The 2017 NFL draft is only a week old, but that hasn’t deterred draftniks from looking ahead to the 2018 draft.
The draft pool of eligible players still must go through summer workouts, fall practice, a grueling college season, bowl games, playoff games, all-star games, the scouting combine, and pro days, but already the prognosticators are working on their draft boards.
Even though Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson electrified college football on his way to claiming the Heisman trophy, the player who was almost unanimously picked to be the first player taken next year may come as a big surprise.
In their way-too-early projections, the draft pundits have placed USC quarterback Sam Darnold as the consensus number one pick.
Not only is he the favorite to go number one, he’s the favorite to wrest the Heisman trophy away from Jackson and compete for a national title.
From CBS Sports:
On Monday, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold was named as the odds favorite to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy at 4/1, according to Bovada.lv.
Darnold’s preseason Heisman bump is the latest indication the Trojans are the national team du jour for 2017. This is, after all, a program that was mentioned (although not seriously) as a playoff contender with three losses.
For one, USC should be the beneficiary of a double-bowl bump in the preseason polls for: 1) beating Penn State in an “all-time” Rose Bowl to win nine straight games, and 2) having a great #brand, which, as we’ve seen for three years now, gets first selection on playoff inclusion.
USC has a rich football tradition, but the program slowly declined into mediocrity after Pete Carroll left for the NFL.
The program was in turmoil when interim-turned-permanent coach Clay Helton finished the 2015 season losing 3 out of 4, then opening the 2016 season losing 3 out of 4 (including a humiliating 52-6 loss to Alabama).
But USC’s fortunes changed dramatically when Darnold was inserted as the starter. The team’s sputtering offense transformed overnight.
Darnold led USC to a nine-game win streak to close out the season, and fell just 3 yards short of setting the Rose Bowl record for passing yards (he threw for 453 yards) in a classic comeback victory.
NFL scouts and draft gurus took notice. Darnold checks off all the boxes: He’s big (6’4”), strong (225 lbs), nimble, rocket arm, plays in a pro-style offense conducive to translating to the NFL, and probably most importantly, he doesn’t panic when he gets pressured.
From Pro Football Focus:
…Darnold had an outstanding redshirt freshman season and he’s poised to take another step forward in 2017. Darnold was outstanding under pressure, ranking sixth in the nation with a passer rating of 101.0 when pressured and, perhaps even more impressive, only 6.8 percent of his pressured snaps became sacks, second-best out of 133 qualifiers. The USC offense took off once Darnold took over last season…
With only 10 starts under his belt, Darnold has more fanfare than phenom Andrew Luck had at the same juncture at Stanford. If Darnold continues on his current trajectory, he will join Luck in the exclusive company of number one overall NFL picks.