The Cleveland Browns are on the clock for the 2018 NFL Draft, and a potential top pick said Wednesday he would be honored to play for any NFL team if he is to declare for the draft.
It’s assumed USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold considered the 0-15 Browns an NFL team when he made his comments while fielding questions ahead of the 82nd annual Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
The redshirt sophomore is draft-eligible, and his exploits this season while leading the Trojans to the Pac-12 Conference title as a traditional pro-style passer have many speculating he’d be one of the top choices in the draft.
First up though is a matchup Friday with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who will counter offensively with a Texan at quarterback starting his 50th career game.
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But NFL scouts aren’t gushing over J.T. Barrett like they are Darnold. A dual-threat quarterback from Wichita Falls Rider High, Barrett could be had in the middle rounds and might be able to win a roster spot with a good training camp.
While vastly different in the way they play, one thing will be similar when they square off Friday night at AT&T Stadium: both defenses will be trying to contain them as much as possible.
“It’s a huge challenge because the quarterback is a special player,” Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard said of Darnold. “After watching film, you can see why he gets all the NFL hype. He can feel pressure and escape it while keeping his eyes downfield and make throws you don’t actually see in college.”
Of course, it won’t just be Darnold, Barrett and 10 other guys. Their supporting casts help bring out the best in them.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano seemingly tried to one-up each other with their praise for USC tailback Ronald Jones II, from McKinney North High.
Trojans safety Chris Hawkins couldn’t get over the speed Ohio State (11-2) has at wide receiver, calling the group the fastest USC will see this season. Defensive end Cameron Smith wants to stop the Buckeyes’ rushing attack and freshman running back J.K. Dobbins, of La Grange.
Their job is made more difficult because of Barrett’s elusiveness. If he scrambles away from pressure, he can beat a defense with his feet (672 rushing yards, 9 TDs) or his arm (2,728 yards, 33 TDs).
Barrett connected on 66.2 percent of his passes and threw only seven interceptions in 328 attempts.
“Being a quarterback coach by trade, I’m just so impressed with J.T.,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “His experience, his leadership, his dynamics and charisma on the field are just evident. And to be a guy that that can rush for 700 yards and still be a 3,000-yard passer, that’s pretty darn special.”
Darnold threw for 3,787 yards in the regular season for USC (11-2). While he gained only 100 yards on the ground, it’d be a mistake to say he isn’t mobile.
Though not as elusive as Barrett, Darnold has a sense of when to flee the pocket.
“He doesn’t panic often, and he’s always looking down field,” Buckeyes defensive end Nick Bosa said. “And some of the throws he makes are just kind of ridiculous across the field, just how fast he throws the ball. You can see why people are impressed with him.”
The key for stopping any high-powered QB is with a pass rush, something both defenses do well. USC led the Pac-12 in sacks per game (3.31) and was fifth nationally, while Ohio State was fifth (2.85) in the defense-rich Big Ten Conference and 21st in the country.
The front seven from each defense needs to do whatever it can to keep Barrett and Darnold from escaping pressure.
“Stay assignment sound,” said linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who was voted with Darnold as the Trojans’ co-MVPs. “Dual-threat quarterback, great offensive line, very experienced, All-Americans all over the field. So assignment sound, doing your job is going to be a key part of this game.”
That’s not as easy as it sounds with two great college quarterbacks.