Less than 50 days away from the 2018 NFL Draft, there is no consensus on who will be the No. 1 pick. A reasonable case could be made that up to four different quarterbacks are in play for the top pick, not including Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. To complicate things even more, the Cleveland Browns own the No. 4 pick in the draft, which opens even more possibilities at No. 1.
USC quarterback Sam Darnold is firmly under consideration for the top pick.
From a personality perspective, Darnold is exactly what the NFL is looking for in the face of a franchise. Darnold is always going to say the right things and be a company man. His intangibles and leadership traits are tremendous.
Darnold has an outstanding ability to diagnose coverage, work his progressions and throw with anticipation. Those traits are refreshing to see in a prospect with so many college quarterbacks relying on the scheme to create space for them.
With that said, he is more of a flawed prospect than most are willing to admit. From a footwork, mechanics and accuracy perspective, Darnold has a long way to go.
Given Darnold is so rough around the edges and is just beginning to develop critical quarterbacking traits, the best fits for him are largely situations where he is not forced to come in right away and be the guy. Let’s examine those destinations.
New York Giants
Given that I don’t believe Darnold is ready to become a starting quarterback right away, the Giants are a great fit with their recent commitment to Eli Manning as the starter for next season.
An opportunity to learn behind Manning with Pat Shurmur as the head coach would give Darnold a great chance to have success in the NFL. While I don’t question Darnold’s resilience, early failure could be a detriment to his future development.
With the Giants gearing up to build the roster around Manning for a final run, the infrastructure around Darnold will be in place for him to eventually step in as Manning’s successor. Given Darnold’s success in the bright lights of Los Angeles, a transition to the Big Apple will be seamless.
New York Jets
Jamal Adams looks like a culture-changing addition to the defense, but the New York brass has to live with passing on Deshaun Watson last year. Armed with the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft, a quarterback must be in play for the Jets. While I don’t think Darnold will be available at six, if the NFL believes he’s as raw as I do, there’s a chance Darnold will slip. If he does, the Jets would be a great fit.
Bringing Josh McCown back for another season or two while Darnold develops as the future of the franchise would be great for Darnold and the Jets. It will also give the Jets much-needed time to bolster the weapons around Darnold and give him every opportunity to succeed.
At this point in McCown’s career, that is exactly the type of role he should embrace. It would be great for Darnold to learn from a veteran.
There is a caveat with Cleveland being a top fit — that is centered around a bridge quarterback being added so that Darnold isn’t forced into early action. A guy like Sam Bradford or A.J. McCarron would be ideal.
In Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, the Browns have four legitimate offensive linemen who are more than capable of anchoring a solid unit. Josh Gordon is arguably the most gifted wide receiver in the NFL, Corey Coleman is a burner when healthy and David Njoku has immense potential as an “every level of the field” weapon at tight end.
While upgrades are needed at one tackle spot, running back and receiver, those are not impossible holes to fill. The infrastructure will be in place to add Darnold to the mix.
With experienced offensive coordinator Todd Haley in place, Darnold would pair well with him to potentially solve Cleveland’s long-lasting quarterback problems.