USC quarterback Sam Darnold is joining the list of early entrants to the NFL after declaring his intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. A Rose Bowl champion and the former Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year a year ago, Darnold could potentially be one of the top draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft even after a bumpy 2017 season.
Darnold led the Pac-12 in passing in 2017 with 4,143 yards, with the conference’s third-highest passing yards per game (205.9 ypg). Darnold passed for 26 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in a bit of a roller coaster season that still ended up with USC in the Cotton Bowl as the Pac-12 champion. Despite some off moments and sub-par performances from one of the hottest quarterbacks coming into the season, pro scouts still see plenty of upside to Darnold at the next level. Darnold’s decision to turn pro likely is influenced by the confidence he will not have to wait very long to hear his name called this spring at the NFL Draft.
Darnold was a key player in USC’s second-half turnaround in the 2016 season. After a rough start to the season, Clay Helton opted to make a quarterback change and gave Darnold the chance to start. After a close loss to Utah, USC went on a roll and ended the 2016 season as one of the best-looking teams. Although the hot finish couldn’t quite wiggle USC into the Pac-12 championship game, Darnold delivered in the Rose Bowl as the Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Saquon Barkley and Big Ten champion Penn State. With expectations incredibly high for the 2017 season, Darbnold and USC had to settle for a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the Cotton Bowl. Darnold had a rough performance in the bowl game against the Buckeyes, but that is not enough to suggest his draft stock plummeted. Darnold will be one of the top quarterbacks, if not one of the top players, selected in the NFL Draft as long as he has a solid scouting combine and draft-prep experience.
As for USC, the door is open for Matt Fink to start getting ready for the starting job this spring. Jack Sears, a four-star recruit in USC’s Class of 2017 could also start to lobby for the job in the spring.
Darnold’s announcement comes on the same day UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft. Rosen and Darnold may be battling for the top spot in the draft.