For the last couple weeks we have known that the New York Giants have been scouting the top quarterback prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Reportedly, the decision was made at the urging of owner John Mara once Odell Beckham Jr. was lost for the season. With the Giants likely making their highest selection since drafting Philip Rivers fourth overall in the 2004 draft, it makes sense to at the very least look at whether there is a franchise quarterback to be had.
Once we knew that the Giants were looking at potential franchise quarterbacks, everything seemed to snap into place. Looking back, we now know they had scouted Lamar Jackson (Louisville) twice, Ryan Finley (NC State) twice, Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State (at least once each). We also know that Marc Ross, the Giants’ VP of Player Personnel, personally went to UCLA to scout Josh Rosen, and the Giants have already scouted Sam Darnold at USC early in the season.
With that in mind, there really is only one game to talk about this weekend.
USC vs. UCLA
ABC - 8 p.m.
There is more to talk about here than the two quarterbacks, though they will get the bulk of the attention. They are the reason why the Giants are one of 20 teams to have a credentialed scout in attendance.
USC running back Ronald Jones II is a dynamic back with the quickness to make tacklers miss and pick up chunks of yardage. Like the Giants’ Paul Perkins he might not be best used as a feature back, but he is talented and elusive. USC defenders Rasheem Green and Uchenna Nwosu also bear watching. Green can likely play defensive end or rush from the inside at the next level and is second in the PAC 12 with 8 sacks on the season. Behind Green, Nwosu is a team captain and a leader for the defense. With twitchy quickness, Nwosu (who has 5.5 sacks on the season) is a fit as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 or Under front.
On the UCLA side of things, left tackle Kolton Miller and center Scott Quessenberry both have the chance to be mid-round picks with potential starting upside in the draft. One scout said to the LA Times about Miller, “He needs to continue to develop in terms of his body and strength. He has NFL tools, but he hasn’t quite physically matured to where he needs to be. He’s halfway there.”
Quessenberry is an athletic but undersized center, but a tough blocker with good movement skills. Like Miller, he probably needs to improve his strength base to have success in the NFL.
But really, the story this game is the two quarterbacks.
USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen are generally considered to be the top (potential) quarterback prospects in the draft, but they are definitely different passers.
Rosen is a very mechanically sound QB who has a lightning-quick delivery and is capable of carving up the middle of defenses with touch and precision. He doesn't have a huge arm, but quality footwork and leg drive let him make all the throws he would be asked to make in the NFL. Rosen took college football by storm in his freshman campaign, but a shoulder injury which required surgery derailed his sophomore season. Since returning from the injury he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, and has missed time with a hand injury as well as a concussion.
In addition to the medical concerns, there are also concerns regarding Rosen’s personality and character off the field. While he is probably the best pure passer in the draft, teams will have to be comfortable with those concerns.
Sam Darnold, who was mocked to the Giants in Mocking The Draft’s latest mock draft, is probably the more exciting player. At 6’4,” 220 pounds, Darnold has the kind of prototypical size and arm strength that scouts love in a quarterback prospect, and he combines it with impressive mobility to escape pressure and extend plays. Darnold took the mantle of “Top Quarterback In The Country” from Rosen when he emerged as a red-shirt freshman in 2016, leading USC to a thrilling Rose Bowl victory.
He has the ability to make phenomenal throws in clutch situations, and has all the physical tools to be an elite quarterback.
However, he isn’t without significant flaws. He still needs work mechanically, too often throwing from a poor base, which impacts his accuracy and placement. He also has issues with decision making, too often heaving balls up for grabs when he shouldn’t. Those issues caught up with Darnold this year, and he has seen his completion percentage drop from 67 to 63, while throwing seven fewer touchdowns and two more interceptions (Note: he still has two games to play).
There is also the question about whether either player will declare for the draft. Prior to the season, UCLA head coach Jim Mora said that he firmly believed that Rosen wouldn’t declare for the 2018 draft. Likewise, there seems to be a feeling that Darnold will stay in school for another year after a down second year.
But whatever the future holds, this is the rare opportunity to directly compare two players who could be vying for the top grade at their position.
What are you looking for this weekend?