Draft Shorts: Darnold & Rudolph
This is me, getting you ready for the draft. Each piece will cover two players with the aim to cover all the major prospects by the time I am 90. So here goes….
Sam Darnold USC
The Child Prodigy
Darnold has only played 22 college games to this point and he is already drawing comparisons to players like Andrew Luck. Particularly because he demonstrates the mature quarterback traits as a teenager that some veteran NFL starters still lack.
Scouts have fallen in love with the size and athleticism that comes from being a former high school linebacker and basketball player. What’s stolen peoples hearts however is his poise, accuracy and his ability to improvise at key points, as demonstrated by last years performance in the Rose Bowl, when Darnold demonstrated all of these traits to lead a 4th quarter comeback, throwing the ball 53 times for 453 yards.
However this year has caused people to pump the breaks on the Darnold hype train, thanks to his touchdown to interception ratio through nine games and his tendency to find himself behind in games. Nonetheless Darnold is still performing at a high level.
His biggest issue is a refusal to give up on plays, which equally is considered his greatest strength, but also means he forces a lot of balls that he ought not to, or holds onto the ball for too long. Mechanics nerds will tell you that he has an elongated throwing motion, which is true, but his anticipation and ability to rapidly click through progressions helps him compensate for a slightly slower motion.
For me, above all else it’s the tendency to try to be the hero that is killing him right now. That and a natural regression to the mean that happens when your opponents have a decent sample size to scheme for. Nonetheless his obvious talent and abilities are still there, he just needs to rein it in to maximise his considerable potential.
The other small niggle with him is that you get a sense that he is being more reactive than he is proactive reacting to defenses, suggesting that Darnold’s key development might be pre-snap reads and winning before the snap by accurately diagnosing plays.
The bottom line is that he is a prodigy and he still needs development, but all of this doesn’t detract from the patently obvious fact that he is already streets ahead of almost all the other QB’s in College football. His mental toughness and durability sticks out a mile and he is arguably one of the most calm young men on the field.
This will be invaluable for him under the pressure and mental stress that comes from being in an NFL pocket. Darnold can start poorly, but a short memory particularly with interceptions still sees him get hot in the later stages of games.
I get the sense that he is a player who can survive on a bad team until the talent around him improves and to say this about a nineteen year old kid is essentially crazy. But the only people who doubt his talent are mechanics obsessives, and nitpickers who overlook the massive volume of unteachable traits that are already second nature to him. All of which transition well to the NFL. But. And its a huge But….
The underestimated factor in all of this is that he may not even come out this year, so ” scamming for Sam” is doubly, nay triply ridiculous. In my own opinion Sam should stay in school next year to hone his craft fully. Regardless Darnold is a tantalising talent who a lot of teams are going to be thinking about betting the farm on.
While you wait though, watch Darnold’s Rose Bowl performance against Pitt, I defy you not to fall in love with this ridiculously gifted future star.
Projected pick: 1-3 overall.
Pro comparison: Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, John Elway
Perfect fits: Arizona, LA Chargers, Cleveland. San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New York Giants
Worst landing spot: New York Jets
Mason Rudolph OSU
Consistent to a fault.
Rudolph is shooting up some people’s draft boards thanks to a light bulb appearing to have come on since last season.
To date Rudolph had been a statistically productive, accurate winning passer, with a strong arm. He has always thrived as a passer who plays well within the structure of the offense and had success distributing the ball to a stellar supporting cast of receivers, a solid line and a consistent run game. This means he has succeeded in a system built to help him succeed, but so far in 2017 a quantum leap appears to have happened.
The offense appears to have taken on a new dimension, with sophisticated route combinations and elements of full field reads, all of which demonstrate Rudolph’s perceived ceiling may be a little higher than first thought.
He has gone from being excellent to being downright dominant. The prime examples are his 497 yards and 5TDs in one half vs Pitt this year or his week 9 500yd 5td performance vs Baker Mayfield’s Oklahoma.
The problems people have had with Mason is that he is not a spectacular arm talent or athlete and that he has a stellar team around him, which points to him not being as obvious a prospects at the next level, despite his continued improvement and refinement points to him being very smart and very coachable with a consistently high floor to his overall performance.
He could easily wind up starting at the next level and almost certainly carve a niche as an ideal backup in certain schemes, but there is also a real possibility that with someone like Gruden or Shanahan he could be a good starter in the league in time.
So, if you need a back up and it’s draft day late in day one or early in day two…. You know who to call.
Projected pick: 20-64
Pro comparison: Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton.
Perfect Fit: Washington, LA Rams, Dallas. Indianapolis.
Worst fit: Cleveland, Pittsburgh
Up next time: Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield.