Kirk Herbstreit may be on to something with Sam Darnold
If you stayed up to watch the second half of the UCLA-USC game last night, you may have heard color man Kirk Herbstreit’s impassioned criticism of Sam Darnold. He said that Darnold always locks onto one read, then immediately gets “happy feet” and scrambles away. As for Darnold vs. Josh Rosen, he said that Rosen was more NFL ready and that “it’s not even CLOSE!” The conclusion was that Darnold should return to USC “if he was smart.”
Why I agree
I tend to agree with Herbstreit about Sam Darnold’s readiness to thrive in the NFL. He does have a tendency to lock on to his primary target, then roll out and improvise from there, benefiting from some awesome playmakers who can get open.
If you threw Darnold under center in an NFL game right now, he may show similar results to someone like DeShone Kizer who suffers from some of the same problems.
But why I disagree
You may agree with Herbstreit that Darnold needs to develop more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that COLLEGE is the best place to develop. In fact, I’d argue that the NFL would be.
If Darnold stays in college at USC, there’s no guarantee that he’ll work on his pocket awareness and progressions like Herbstreit suggested. Simply put: he wouldn’t have to. He can still put up gaudy numbers in college, beating up on worse teams. His bad habits would be excused, and maybe even reinforced.
However, if Darnold goes to the NFL, he’d be thrown into the deep end of the pool and forced to swim. A (hopefully good) coach would be able to work with him on a much more nuanced, more intensive scale to help develop his footwork, his mechanics, and his reads. He’d become a better quarterback more quickly.
Moreover, if Darnold leaves now and becomes a top 5 pick, then that enables him to have a good amount of leeway and leash with his organization. I wouldn’t recommend a team throws him out to the wolves for Week 1, but they’d be committed (financially or otherwise) to his development for multiple years. If he sucks like Jared Goff did as a rookie, he’d still get his chance in Year 2.
If Darnold stays in school, he risks his stock faltering out of the top 5. And if that happens, suddenly he gets drafted by a team that does not have as much invested in him, a la our DeShone Kizer example. If Kizer had been taken by Cleveland at # 1 overall, there wouldn’t be any talk about an A.J. McCarron trade or another QB this draft. But because he’s a R2 pick, the front office can justify dumping him out after his rookie year.
So basically: Darnold may struggle as a rookie in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be there.