Sam Darnold: Armchair Scouting Report
What His Numbers Say
Here are Sam Darnold’s career numbers courtesy of Sports Reference:
I also put together his final year game log, including the rank of the opposing defense based on Football Outsiders S&P+:
Darnold is another incredibly young quarterback prospect. In fact, when he is selected in April, he will be the youngest quarterback selected in draft history. On top of his youth, he is also relatively inexperienced at the position. Darnold was a linebacker and wide receiver until his junior year of high school. That means he’s only played quarterback for four years (five if you include his red-shirt year). All of this needs to be taken under consideration when scouting Darnold, as it is very likely there is still a lot of growth to occur in his development.
USC faced a rigorous schedule in 2017, going up against a team ranked inside of the top 16 of pass defense five times. Darnold struggled somewhat in those matchups, compiling a 7.2 AYA, well below his 8.5 season-long number. It shouldn’t really surprise us that any player would do worse against top competition, but had he dominated those games, we would have reason to be head over heels for Darnold. Against all other opponents, his AYA was a robust 9.5.
Darnold is also one of just 10 players to throw for over 7,000 yards on less than 900 attempts since 2000. One of them is Trace McSorley, who is staying at Penn State. Here are the remaining eight:
This a fairly impressive list when considering draft prospects. Six of these players were first round picks, while Taylor has found his way to being an NFL starter. This list is mostly filled with players who have been both young and efficient.
One other interesting lens to view Darnold through is common opponents. In particular, he shares five common opponents with UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. One of those teams, Stanford, Darnold actually faced twice. Here is how they produced in those games.
This is obviously just one measure of success and ability, but Darnold completely dominates this exercise. His AYA is a full three yards higher than Rosen’s against common opponents, and he threw 1.1 more touchdowns per game on 10 less attempts.
Player Comparison: Jameis Winston
When we consider production, pedigree, and potential draft position, Darnold begins to look a lot like Winston.
Darnold and Winston had extraordinarily similar levels of production in their final seasons, doing it at a young age. Both players are on the bigger side of the spectrum, but have managed to demonstrate mobility. They are within 40 rushing yards of each other for their career, and have the same number of rushing touchdowns in the same number of games. The two young passers faced similarly difficult schedules in terms of S&P+. Winston proved to be more careless with the football, throwing 0.5 more interceptions per game, but that is the only real difference in their overall profiles (from a statistical angle).
Ideal Landing Spot: Giants
At the risk of sounding repetitive, the Giants are the clear landing spot of choice for the top signal-callers in this draft. Ultimately, I do believe the team will take one of Darnold or Rosen, so this is a realistic draft fit. Rather than regurgitate the same information, I would urge you to read the reasons why in my report on Rosen. Since I think these are the two players the Giants will select from come draft day, it is the last time they will appear as the ideal landing spot.
CURRENT 2QB FANTASY ROOKIE DRAFT PROJECTION: TOP-SIX (ROUND 2 IN 1QB LEAGUES)
I am expecting there to be four signal-callers inside of the top 10 of this year’s NFL Draft, and five that will be desirable to fantasy owners overall. That means you will probably also find them inside the top half of your rookie drafts in 2QB leagues. The only truly elite skill player people covet right now is Saquon Barkley. One of Derrius Guice or Courtland Sutton may creep into the top six as well, but it should be very QB-heavy. Darnold will be a top-six pick, and he has the ceiling of a first overall pick.
Darnold is one of four quarterbacks who will be fighting hard for the top spot in my rankings. In his favor are extremely young age, and a comparable list of players littered with high-end NFL draft picks. He was more turnover-prone in his second season than his first, but some of that could certainly be chalked up to part of the development of a player who has only worked at the position for a handful of years. His production against common opponents with Rosen really stands out to me as exceptional. This will be the most difficult it has been in years for me to set my quarterback draft board.