Who Is Sam Darnold?

By Alexander C. Lawrence

By now just about everyone knows who Sam Darnold is and how he led the turnaround for USC as all hope for a successful season seemed lost with a record of 1-3. In comes the calm, cool, collected quarterback to save the day. No one saw them winning the Rose Bowl in dramatic fashion against Penn State, but regardless he impressed and raised a lot of eyebrows. The question remains who exactly is Sam Darnold?

A lot of people may think Darnold must’ve been groomed for the NFL level, but that simply isn’t the case. His parents made sure their son, Sam knew he wasn’t going to be forced to focus on one sport and that he had the choice of what his future sport would be. Growing up Sam played Football, Basketball, and Baseball so his parents let him get exposed to various sports.

He has showed a humbleness not many of us are familiar with. His tone doesn’t change; he just talks with a cool and calm sense whether it be about Josh Rosen or the Rose Bowl win that was the best college football game of 2017, if not this decade. He doesn’t have a big ego when reporters talk to him.

The only time I’ve seen Darnold give off a wrong impression was when he publicly told the Jets to not tank for him. Even that was not an overly huge deal, but still this young gun doesn’t lose a beat on or off the field and you love to see that in a young QB. He doesn’t care for the expectations placed on him, he just goes out and performs. He isn’t on social media so there is never the issue of the dramas and criticisms that it brings.

Sam Darnold is the popular top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and experts project the New York Jets to have the worst record, making them likely candidates to draft the USC product. With Quincy Enunwa out for the season and preparing for neck surgery and no clear cut answer at QB with McCown or Hackenberg primed to be the QB1 this season, the potential to grab Darnold is there.

The case to draft Darnold is strong, especially since the Jets’ defense has already started it’s rebuild there with LB Darron Lee and DL Leonard Williams (also a USC product). The offense is at a point where it needs a complete do-over and they have cleaned house already so now it’s time to develop that side of the ball through the draft and free agency in the coming years. And let’s be real why not root for the Jets to “Stink for Sam.” It won’t be pretty, but let’s prepare for the future of the Jets and let them grow the right way.

I don’t want to hear about the talk of the USC QB curse and will Darnold be next in line to endure it. Carson Palmer has been a fine QB for the Bengals and Cardinals over the course of his NFL career.  Let’s not even bother bringing up Mark Sanchez as the first three seasons there was reason to believe he was the answer for the Jets even though he came out of USC. Sure he didn’t pan out well, but Sanchez still played some exciting football early on.

Sam Darnold has already been praised as one of the best QBs USC has ever produced. Big title, but nothing Darnold can’t handle with his calm approach to the game. He is a true leader and that is what the Jets need and really any QB needy team would want.

For the time being Darnold is the favorite to win the Heisman award and looks to pick right back up from where he left off after that outstanding 52-49 Rose Bowl win against Penn State. He will be fun to watch and looks primed to make the leap from a great college QB to an elite one. Don’t worry about pressure getting to Sam’s head because he’s already mastered being under pressure and handled it smoothly thus far in his young career.

Time will tell if Darnold will be better than past QBs who have proven to be nothing more than average (talking about you Cody Keesler and Matt Barkley) but my guess is he will be the NFL’s next big star.

5 NFL Vets Who Could Lose Their Jobs to Rookies

By John Camera

With rookies adjusting to the complexities of the NFL, some new-guys are not just treading water but excelling and looking to take jobs from their more experienced teammates. These are five NFL veterans who could see themselves passed on their squad’s depth chart in favor of a rookie:

1. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears

There’s no surprise or drama with this one. Despite Glennon getting a massive deal on a very small sample size, the Bears were willing to give him the reigns of their offense up until April 27th. Then they traded up to get UNC QB Mitchell Trubisky, who should be expected to start sooner rather than later. Although he would be a very expensive back-up, the Bears could turn to their future now with Trubisky if he proves to be as good, if not better, than Glennon. While Glennon has the requisite arm and body of a pocket passer at Quarterback, his accuracy and ability under pressure may not measure up to Trubisky’s.

2. Latavius Murray, Vikings

After moving on from future Hall of Famer Runningback Adrian Peterson, the Vikings invested in former Raider Latavius Murray, coming off a career year for Oakland. But with FSU’s star tailback Dalvin Cook on the clock when Minnesota made their first selection of the 2017 draft, they didn’t resist selecting a player who could very well be their next historically-great back. While Cook isn’t quite as powerful as Peterson was in his prime, he does bring the same level of home-run hitting and explosion in his speed and agility that Murray doesn’t measure up to. Cook should be the starter by Week 1 and leave Murray in a complimentary role.

