Redshirt Sophomore, 6’4″ 225
The Trojans’ 2016 campaign got off to an inauspicious start before Darnold garnered the attention of the college football world-and NFL executives.
There was a great deal of promise surrounding the 2016 USC Trojans. Having finally found some dependable stability at head coach, there was NFL talent abound and enough quality depth to suggest a a legitimate run at the College Football Playoff. An opening-season beat down at the hands of Alabama spiraled into a 1-3 record as hopes at salvaging the remainder of the season appeared razor-thin. Enter Darnold, who, despite losing to Utah in his first career start that ultimately provided the Trojans with their third loss, never looked back-or lost. He willed Southern Cal to nine straight victories that was capped by an improbable appearance in the Rose Bowl with an equally-improbable performance.
With just a single look, it’s easy to understand why many scouts and executives are enamored with Darnold. He possesses the ideal size and frame for the position with a big arm that can make the requisite NFL throws, and his natural change-of-pace ability is on the cusp of NFL-level. Darnold truly shines in the timing and anticipation departments, consistently staying on schedule with the bevy of timing routes USC incorporates at all levels. What’s more, he’s a fast processor who knows where to go when working through his progressions and is a high-IQ passer with an understanding of what pre-snap looks are looking to diminish.
I highlighted the specifics of Darnold’s mechanical deficiencies here, the crux of his weaknesses. However, he had recurring issues with his base at the top of his drops that-whether too narrow or too wide-lead to overstriding which (frustratingly) left offense on the field. That loopy windup you see from Darnold is something I wish to see him refine in an effort to prevent the natural downward trajectory that occasionally put throws in the dirt, primarily at the underneath level.
The San Clemente native is certainly one of the greater quarterback talents in the 2018 class. It’s far too early to provide an accurate draft slot projection, and I feel confident saying at this stage that he’s not what many are making him out to be, but replicating last season’s success should cement his first round status.