say that the NFL rules make the game more difficult, such as having two feet in bounds for a catch instead of only one like in the NCAA. However as far as talent and skill sets go, the NFL is far ahead. According to Businessinsider.com, less than 2% of NCAA football athletes go professional after their college careers. This helps establish how good a player has to be to end up playing in the NFL. Darnold’s stats certainly line up, but how does his play on the field resonate?
Darnold has been known to lock in his first read while under pressure, and is all too often seen backpedaling and scrambling trying to make a play. USC had enough star power on their team where they could make something happen in these situations every so often and it would pay off. But when Darnold makes it to the NFL, that strategy simply will not work. NFL defenses are far superior to college defenses. For example, in college ball, most defensive backs have to protect their space and most don’t play man coverage, something that is done a lot in the NFL. Linebackers are also having to drop back into coverage instead of playing a blocker or getting up into the quarterback’s face on the blitz, like they do all the time in the NFL.
All this to say, Darnold has yet to experience a real defense. The closest he got to one was in his final game in the Cotton Bowl against 5th ranked Ohio State, where USC lost 24-7. All three of Ohio State’s touchdowns came after takeaways, including Damon Webb’s 23-yard pick-six off Sam Darnold early in the second quarter. In my own opinion, a quarterback who is playing off of raw talent, and has been kicking up his stats by picking apart weak teams in college is not a QB who is ready for what the NFL will require of him.
Sports Illustrated writer Greg Bedard said it best: “…there is a huge disconnect between the two [NFL & NCAA] that has begun to affect the NFL. The draft is even more of a crapshoot than before. Rookies take longer to develop, if they ever do.”
The second reason I believe he will be a bust is because he comes from a college that has been known to breed excellent NCAA quarterbacks who just crumble when they get under the big lights. Matt Barkley, Carson Palmer, and Mark Sanchez, to name a few, all had incredible statistics coming out of USC. But where are they now?
Matt Barkley is currently riding the bench as the third string quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, having thrown for 8 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and a career passer rating of 63.7 according to NFL.com. At USC he threw for 116 touchdowns, 48 interceptions and a passer rating of 148.7. He just couldn’t bring that with him into the league. BUST.
Mark Sanchez who was recently traded to the Chicago Bears, rode the 2017 season on the bench as the 2nd string quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. According to NFL.com, he has thrown for 86 touchdowns, 86 interceptions, and an overall rating of 73.9. Let it be said that in his first two seasons under center for the New York Jets, he took them to the AFC Championship game in back to back years. But that’s where the buck stops for Sanchez in the NFL. At USC, he threw for 41 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a passer rating of 153.9 according to SportsReference.com. Same thing all over again, just another USC QB who couldn’t cut it. BUST.
Carson Palmer may be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL to come out of USC. Palmer has been somewhat of a journeyman QB but has played for Cincinnati, Oakland, and recently announced his retirement after 5 seasons in Arizona. Palmer came into the league in 2004 and according to ESPN.com, has thrown for 294 touchdowns, 187 interceptions, and a career passer rating of 87.9. Not bad, but most certainly not among the elite. But again, compare these stats to how he played in college; according to SportsReference.com, he threw for 72 touchdowns, 49 interceptions and a passer rating of 131.2. Carson Palmer has taken his teams to more than a few respective championship games, but it has never amounted to much, other than a few embarrassing blowouts. Palmer may not be a bust, but he is certainly a player who did not match the hype and whose actual skillset was ultimately exposed by the NFL.
Of course nobody will have the same stats as they did when they played in college, which is to be expected. But when I look at a player like Sam Darnold who is playing well and putting up good stats, I personally feel as if he is being set up for failure. Darnold has no idea what kind of monster defenses he will have to play against. He hasn’t had defensive lines that average 300 pounds a man pushing in at him from all angles while he is trying to read his receivers. At the end of the day, it can be said that Darnold is an athlete who can play well, but if all that potential comes out in the NFL and it still doesn’t match up, I think the league will just be adding another Carson Palmer to one of its rosters. If this ends up being the case, then all this hype surrounding Sam Darnold’s draft ranking and NFL potential will be nothing more than a smoke show.
Nothing against the guy, but I truly believe that based off of his circumstances and his stats, Sam Darnold will continue the broken cycle of USC quarterbacks coming into the NFL, and will be the biggest bust of the 2018 NFL Draft.