On Monday, we profiled Allen. Next up: Darnold.
Sam Darnold, USC
6-foot-3, 220 pounds
In a nutshell: The 2017 season began with a "Suck for Sam" movement among quarterback-starved Jets fans. As it turned out, the Jets played their way out of the Darnold sweepstakes by winning too many games. It would be an upset if Darnold, generally regarded as the top quarterback, falls to the Jets. The question is whether they'd try to trade up if the Cleveland Browns don't take him at No. 1 overall. What would it take to switch places with the New York Giants? Consider: The Chicago Bears gave up three picks (two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder) to make the same jump last year to take Mitchell Trubisky. The Jets haven't ruled out another trade-up, but it seems unlikely.
How he fits the Jets: Darnold can play in any system, so he'd have no problem in the Jets' West Coast offense. He's accurate (64.9 percent career completion rate) and has an innate ability to anticipate. The scheme works best with a mobile quarterback, someone who can throw on rollouts and bootlegs -- an ideal fit for his skill set. He had to work his way up the Trojans' depth chart, leapfrogging others with flashy credentials. That speaks to his competitiveness. On the surface, he appears to have the right demeanor for New York. Darnold, a surfer dude from San Clemente, California, has a calm, even-tempered personality on and off the field. He failed to meet enormous expectations last season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Was he a victim of circumstance or was the fire too hot? In New York, he'd be in a face-of-the-franchise role, which can swallow up the faint of heart. He's only 20 years old with just 24 career starts and would benefit from sitting a year behind Josh McCown. Can he handle cold weather? In college, Darnold never started a game where the temperature was below 56 degrees at kickoff. Another question is his elongated throwing motion. He got away with it in college, but an extra split-second in release time could be magnified in the NFL. He said he had no plans to tweak his motion. How would that play with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates? The Jets didn't have a private workout with Darnold, probably because they don't expect him to be around when they pick.
By the numbers: Turnovers are the biggest concern for Darnold, who committed 22 last season -- tied for the most in the FBS. The last quarterback to be picked in the top 10 after turning the ball over 22 times in his final college season was Matt Ryan, the third overall pick in 2008 and the 2016 NFL MVP. ... Darnold had multiple turnovers in eight of 14 games last season. ... He went 20-4 as a starter and led USC to its first Pac-12 title since 2008. He was the first USC quarterback to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark in a season. ... Based on the NFL formula, his third-down passer rating was 93.5, best among the top four quarterback prospects. His first-down rating was the worst (98.4). Significance? He's better in clutch situations when he can use his improvisational ability. ... He threw 16 touchdown passes outside the pocket in 2016 and 2017, second among quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences. ... Is there a USC quarterback jinx? None of the Trojans' previous first-round picks started in a Super Bowl. Todd Marinovich, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez were a combined 140-138-1 as NFL starters. ... His 40 time is 4.85 seconds. ... He scored a 28 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.
What evaluators are saying: NFL Network's Mike Mayock: "I really like the way he extends plays inside and outside the pocket. When he scrambles or moves, it’s with the intent of getting the ball down the field. His eyes are always up. The flip side to Darnold is the turnovers. Not just interceptions, but fumbles. He’s got a history of fumbling, going back to high school." ... ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.: "You can excuse away some of [the turnovers] to new receivers and new offensive linemen, but some of them were unforced errors. ... That’s an issue, regressing from what we saw two years ago when he looked like the guaranteed No. 1 pick." ... AFC scout: "He'd be the perfect prospect, except he had the turnovers and that funky throwing motion."
In his own words: "Not turning the ball over is something that I pride myself in and, honestly, I feel like I let myself down and my teammates down during this last season when I turned it over so much. So that's something that I need to continue to work on, and that's the question that's been coming up a lot. I'm doing things to work on it. I'm doing things to keep two hands on the ball in the pocket. I'm working on decision-making, watching my film from last year, watching all the turnovers from last year and the year before that. So I'm working hard at trying to improve myself every day." -- Darnold at the combine.