The Trojans lost 2 of the first 3 games in the 2016 campaign. Coach Clay Helton pulled starting quarterback Max Browne, and replaced him with redshirt freshman (academic sophomore) Sam Darnold. Led by Darnold, the Trojans won their final nine games of the season, including an epic shootout with Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Darnold finished the 2016 season with 3,086 yards (67% completion rate), 31 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions, and added 2 rushing touchdowns. In 2016 Darnold won USC’s Most Inspirational Player Award, and the Archie Griffin Award.
In 2017, the high-powered USC offense was primed to take the nation by storm. However, disappointing losses to Washington State, Notre Dame, and ultimately losing in the Cotton Bowl to Ohio State dampened the season. Darnold guided the Trojans to an 11-3 record, highlighted by 2 wins over Stanford, a win against Texas, and UCLA.
Elite arm Strength. Displays good awareness in the pocket. Does a good job reading a defense. Shows some athleticism. Prototypical size for the position with excellent release. Quick upper body mechanics. Quick footwork. Shows good leadership ability. Has a competitive fire and will to win. Throws a good deep ball. In 2017, Darnold threw for 1,184 yards on deep passes over 20 yards.
Gunslinger mentality can get him into trouble. Sometimes shows off his arm too much when only a simple touch-pass will get the job done. Darnold regressed in 2017 when under pressure, and threw 6 interceptions to 6 touchdowns. In 2016 he threw only 3 interceptions to 8 touchdowns when under pressure. Darnold also regressed in throwing the deep ball. In 2016, he connected on 50% of his downfield passes whereas in 2017 that number dropped to 37.6%.
High energy player who needs to be polished up. In 25 games, Darnold is credited with 20 wins. He will enter the 2018 NFL Draft as a generational type player, and barring any unforeseen or bizarre circumstances he will be the first player chosen and suit up for the Cleveland Browns as a professional.
09/23/2016 – Became starting quarterback for USC.
01/02/2017 – Led USC to Rose Bowl win over Penn State (52-49). Threw for 453 yards (62% completion rate), 5 touchdown passes and 1 interception.
01/03/2018 – Sam Darnold declares for the 2018 NFL Draft.