Sam Darnold is currently projected to be the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft after a brilliant redshirt freshman campaign at USC. The uber-talented sophomore-to-be is wildly expected to jump to the pros after his second season, but anyone saying that might want to slow their train down just a bit. People close to Darnold have been dropping hints that he may not be eager to head to the NFL after his sophomore year.
Here’s what NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had to say after spending time with Darnold at Nike’s The Opening over the weekend:
The talented signal-caller was a participant in the Elite 11 competition as a high schooler and he returned this year to visit and workout. There was buzz about Darnold’s impressive showing in the QB competition at the event. However, when I asked the coaches/staffers what stood out about Darnold, they each mentioned his humility and willingness to learn. He’s always asking questions and he doesn’t act like he has all of the answers. I also had several sources close to Darnold tell me they wouldn’t be surprised if Darnold played two more seasons at USC. As a redshirt sophomore, he can declare for the draft as early as 2018.
That report lines up with what I’ve been hearing out of Trojanland for a few months now. Darnold loves college and, more importantly, loves USC. He grew up wanting to play for the Trojans, and made no secret about his love for the school while a prep star at San Clemente High School. His grandfather — whose name, I sh*t you not, was Dick Hammer — played basketball at USC before winding up on the 1964 US Olympic volleyball team and eventually becoming the Marlboro Man. Hollywood and USC run in Darnold’s blood and I doubt he’d be eager to give either up.
On top of that, the 20-year-old signal-caller has an incredibly close relationship with USC head coach Clay Helton, after the pair led the Trojans to a nine-game win streak and a Rose Bowl win to end the 2016 season.
Yes, it’s always hard to argue against jumping to the NFL and taking the guaranteed money of a likely top five pick. But if Darnold has always dreamed about being at USC, it makes sense that he’d want to make that dream last as long as possible. While the Trojans look really good on paper this year, their team in 2018 might be even better. Darnold could want to be around as the point man for that squad.
Ultimately, Darnold’s decision will likely come down to how USC performs this season. If the Trojans don’t win a national title or another Rose Bowl crown, there will certainly be motivation for him to return and try to take them back to those heights. But the pull of the NFL will always be difficult to overcome.
I think at this point it’s fair to say he has a lot to think about.