If there was one word that captures this year’s crop of quarterbacks it would be a common one: aggression. Each prospect demonstrates aggression in different ways, most notably with how they seize opportunities.
Sam Darnold is an aggressive quarterback who channels an opportunistic mindset through his feet and it carries over to his progressions. His instincts, anticipation of pressure, and feel for the coverage behind it make him a compelling prospect.
Darnold has consistent eye discipline while staying flexible in the pocket. In the clip below, notice how Darnold is able to avoid pressure by remaining on the balls of his feet and keeping his eyes down field for an open receiver.
Navigating pressure requires compact and precise movement. Similar to the second hand on an analog watch sweeping past each second, observe Darnold’s precise footwork that he combines with subtle trunk rotation and shoulder dips. After each movement, his body resets so his release is accurate from whatever spot he decides will be the starting point
When mobile quarterback prospect has an aggressive mindset, it’s likely you will see more broken plays or feats of individual athletic ability. In contrast, Darnold has more maneuverability than mobility. He employs sound spatial anticipation of pressure which helps him anticipate who he should target and where he should be to target them.
It’s not always poetic or textbook in the application, yet Darnold finds was to extend plays. In the previous clip, he drops his front shoulder to elude the edge rusher. He keeps his balance and his eyes up so he can find the simplest pass to complete. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, however, it guarantees he’s playing within his skill set.
When a quarterback can keep his process simple and play within himself, he lends his offense the ability to shred defenses. Each pass play has a given amount of time before the pressure and coverage shut down any positive completion. This reality is amplified in the red zone. Timing is of the essence.
In the following cut, Darnold is able to invert the red zone clock. Normally you have to make quick decisions in the red zone because there’s not enough time or space to be overly patient. When Darnold chooses his target, notice the small window he can access thanks to his anticipation of the receiver and coverage. That’s a tough ask for any defense to cover for that long
Extending plays is more about the precise choreography of maneuverability and manipulation of the defense than pure athleticism. The question I ask when watching a quarterback to determine this: Can a quarterback stay functionally and mechanically sound long enough to exploit the defense with his legs or his arm while limiting risk? Different quarterbacks do it in different ways. Sam Darnold does it in a way that channels the full potential of his offense. What makes his efforts compelling is his process-driven, aggressive approach.
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