Name: Sam Darnold
Weight: 220 pounds
Projected Round: 1 (Top Five)
When looking at Darnold, he has the size NFL teams desire out of a quarterback. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he has the physical tools to be able to take a hit from NFL defenses. He is willing to stand strong in the pocket to deliver throws, even when pressure is bearing down on him. He did not miss a game in his career at USC due to injury. However, he did play with a minor ankle injury during the 2017 season.
For a player coming out of college, Darnold does a great of job going through his progressions. He rarely is locking on to a single receiver, and he scans the full field. He can anticipate what the defense is going to give him, and he does a good job of delivering throws on time.
Is not a “gunslinger” quarterback, but he is not afraid to make any throw. When throwing in tight windows, he puts in the ball in positions for his receiver to make a play on the ball. He has a strong arm and he puts good velocity on the ball. His targets do not have to wait for the ball to get to them, which gives them time to make a move to gain yards.
Due to a horrendous USC offensive line, Darnold faced pressure on 26.2 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. But it showed that he still can deliver a ball with accuracy when under pressure. He can climb the pocket when there is pressure on the edge. Also has the legs to get outside of the pocket to extend a play. Still has the accuracy and arm strength when on the move. He is also able to use his legs to gain yards when a throw cannot be made.
The most talked about concern regarding Darnold is turnovers. In 2017, he threw 13 interceptions and lost nine fumbles. Some fumbles came from the result as miscommunications between him and the running back. But also was stripped from behind when winding up to throw the ball.
Some of his interceptions can be blamed on relying on his arm too much when facing pressure. Tried to make throws that weren’t there when pressure was getting to him. Would take too many sacks instead of throwing the ball away.
Darnold has a funky throwing motion. Ball tends to drop to his waist, which elongates his throwing motion. The longer throwing motion played a part in the fumbles, as linemen can get a hand to the ball. It also gave defenders more time to make a jump on a throw. May be tough to change his motion in the NFL.
Does not have the best deep-ball touch. Relies on his arm for velocity instead of having a strong base. After facing the amount of pressure he did at USC, he tends to throw off his back foot instead of transferring his weight from the back foot to the front foot.
Fit with the Cleveland Browns
Darnold has everything that the Browns would desire in a franchise quarterback. Arm strength to deliver throws all over the field, accuracy, toughness, mobility, and the ability to read a defense. Todd Haley and Hue Jackson like to stretch the field, and Darnold can do that. He can open up the deep throws by using his eyes to manipulate the safety. But he can also attack the short and intermediate throws to keep the defenses honest.
He will also have a solid offensive line in front of him that will not give up the pressure that he faced at USC. And with the number of picks and cap space the Browns have, they can surround Darnold with offensive weapons to make the adjustment easier. Having athletes that can make plays, like Josh Gordon, David Njoku, and Duke Johnson, will also help limit the mistakes that a rookie can make.
The biggest plus about Darnold is his attitude. He has come out and said that he would be “honored to play for any team.” For a team like the Browns, that is the right attitude that the team needs. Darnold has shown that he can be a leader, even at the age of 20. He also does not let mistakes get to him. For a young team like the Browns, there will be many mistakes and losses that could pile up. Darnold’s mental toughness will be beneficial in Cleveland.
The biggest question about Darnold in Cleveland would be the fumbles. Were the fumbles a technique flaw? Or were they the cause of a smaller hand? If Darnold has a small hand, it could be a cause for concern for the Browns. With the crazy weather that happens in Cleveland and the AFC North, a quarterback needs to be able to hold onto the ball. His hand measurement at the Scouting Combine will draw some attention from Browns scouts, coaches, management.
But all-in-all, Darnold has the potential to be the Browns franchise quarterback that they desire. He could step in day one and be the starting quarterback, but it may be beneficial for him to sit a season to get adjusted to the NFL, ala Patrick Mahomes.