Interception machine. Turnover prone. Inconsistent. Mechanics are a mess. These are going to be thrown around Sam Darnold as he heads into the NFL draft by fans who do not trust their favorite team if they wind up drafting the USC quarterback. Oh yeah, the fact that he went to USC will factor for some decision makers.
Yes, there are flaws in the game of Sam Darnold, flaws that come with a quarterback who would be the youngest in NFL history to start in Week One next season if that were to happen. However, that youth and the base of pure talent and understanding of the game is what intrigues evaluators about Sam Darnold so much that you want to draft him with the first overall pick.
Darnold doesn’t even see pressure. He feels pressure. You can see it in his ability to consistently extend plays with his eyes downfield. The way he uses his entire body to separate himself from pressure while setting up his completion down the field is impressive.
The play below is what Darnold brings. He is feeling the pressure, dipping out with his shoulder, extending the play but completing a pass down the field as a defender crashes in on him.
Darnold is intuitive about his decisions under pressure and is able to reboot, turn the other direction and complete a pass easily down the field on the run. He is always playing with an understanding of where players are down the field.
Sam Darnold has his eyes downfield as he leaves the pocket. A quick glance to make sure he is okay is followed by an easy completion.
Now, notice the arm talent of what he is doing this with as he is feeling pressure and extending the play to pass. That goes 35 yards down the field on the money.
Again, the shoulder dip to elude the pressure. He resets and unloads a dart down the sideline where only his wide receiver can catch it.
Watch the pump fake to extend the play. A little Ben Roethlisberger in his game.
These two throws are dimes from the move. The play below he has two players breathing down his neck. He is on the run and whips it over 20 yards to his receiver with room to move after the catch. A bit high, but it is in there.
Speaking of where only his receiver can catch it. Darnold drops this in a bucket rolling out and passing on the move. He makes a pass this precise at least once per game.
Just to make sure we are not going to label him a wide receiver prospect because he is good outside of the pocket as well, Darnold, like Lamar Jackson can kill you in both ways.
On a fourth down below, Darnold is showing his ability to feel pressure, but also move within the pocket to make the play. Watch the footwork as he navigates traffic in structure with his eyes downfield. Containing him to the pocket is not going to hurt him.
On the play below he is facing third down in the red zone. The play has him reading left to right. Watch how fast he gets through his progressions as the first three options are well covered. He sees a tight window to the right. However, he knows his looking left bought him enough space as the safety is a step late to get over as Darnold delivers a dime to the corner.
After play-action Darnold is looking deep to the left. That is to let his receiver get across the field without as much attention as he buys space and gives his receiver a chance. Watch the awkward route number 26 took on defense because the quarterback froze him.
Again, Darnold is so quick through his progressions, as he catches the safety in the middle of the field coming from the left hash mark, where Darnold originally was looking. It is the understanding of where his receivers are without looking at them that makes this an easy pass.
Below, Darnold is going to attack the wide side of the field. To keep the linebacker on the right honest he is looking left, freeing up a one-on-one matchup. He gives it time and a strong-armed throw from the opposite hash moves the chains.
Watch how quick he works and how quick he gets the ball out. Those are feet that you can work with.
By his third step in a three step drop he has already surveyed the field and ripped a quick pass into his receivers chest, before the defender was able to get over.
And of course, there is the cannon arm strength. That is not contained by keeping him in the pocket either.
Sam Darnold can be deadly accurate attacking down the field.
Darnold has a lot of faith in himself, and his arm. Throwing with as much anticipation and understanding as Sam Darnold means relying on things to go the way he thinks they will go before the snap. Working like that tends to bite him at times. You will see him make throws into double coverage.
And sometimes triple coverage. The fact that this is the red zone is killer. These types of decisions will have to be ironed out of his game.
He makes that “what were you thinking” throw at least once per game.
A little too much belief with a defender crashing down and throwing into double coverage.
He also does have the mechanical question. For the most part, his throws look like the ones above. On the money. Others, look like the one below. Look how low he starts his release from. It can lead to high passes, and overthrows, but also can lead to strip sacks in the NFL. He tends to throw from a different platform with almost every throw as well. The feet and arm mechanics will affect his accuracy at times.
While it needs to be cleaned up, the fact of the matter is that he is producing at an advanced level for his age and experience. There are times in watching Darnold where Andrew Luck shows up. The understanding of the game and ability to make decisions quickly followed by the size and arm strength. It comes with the bad decisions, but those are quick decisions he made before he even saw what he was throwing into. Mechanically, he can be compared to Carson Wentz. The low release was an issue that he cleaned up between his first and second year. It showed for him as he made a drastic jump with two years of help. If Darnold can be brought in with a strong situation, like Wentz, he will thrive in the NFL, and make any GM look like a genius.