3. Jeremy Hill, Bengals

Jeremy Hill surpassed all expectations in his breakout rookie season of 2014, rushing for over 1,100 yards and 9 Touchdowns. Since then he has failed to find consistency in his game and capture the role of the Bengals backfield’s lead man. Enter Joe Mixon, the talented yet troubled RB from Oklahoma. Mixon’s on-field gifts are unquestionable and Marvin Lewis and company have shown a willingness to gamble on players with less than clean off-the-field records and get great results. With Gio Bernard an effective threat on third down and Mixon possessing the speed, size, and strength to be a bellcow, Hill could slide all the way to the bottom of the lineup or even out of Cincy altogether.

4. Chris Long, Eagles

Chris Long joined the Eagles after a solid year with the Super Bowl champion Patriots, looking to grab the starting job from the overpaid and disappointing Vinny Curry. But with star Tennessee pass-rusher Derek Barnett on the board at pick 14, the Eagles snatched him up to complete a nightmare-inducing D-Line; Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, and Barnett. Long will likely slide into a rotational role but with Barnett’s excellence as a QB disrupter and run stuffer, Long may find fewer snaps than initially anticipated.

5. Sean Smith, Raiders

While Sean Smith was not especially bad last season as a free agent pick-up, he had a rough start with his new team and had several other bumps along the way. To add to the pressure on the highly-paid Cornerback, the Raiders selected one half of Ohio State’s talented CB tandem in the 22-year-old Gareon Conley. Conley’s combination of size and ball skills, and with slightly better speed than Smith, could get him into the starting lineup next to David Amerson sooner rather than later, especially if Smith continues to play inconsistently on the outside.

Chiefs The Biggest Winners of 2017 NFL Draft

By John Camera

It may not look like it on the surface but the biggest winners of the 2017 NFL Draft were the Kansas City Chiefs. They improved their present team, a serious Super Bowl contender, and improved themselves long-term with their addition of their franchise QB of the future. And this future may not be that far away with Andy Reid coaching up their young buck.

That future star? Of course Mr. Pat Mahomes II, the stud Quarterback from Texas Tech whom the Chiefs traded up a whopping 17 spots in the first round to acquire. They didn’t give up a lot considering his floor is Matt Stafford and ceiling is Brett Favre. Kansas City traded their first, third, and first rounder in 2018 to move up to number ten overall. Considering this is a playoff team regularly picking at the bottom of the first round, this isn’t a bad deal whatsoever.

I won’t sugarcoat it; I’m enamored with Mahomes. A smart, athletic, QB with the astounding natural accuracy he has is rare. His footwork at Tech was awful and he still threw darts that were perfectly placed. Being able to be under the tutelage of Andy Reid and the anti-Mahomes, Alex Smith, and settle in as the backup with no pressure right away, is a path to long-term success. We will look back on this trade in a decade and realize what a great one it was for Kansas City, I’m confident of that.

Rounding out the rest of their draft, the Chiefs came in with a boatload of picks and used them well, being aggressive and consolidating to get premium players in trade ups. In the third round, they traded up 18 spots to grab Toledo RB Kareem Hunt, who I liked almost as much as Mahomes. If Hunt keeps his weight steady at the NFL level, his well-rounded ability will make him a long-term starter in the mold of Frank Gore. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he stole Spencer Ware’s starting job, while still splitting carries with him, and completely overshadowed Charcandrick West.

Rewinding a bit, the Chiefs used their second round pick on small-school wild card Tanoh Kpassagnon, a Defensive End from Villanova. I expect the Chiefs will fit him next to Chris Jones at 5-tech 3-4 DE but he might get some reps at OLB considering Tamba Hali’s age. With all the talent around him on the Chiefs defense, I think Kpassagnon comes into an ideal situation where he won’t need to be a defensive stalwart right away.

On day three, the Chiefs made several picks that greatly helped their overall depth. Jehu Chesson was a big-play threat at Michigan and could easily develop into a number three or four Wide Receiver in an average Kansas City receiving corps. He was a great value pick-up. In the fifth the Linebacker from Georgia Southern, Ukeme Eligwe, was the selection. Eligwe has big-time talent, originally an FSU signee who moved on to GSU while dealing with off-the-field and injury issues. If he can remain on the field at the next level, Eligwe has the size, speed, and physicality to contribute as an Inside LB backup and special teams standout. The Chiefs last pick was Southern California Safety Leon McQuay III. McQuay is a little lean for the Safety position but he has the speed and ball-skills to be a competent backup and should contribute immediately on special teams.

