Armchair GM

Armchair GM: Top Five 2018 Draft Steelers QB Candidates – #2, Sam Darnold

December 6, 2017
8 minutes read
Armchair GM: Top Five 2018 Draft Steelers QB Candidates – #2, Sam Darnold

As good as Sam Darnold has been, he is not a finished product. If you draft him you are drafting his potential. It’s just that that potential is something like John Elway. Darnold has ridiculous arm talent. He can make all the NFL throws and then some. He also fits the modern pro QB mold to a T.

A lot of sports yackity-yacks had declared Darnold the next big thing last season. Many of those people jumped off their own bandwagon after he had some struggles early this year. The truth of Darnold lies somewhere in between the hype and the bandwagon exodus.

Darnold grew up in Capistrano, CA and went to San Clemente High School. There he excelled at both basketball and football. Darnold started playing football  as a Wide Receiver and Linebacker, only taking over the QB duties due to an injury. Even with starting late and missing his Junior year due to injury Darnold finished with 3,000 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, along with 800 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He emerged as a 4 star recruit and signed with USC.

Due to a lack of video on his Quarterback play, USC’s Defensive Coordinator, who had recruited Darnold, initially asked him to play Linebacker. Darnold declined and redshirted for his Freshman year behind Cody Kessler and Max Browne.

Darnold’s late start and limited experience at the position explains his rough edges but his talent is undeniable. Could he benefit from staying in college for his Junior year? Yes. Is he a high 1st Rd Draft pick and could he do that developing under the tutelage of a NFL franchise? The answer is a big yes… that is, IF he gets with the right franchise. #NotCleveland #NotTheJets

Three games into the 2016 season Darnold got put in replacing an ineffectual Max Browne. He only lost that game as the Trojans went undefeated for the rest of the season. In 2017 USC went 11 and 2 as Darnold led them within spitting distance of the College Football Playoffs only to have their spot snatched away by Alabama, because it’s written in stone that Alabama ALWAYS must be in the College Playoffs.

Darnold finished with a good but not great year by the numbers with his most notable victories being the PAC 12 Championship against Sanford and his 28-23 shootout against his rival Josh Rosen’s UCLA.



Sam Darnold, Quarterback – USC – 6′-4″, 225#  – Projected Rd – 1st., top 10.

Year    Class G         Cmp    Att       Pct      Yds     Y/A      AY/A   TD       Int        Rate

*2015  FR       Redshirt                                                                                                        

*2016  FR       13        246     366     67.2    3086   8.4       9.0       31        9          161.1

2017   SO      13        277     435     63.7    3787   8.7       8.7       26        12        151.0

Career            26        523     801     65.3    6873   8.6       8.8       57        21        155.6


Arm Talent – Darnold has got the wonkiest delivery this side of Tim Tebow and that’s after working on shortening it for a couple years. The difference between him and Tim is the ball goes where Darnold wants it to. Again, his big windup reminds me of a former outfielder turned signal caller who threw at Mile High Stadium. Now, the weird thing about his delivery is sometimes he tightens it up and other times he winds it up and it seems to have nothing to do with the distance he’s throwing. This is clearly a player who hasn’t logged in the hours at  Quarterback camp so many college QBs have. What does this wonkiness mean? Pretty much nothing. To paraphrase Kurt Warner, it’s all about accuracy and Darnold is very accurate. Even with his exaggerated delivery the ball gets out pretty fast.

Darnold did throw a lot of interceptions early in 2017 but a lot of those were due to new Wide Receivers, forcing the ball and trying to do too much.

Elite arm talent are the words I’m looking for. Darnold can make all the NFL  throws and make them off his back foot, running to his left or right and up the middle even. (Snagglepuss, well remembered). It’s nothing for him to flick a 40 yard pass. Even without anymore work Darnold is among  the best throwers in recent memory.

Leadership/Intangibles – Voted team captain in 2017, Darnold is a natural born field commander. While he is very reactive on the field, which can make him seem a little wild, he never seems to succumb to pressure. He rides things out, no matter how tough it gets. Seems totally even keel in interviews. Never too high or too down. Shows thorough understanding of what went wrong or right. Shows interest in understanding how to make things right. Emphasizes game film work in almost every interview, which shows he’s serious about being a student of the game.  .

Mobility – Very strong runner. Can hurt teams with his legs. USC designed run plays for him. Darnold is built like a Full Back and has no problem running through tackles. Looks bigger than his listed weight and height. Difficult to bring down and hits don’t phase him very much. Needs to fight the urge to scramble and move better in the pocket.

Under Pressure – As I said, Darnold can look a little harried when things breakdown. This is mostly because he is very aware and reactive to the action around him. He goes quickly through reads and it’s not unusual for him to sweep the field in one direction and then go back  the other way if he finds nobody open. Almost always accurate when forced to throw before he can get set. Arm strength gets him out of a lot of trouble.

Concerns/Areas Needing Work – Made a lot of mental errors early this year that led to interceptions. Doesn’t always maintain a solid throwing base. Sometimes puts too much faith in his arm leading to bad decisions and the to ball going to the opponent. Needs to use more minimal foot movement when under pressure. Doesn’t step up in the pocket, instead goes left and right on the field which cuts the field in half and  limits his throwing options. Needs to keep working on shortening up his throwing motion.

Bottom line – Even with his current flaws, Sam Darnold is a huge talent. He has all the tools he needs to be an elite QB in the NFL but he’s not there yet. He seems to have the humility and the work ethic to be all he can be. With some training, a good organization and good QB coach there’s no ceiling on what Darnold could accomplish.

Go Stillers!!!

Jeffrey Burton

96 posts

One Comment

  1. Mr. McBlitzface

    Darnold would be great but we would have to make a trade to move down to get him. If we only had a really talented player who has unrealistic ideas of his worth (17 million) that the Steelers would never be able to sign to a long term deal, that they can still franchise tag next year to so they could get some value out of losing him…

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