The pressure seems to be mounting on the quarterbacks of the 2018 NFL Draft class as we head into their third year in the league. And while Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen will be at the forefront of scrutiny, Sam Darnold will also share that spotlight in what is set to be a prove-it season for the former USC Trojan.
Darnold, more so than Allen and probably even Mayfield, has his evaluation cluttered by outside influences and circumstance — he caught mono, for goodness sake — so we’re stuck two years into his professional career without any real idea of whether he can be the franchise quarterback the New York Jets believed he was.
The only things proven in Darnold’s career thus far — even going back to his college days — are inconsistency, a tantalizing ceiling and an agonizingly broad range of outcomes.
During his final season in college, there was a three-game stretch in which he was the worst-graded quarterback in the entire nation. But if you remove those three games, he was the third-highest-graded player at his position. You can create similar splits in both of his NFL seasons, too — despite the two years of below-average grading, it’s possible to create stretches of play where he ranks among the best passers in the game.
That wild inconsistency causes opinions on him to fall over the map, just as it does with any high-variance draft prospect. Analysts such as Dan Orlovsky are so in love with his potential that they would take him above even reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, while others, such as USA Today’s Steven Ruiz, believe the Jets may spend the next few seasons waiting for the breakout season that never comes.