What To Do At Number Two?

By John Camera

The San Francisco 49ers have a franchise-changing decision to make at pick number two in the 2017 NFL Draft. Presuming the Cleveland Browns make the right choice and go with All-World Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, the 9ers will have a litany of players worth taking at two but no one is the clear second-best player in the class after Garrett. They could continue to bolster their defense, making it their 5th straight year of adding a first round talent to their defense, with potential stalwarts like Solomon Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Jamal Adams. Unfortunately their defensive selections haven’t fixed a defense that lost so much, so quickly with a slew of sudden retirements a couple years ago.

Their 2013 1st rounder, Eric Reid, never lived up to his potential at LSU and is still an over-aggressive, poor tackler who isn’t great in coverage. In 2014, they selected Jimmie Ward, who’s been a solid nickel back, a hybrid between slot corner and free safety, but hasn’t been a difference maker. 2015 pick Arik Armstead has been hampered by injuries and may make a move to SAM Linebacker. 2016 pick DeForest Buckner is easily the best of the bunch and looks to be a defensive pillar for years to come. The 9ers could add another one next to him in the young and still-developing DL terror that is Stanford’s Solomon Thomas. Thomas can play the DE spot in the 9ers revamped 4-3 defense and shift inside on passing downs to work next to Buckner.

San Francisco can also look to add reinforcements to a secondary that badly needs it. Starting Corner Traimane Brock is out and the aforementioned underwhelming draft picks the 49ers took in 2013 and 2014 still leave a lot to be desired. San Francisco could look to add Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore who could team with last year’s reclamation project Rashard Robinson, who had a very promising rookie year in his first action since 2014 (he was formerly kicked off the LSU football squad). Lattimore would give San Fran a huge upgrade at CB and create a young Cornerback corp that could be very good in a short time along with Robinson and Ward. They could look to add a play-making ball hawk at Free Safety, adding Malik Hooker to their defense and letting him patrol the middle of the field. Finally, the 49ers could select LSU’s Jamal Adams and bring on a high-character Safety who could ideally play FS, SS, and even a little CB. Most draft pundits seem to pigeonhole him as a SS but I believe he has enough speed to stick at Free.

While defense is likely the pick, San Francisco could also look to add an offensive player to kickstart the struggling unit. Runningback Leonard Fournette would be an upgrade over the injury prone Carlos Hyde and could give the 49ers a formidable tandem that could run over opposing defenses. However, the last pick that is possible but I would highly recommend they don’t make, is selecting UNC Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky is a fine Quarterback, and after some time could very well become a solid NFL starter in the right situation. And while new HC Kyle Shanahan figures to be in the market for a new QB with Colin Kaepernick gone, he shouldn’t take a boom or bust prospect when he can grab a true difference maker from day one with this pick.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Davis Webb Is Not A First Rounder

By John Camera

The NFL Draft hype machine is whirring and churning with the most ridiculous takes you’ve heard this off-season as General Managers continue to throw smokescreens. Chief among them is the idea that California QB prospect Davis Webb is a first round caliber player and will ultimately go in the first 32 selections come April 27th. Just like Tom Savage in 2014 and Matt Barkley in 2013, Webb is getting extreme, unwarranted hype merely for looking like the prototypical pocket passer that has been the standard for NFL teams since the advent of the forward pass. Tall? Check. Big arm? Check. Can he throw? Eh. Maybe.

Davis Webb is by no means a horrible prospect, he just isn’t a first round caliber talent and is, frankly, far from it. He does some things very well. He does have great size and arm strength and has really good accuracy in the short and deep areas of the field. Webb also does a lot more field-reading than most spread QBs, especially those in an “Air Raid” scheme like the one he runs. He generally gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t allow himself to take drive-killing sacks. Those are some of the positives to his game and they shape up to equal a Quarterback who is likely a very good back-up or, down the line, a serviceable spot starter. He is by no means the “savior” or franchise QB that so many teams covet.

There are also a great deal of weaknesses that will hold Webb back from being a legit first round talent like the hype train is trying to sell. His accuracy in the middle area of the field from about 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage, isn’t very good. He doesn’t consistently drive the ball to where his receiver can make the catch and keep running, instead often putting it on the back shoulder or too far wide. Even more concerning is Webb’s pocket presence, especially since he isn’t a great athlete. Webb looks uncomfortable even in a clean pocket, failing to step up and often trying to escape. If there’s an inside rush, he breaks down altogether. His footwork is also a big work in progress, as Webb often doesn’t bring his hip all the way around to complete his throw.

