In the final buildup to the draft, we're taking our analysis of the draft's prospects one step further. We're making the case for and against 10 of the players and scenarios that are linked to the Browns, who hold the No. 1 and No. 4 picks.
The case for USC QB Sam Darnold
1. He knows how to turn a team around: Scholarship losses in the wake of an NCAA scandal and coaching turnover hit the Trojans hard, but Darnold's emergence as the team's best signal-caller in years helped get the storied program back to where it's used to being. After dropping his first career start against Utah, he spearheaded a nine-game winning streak that culminated with a 453-yard, five-touchdown performance in a dramatic Rose Bowl win over Penn State. This past season, Darnold led the Trojans back to the Pac-12 Championship, where they downed Stanford in a game that saw Darnold throw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Darnold finished his two-year career with a 20-4 record.
2. He doesn't panic under pressure: He's not the fastest quarterback in this year's class and he rarely piled up more than a handful of rushing yards per game. What separates Darnold from the rest of the pack, though, is his movement and poise within the pocket. Some of his best throws are the result of him buying an extra or second or two with a simple shift or wiggle and finding the best possible target. This mostly has to do with an ability to work through his progressions and not lock onto a single target, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. Tough in and out of the pocket," Zierlein writes. "Feels edge pressure and climbs away from sharks circling the rush arc. Shakes off sack attempts and throws with accuracy and pace when on the move."
3. He's handled the build-up to the draft like a pro: There's more to being a top quarterback in the draft than just what you do on the field. There's an extra layer of responsibilities and duties that come with the position, especially if you take on the "face of the franchise" role like many in his position do. Asked if he was ready to tackle the challenge in Cleveland, if that's where he were to land, Darnold made it clear he's ready for it. "I think if Cleveland takes me No. 1 it would be great opportunity, first of all," he said. "That goes for anyone taking me at any position. Honestly, it's always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL. And I think turning a franchise around is obviously a hard thing to do. But I'm always accepting of a challenge. And I think
it would be an amazing thing to do. It's another opportunity to show why I'm a good quarterback." Darnold further solidified this reputation when he changed his flight after his visit to Cleveland in order to throw for a few of his teammates at a makeup Pro Day in Los Angeles.
The Trojans signal-caller has been linked to Browns at No. 1
The case against Darnold
1. His release is … different: Darnold has spent the past few months working with personal quarterback coach Jordan Palmer, and the biggest focus has been on his mechanics, specifically when it comes to driving the ball with his hip to generate more power. He showed off that improved aspect of his game at his Pro Day, but his throwing motion, which is a bit loopy and elongated, remained the same. Darnold said at the combine he doesn't plan on changing his delivery unless the team that drafts him thinks it's necessary. And, if that's the case, it's one more hurdle he'll have to overcome before he's ready to start. "The motion I have is what got me to this point, and I really haven't gotten into trouble with it," he said. "It doesn't change how fast I get the ball out. If I need to shorten up and get the ball in right now, I'm able to shorten my release and get it to them."
2. Turnovers were an issue: It wasn't just interceptions that troubled him on occasion throughout his two years as a starter at USC. Darnold ran into trouble with fumbles, and the result was a combined 22 turnovers this past season. Thirteen came through the air, as Darnold threw six interceptions in his first three games of the season and had at least one pick in all but four games. Under constant duress behind a patchwork offensive line, Darnold put the ball on the ground too much and finished the year with nine lost fumbles. Turnovers absolutely crushed the Browns in 2017. It's something that will need to be cleaned up if Darnold is to succeed in the NFL.
3. He's not as ready as some of the other QBs: Darnold's upside and comparables separate him from most of the rest of this year's quarterbacks class, but most agree he'll need some time to develop before he's ready for the full glow of the NFL spotlight. He's just 20 years old and left two years of college eligibility on the table. Josh Rosen, a three-year starter at UCLA, and Baker Mayfield, who will turn 23 before the draft and logged four years as a starter at the collegiate level, have simply played more football than him. The Browns brought a lot of stability to their quarterback position with the signing of veteran Tyrod Taylor, but injuries happen every day in the NFL. The question the Browns would have to answer is if they'd be comfortable throwing him to the wolves even if he's not quite ready.