Good ball placement and timing to lead receivers for yards after the catch
Too many interceptions
Too many fumbles
Had some confidence issues in 2017
Doesn't secure the ball well when getting sacked
Good enough not doesn't have elite arm strength
Throwing mechanics are a bit unorthodox
Has mobility, but not a true dual-threat quarterback
Summary: Darnold took college football by storm during the 2016 season, and even though he wasn't draft eligible, the redshirt freshman had scouts buzzing about his pro potential. After a 1-2 start to the 2016 season for USC, Darnold was made the starting quarterback. For his debut season, he was an extremely efficient passer who led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. Darnold lost his first-ever start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
2017 was more of a mixed bag for Darnold. The redshirt sophomore completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had an up-and-down season with too many turnovers - fumbles were a particular issue beyond the interceptions. Darnold also made some beautiful anticipatory throws with excellent accuracy in just about every game.
There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, He is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. Darnold is a rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field.
Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him. Regularly, Darnold displayed good poise to keep plays alive. In every game at USC, Darnold would make some impressive throws that were very rare for a college quarterback.
Darnold's throwing motion is a bit unorthodox, but it isn't a serious concern. One general manager who has scouted quarterbacks extremely well in his career told me that they didn't think there was anything wrong with Darnold's mechanics or arm strength. That general manager said with his throwing motion and arm strength Darnold is similar to Philip Rivers. Darnold has a good build with size and athleticism for the pro game.
The negatives with Darnold are well known. His ball security in 2017 was poor, including both issues with fumbles and throwing too many interceptions. He admitted to having some confidence issues in the early portion of the 2017 season, but that seemed to be rectified during the year. There were plays on which Darnold showed good field vision to work through progressions, but eye movement was an issue on some of his interceptions. Thus, he needs to get more consistent there, and pro coaching could help him with that.
Of the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, Darnold has the best intangibles and the most "it factor." There is no doubt that Darnold has a lot of moxie. He is a gamer who doesn't quit and pushed his team to wins. Darnold is said to have very good intangibles off the field and football character with leadership. Sources from a variety of NFL teams have spoken positively about him in that regard. With his excellent intangibles, Darnold could be the star of the interview process, which could push him up to being the first quarterback selected and possibly the No. 1-overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In speaking to two general managers of quarterback-needy teams, they felt that Darnold was worthy of being a high first-round pick and franchise quarterback. He should not have a long wait before being selected come the opening night of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Philip Rivers. There are a lot of similarities between Darnold and Rivers. They have similar builds with a hitch in their throwing motion that makes them a bit unorthodox. Both are pocket passers who throw the ball accurately with timing and precision. Both also are known to be good leaders, workers and teammates. Rivers was a top-five pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, and Darnold could easily be a top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, New York Giants, Denver, New York Jets, Washington, Arizona, Buffalo, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans and Pittsburgh
There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and Darnold should be gone quickly in the top 10. The Browns need a franchise quarterback, and they could consider Darnold at either pick No. 1 or pick No. 4.
The Giants could be a fit for Darnold with the No. 2-overall pick. They could use a young franchise quarterback with Eli Manning aging.
The Broncos at No. 5 and Jets at No. 6 seem to the lowest that Darnold could possibly go. Both Denver and New York need a young franchise quarterback. Having both the Broncos and Jets pass on Darnold seems extremely unlikely.
The Redskins, Cardinals, Chargers, Saints, Bills, Jaguars and Steelers all could have a need for a young franchise quarterback. Darnold won't get to the first-round pick for any of these teams. In order for Darnold to land with one of these franchises, it will require a massive trade up to get him. After the trades last year by the Chiefs and Texans for young franchise quarterbacks, one can't rule out the possibility that a team will move up for Darnold. Washington and Arizona seem like the most likely candidates to move up for Darnold.