It looks as though USC quarterback Sam Darnold will be selected within the first two picks of the 2018 NFL Draft this spring.
Wednesday afternoon saw the prospective passer wow scouts at USC’s pro day, excelling in his showing despite heavy rains coming down.
The 20-year-old did everything that was asked of him, whether it was throwing on the run, anticipating the routes of his receivers and showing off his arm strength and footwork.
His time in the downpour only strengthened his status as the top pick, one AFC executive confident enough to tell Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated that “He’s going No. 1. Everyone out there today saw the Browns’ franchise quarterback.”
Given the aggressive early offseason the Browns had, it was not clear if they would take a quarterback with their No. 1 pick after acquiring Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills. With Penn State running back Saquon Barkley considered the best talent of the draft, there were rumblings Cleveland would still be interested despite signing Carlos Hyde to a three-year deal to join Duke Johnson in the Browns backfield.
Cleveland also possesses the No. 4 pick in the draft, which offered the possibility of it getting both Barkley and a quarterback, whether it was Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen or Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson are also considered first-round talents, but will likely be selected later on.
After Darnold’s performance though, the Browns might have no choice but to go with what is now believed to be their quarterback of choice at No. 1. It would be a dangerous game to play if they wanted to wait until No. 4 as the USC product likely would not be available.
After his pro day on Wednesday, Darnold revealed on ESPN’s telecast that he had meetings with only the Browns and New York Giants, who are picking at No. 2. If the Browns were to pick Barkley, the Giants — who are now suddenly being grouped into the Darnold sweepstakes after the Penn State rusher was thought to be their preferred choice — could take Darnold with the very next pick as Eli Manning’s possible successor.
The New York Jets are also lurking at No. 3 after swapping their No. 6 pick and more with the Indianapolis Colts to take a quarterback themselves. With uncertainty surrounding Teddy Bridgewater after attempting just two passes over the last two years, Josh McCown turning 39 in July, and both of them being on one-year contracts, the Jets might want to secure a secondary long-term option should Bridgewater not work out.
The presence of both New York teams at Nos. 2 and 3 should be enough to force the Browns to take Darnold at No. 1 should they be as high on him as they seem.