As Public Enemy reminds us, “don’t believe the hype,” especially when it comes to late draft-season proclamations that seem out of the blue considering what we had been hearing all along. Davis Webb is not a first round QB. He is a fourth round talent who could one day start but likely will have a lengthy career as a dependable backup. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

UNC’s Small Receiver with a Big Skill-Set

By John Camera

Ryan Switzer doesn’t look like the next great slot prospect entering the NFL in 2017. He measured in at 5’8″, 158 pounds, and only ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine. And while all of that matters, it takes a back seat when analyzing Switzer. The UNC Wideout doesn’t use size or speed to beat college, and soon to be NFL, CBs. He uses his fantastic quickness.

Switzer was one of the Combine’s top performers at his position in the 20 yard shuttle, illustrating he has some of the best quickness of any receiver in this draft class. It’s evident how he uses that shake in his route running, he’s able to get excellent separation because he can change direction with such ease that it often leaves his Corner in a trail position. To boot, Switzer is also a superb route-runner, consistently showing hip explosion in his breaks and overall crispness throughout his routes. That quickness and attention to detail makes Switzer a deadly option coming out of the slot for NFL Nickel Corners to try and defend against.

As mentioned earlier, Switzer won’t win many footraces against NFL CBs. However, he is more than fast enough to gain separation and be a great YAC (yards after catch) option. He probably won’t be able to finish plays and DBs should be able to track him down on plays where he gets into the open field, but don’t underestimate how his quickness, route-running, and reliable hands will quickly gain the favor of what Quarterback is lucky enough to have him.

 

Can Dalvin Cook Keep Up His Explosive Play in the NFL?

By Alexander C. Lawrence

NCAA Football Player Profile – Dalvin Cook, Running back

School: Florida State
Year:
Junior
Height: 5’11
Weight:
213lbs

A 5-star recruited back who originally committed to Clemson and then to Florida, but after a disappointing season from Florida, Cook believed it was best to fully commit to Florida State University. In his first season he split carries with Karlos Williams (Steelers, suspended), but would eventually take over as the lead back and had a spectacular career at FSU.

One of the hot topics in the NFL Draft will be Dalvin Cook and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, who are arguably the top two backs in a class of RBs that has a lot of potential. If you’re looking for speed, great cuts, and great pass-catching look no further than Cook. He’s been an explosive RB ever since he got to FSU. He has the ability to beat you as a receiver too and proved to be a productive back on third-down throughout his time at FSU. He may not have the overall strength that Fournette does, but Cook makes it difficult for defenders to tackle him with his lower body strength. He showed skills to be an every down back and can handle a lot of touches. Another thing that is exciting about Cook is that he often shines in the biggest games. He’s a back who can break-off for huge runs at any given time.

Cook has the ability to run with a strong presence at times, but will need to look to do it on a more consistent basis in the NFL. When he gets to the NFL he’ll need that consistency because of the difference in NFL defender compared to college.

The other concerns about Cook are his hands and off the field concerns. His first two seasons at FSU he had fumbling issues, but this season he had better grip on the ball. In July, 2015 he was arrested for an incident outside of a bar which a month later he was found not guilty. Whenever a player gets in trouble, scouts take note of that. In his case I don’t think it’ll affect him too much in terms of draft stock, but something to note going forward.

Pros:

  • Good speed and explosion
  • Has ability to be a star back
  • Quick-cuts
  • Can be an effective receiving back
  • Can block when asked
  • Productive on third-down
  • Big play making ability

Cons:

  • July 2015 bar incident
  • Fumble concerns
  • Must run tough more consistently

When you watch Dalvin Cook play you see a speedy back with a dynamic punch. He can be a workhorse back and whoever gets him can put him to work right away. A few teams I can see drafting Cook would be the Panthers, Giants, or Packers. I highly doubt the Buccaneers could pass up a Cook and Winston reunion. Teams that have established QBs would be getting a nice weapon to add to their offense.

Draft projection: 1st round

Comparison: Clinton Portis

 

Looking For A Big-Arm Gunslinger? His Name is Chad Kelly

By Alexander C. Lawrence

NCAA Football Player Profile – Chad Kelly, Quarterback

School: Ole Miss
Year:
Senior
Height: 6’2
Weight:
224lbs

Chad Kelly started his career off at Clemson in 2012, a former four-star recruit who was redshirted his first year. His time at Clemson would be cut short in 2013 after he appeared in 5 games. In April 2014 he was kicked off the team for detrimental conduct, he went on to East Mississippi Community College and had an outstanding year. He then transferred to play for Ole Miss where he played tough competition and proved he can win those big moment games in 2015, his first year as a starter there. In 2016 his season was cut short as he led Ole Miss to a disappointing 4-5 record before he suffered a torn ACL which ultimately ended his college career.

