The NFL Draft is always more fun when there’s at least one quarterback considered worthy of the No. 1 pick. In 2018, there could be several.
USC’s Sam Darnold is the preseason favorite among draft analysts, and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah is no exception. In his latest First Look installment, Jeremiah put Darnold under the lens and had high praise for the Trojans’ starter.
“I don’t want to get carried away with one season of production, but Darnold is a special talent. He has a lot of similarities to Andrew Luck when Luck was at Stanford,” Jeremiah wrote. “They have a similar frame and athleticism. They both seem to be at their best in crucial situations. I know one Pac-12 coach (Jim Mora) has compared Darnold to Tony Romo and I do see some of that, as well. They both have tremendous poise and their natural instincts take over when the called play breaks down.”
Darnold is loaded with talent. There’s no denying that. But I need to see another season from the newly minted 20-year-old before anointing him as the next great passer.
Jeremiah downplayed Darnold’s long release, something I’ve noted as a concern in my early notes. Jeremiah suggests it isn’t as extreme as former Jaguars first-round pick Byron Leftwich, and that’s true. But I’d argue that Leftwich had one of the longest, and ugliest, releases of any quarterback in the last 20 years.
Saying that Darnold’s release isn’t as bad as Leftwich’s is like saying getting hit by a car isn’t as bad as getting hit by a truck. It doesn’t necessarily mean the end result will be any better.
We’ve been down this road before. In fact, we’ve been down this road with USC quarterbacks before. It wasn’t long ago that Matt Barkley was considered one of the best quarterback prospects in the country, despite some warts on tape prior to his final season in Southern California.
That’s not to suggest Darnold is the same kind of prospect as Barkley. He’s not. He has superior NFL tools at this stage in his development than Barkley ever had. To imply that Darnold is as risky as Barkley would be just as dangerous to propose he’s as rare as Andrew Luck.
The 2018 NFL Draft narrative is in its infancy stage. We’re in the honeymoon period with the crop of likely prospects, and no position is more euphoric at this time of year than quarterback. And that’s ok. It makes the process fun. That said, any comparisons to some of the NFL’s best players at the most important position should be reserved until the 2017 season hits its last lap.