One of the biggest findings from this bowl season has been the fact that USC quarterback Sam Darnold is just not ready for the NFL.
The red-shirt sophomore has been earning consideration as a potential top quarterback this season with quarterback needy teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, etc. will all be looking for top QBs to take over next season. Darnold is viewed by some as a potential top choice, if not a definite lock as a first round pick.
But, NFL teams should not start writing the checks just yet after watching Darnold's performance against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes' defense was probably the best defense Darnold faced all season. They are big, they are fast, and they are relentless. The fact that he struggled is not surprising, but the way he struggled should throw up some red flags.
Darnold had that deer in the headlights look most of the game. He was definitely rattled. He rushed throws, made bad decisions and if you did not already know the hype, you would not believe he was considered a top prospect. He definitely has the measdurables - good size, a strong arm, etc. - but he definitely looks like a player that can benefit from more playing time in college. If a team takes a shot at him early in the draft, there will be a lot of pressure to press him into action right away where he will face similar types of defenses every week. Can you picture him as the Cleveland Browns top pick and what that would look like?
If so, Darnold is likely too follow the path of many other first round QB flops coming out of USC following the likes of Matt Leinhart and Mark Sanchez. The later was a similar situation where he left school early, was a Top 5 pick, and fizzled out really quickly with the New York Jets before bouncing around the league as a desperation back up. Carson Palmer is probably the last top USC QB to see success in the NFL and even he took several years to pull it together. In this "immediate return" mindset that we not see for top draft picks, Darnold might be one of the most dangerous picks in the draft.
This is a strong quarterbacks class too. UCLA's Josh Rosen and Wyoming's Josh Allen are both considered Top 10 picks. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Toledo's Logan Woodside, Memphis's Rily Ferguson, and Louisville's Lama Jackson will give teams options to drop down and grab a serviceable QB later in the first round.
And with the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select ... (anybody but Darnold!) With a new veteran general manager in John Dorsey, it will be interesting to see what the Browns do. They drafts DeShon Kizer from Notre Dame in the second round last year, so to take another top QB this year will mean they really wasted last year's pick. Josh Rosen has already stated that he does not want to go to Cleveland, so what do you do? Darnold, NO !!!!!!!!!!!!!
If they want to give Kizer more time, Penn State's Saquon Barkley can be a much better selection at the #1 slot and someone who can give the Browns' QB a solid running back to help carry the load. The Browns have two Top 5 picks, so even Bakley or a defensive stud and a QB with the later pick can be a great scenario for the Browns.
For Darnold, he can be the #1 pick in the NFL draft - but I think it will be better for his career to let that be in 2019, not 2018!