CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – USC head coach Clay Helton doesn’t have any doubts that Sam Darnold will succeed in the NFL.
Helton joined Bull and Fox Wednesday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan where he made the case as to why the Browns should pick Darnold No. 1 in the draft.
“They’re gonna get a guy that lifts up an organization just because of his consistency and stability in all areas of his life and his playing aptitude,” Helton said. “You’re talking about a guy when you’re looking at quarterbacks you start with the intangibles – his character, his leadership ability, his work ethic, the example of what it means to be a true pro is what he is.
“He’s got all the mechanical things from decision-making, timing, accuracy and at the end of the day when you look at it, I’ve always felt that great quarterbacks lift their teams up. They win games. They produce. The ball moves. Since Sam’s been our quarterback, he’s – I think – 20-4 as a starter and he won us the Rose Bowl as well as the Pac-12 championship.”
The Browns have started 28 different quarterbacks since returning to the league in 1999 and whichever quarterback they choose in April will be their 10th quarterback drafted and fifth in the first round. Even with Cleveland having the reputation of being a quarterback graveyard, Helton believes Darnold can shoulder the burden of expectations with ease.
“I’ve always thought the city of Los Angeles and USC is the greatest training tool for a quarterback, or any of our players because it’s the closest thing to the NFL,” Helton said. “You’re in the second-largest media market in the country, the expectations here on a week-to-week basis are so high to win championships so to be able to handle those pressures and the brightest lights, which Sam has, speaks for itself.”
Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are also in the running to be picked first overall but Darnold is most ready to handle the burden that would come with being picked.
“No situation is too big for that young man,” Helton said. “He does it the right way. He doesn’t come in talking or shootin’ his mouth off. Let me show you who I am by my work ethic and how I approach things on a day-to-day basis and how I prepare.
Helton validated his claim with this story about Darnold and involving a current Steelers star wideout from a few years ago.
“I’ll never forget when he first took over the starting job, one of our great receivers that was here at the time was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has a dynamic personality and was an older kid at that time,” Helton said. “We’re in a 7-on-7 drill and Sam and JuJu hook up. JuJu does a great celebration right afterwards and I’ll never forget Sam walking up to him just one-on-one, not in front of the whole group, one-on-one and just say, ‘You know what, we don’t need that. Let’s focus on our job, let’s get this practice and really continue to focus.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that for a young kid to be able to do that to a guy that’s older, a guy that was already established, to have that type of confidence to lead right off the bat in the exact, correct way, he does a great job of that.
“He’s such a dynamic one-on-one leader and that’s why everyone respected him. He always gave us hope that no matter what situation we were in that he was going to lead us to victory.”
Darnold threw 22 interceptions in 2 seasons and lost 14 of 21 fumbles in 27 starts and last year he threw 13 interceptions and lost 9 fumbles but Nelson feels Darnold will be just fine at the next level.
“I’ve always said, he’s like that great golfer or pitcher that can make that one swing or pitch, and whether it was good or bad, he moves on to the next play,” Helton said. “He’s so disciplined in that area, I think that’s why he’s so good when the lights are the brightest.”
Darnold threw for 7,229 yards and 57 touchdowns while completing 64.9 percent of his passes over 2 seasons for the Trojans.
“He has the knowledge to be able to see what’s going on, but more importantly he has the confidence and the arm talent to be able to let the ball fly,” Helton said.