When you watch Chad Kelly play his junior year in which he had a good supporting cast around him and a stud WR in Laquan Treadwell, you see why he was a top recruit and why Clemson believed in him. Unfortunately due to coaching conflicts and other behaviors Kelly showed while on the team he was never able to showcase his talent. You do however; see that throughout his nine games he played his senior year that he  he did play well even if his team’s record didn’t indicate that. He displayed great confidence against some of his tougher opponents this season.

Kelly will get a chance to shape his NFL career differently. He can’t change the past but can convince teams he’s a better person. He has what you like to see talent wise, but being a distraction will usually cost you your career. Look at Johnny Football and Randy Gregory who did little to help their team so far and yes their careers aren’t over, but the more off the field issues you have the less patience a team will have. Kelly also displayed serious potential to be an NFL starter with the talent he has.

Pros:

  • He can compete against elite college programs
  • Throws confidently from the pocket
  • Has arm talent and strength
  • Quick release
  • Cam adjust to defensive schemes well
  • He doesn’t stare down one target

Cons:

  • Torn ACL in November 2016
  • Off the field issues
  • Play is too frantic at times
  • Must learn to play under center in NFL

When you watch his overall performance at Ole Miss he did play pretty well and proved he can compete against anyone. That being said he’s had issues with being frustrated with coaches’ decisions and voices his opinion which is what some will argue was a reason he was dismissed from the Clemson football program. I don’t see a guy who’s a huge team problem in terms of his behavior, just a guy who loves the game of football. He needs to control his excitement for the game and stay out of trouble. Every scout will be asking “Can we trust Chad Kelly to stay out of trouble?” and “Will our coach have issues with him?” That’s yet to be determined, but if he can obviously develop his overall skill set with all the talent he has. If loses these off the field issues we could see a solid starter emerge. He’s set the foundation for his career and he reacts and answers to reports and scouts questions will greatly factor in if a team drafts him.

Draft projection: 4th round

Comparison: Rex Grossman

The 2017 Cornerback Class is Legendary (And Might Just Be On Par with the 2014 WR Class)

By John Camera

One you rattle off the Wide Receivers taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, it sounds like you’re listing the best receivers in the game today. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, etc. To prevent this article from being a list I will direct you to all the WRs taken in the 2014 draft. The class wasn’t just deep at the top, everyone single Round 1 receiver hit, but the depth is impressive as well. That very same attribute could be applied to a similarly ridiculously-loaded Cornerback class this year.

Starting off at the top of this Cornerback class are two familiar names from familiar schools; Marshon Lattimore from The Ohio State and Marlon Humphrey from Alabama. Lattimore, despite some injury red flags over his hamstrings, should go first just because of his combination of speed, fluidness, technique, and ball skills. Simply put, Lattimore is the complete package. Humphrey is also rock-solid and is my favorite Alabama CB to date. He’s very good in both man and zone coverage and is super aggressive attacking the ball; his run defense has even made some draft evaluators see him as a Strong Safety. I think both of these guys will go in the top 15 as likely the first two CBs off the board.

Some of the depth players that should also go in the first and second rounds include Lattimore’s teammate Gareon Conley, Florida CBs Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, Washington’s Sidney Jones, and Colorado’s Chidobe Azuwie. Excepting Azuwie, all of these CBs fit the new mold of big, tall athletes who can run with and cover the biggest, most freakish athletes the NFL has to offer today. Any one of them would be considered CB1 in a regular draft class; but this is no regular draft class.

The sleepers to look for in this year’s class include UCLA’s Fabian Moreau and teammate of Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon. Moreau is sort of Marshon Lattimore-lite; speedy, smooth, and just generally does a great job of locking his man down in coverage. He should be a total steal for whoever can steal him on Day 2. Witherspoon is a huge 6’3” freak with good speed and surprisingly good polish. He could be very similar to Sean Smith and be a huge asset to a team like New Orleans or Tampa Bay, who are tasked with facing Julio Jones twice a year.

Just to show off the insane depth of this class, here are a few more names that could be the Donte Moncriefs and Quincy Enunwas of this year’s CB class; guys who are underappreciated because of the sheer talent ahead of them. Be on the look out for UT’s Cameron Sutton, LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Miami’s Corn Elder, and WVU’s Rasul Douglas. If your team drafts a CB this year, you’d be safe to assume he’s going to be a good one.