This year’s edition of the USC Pro Day was star-studded, with the national spotlight shining bright on Cromwell Field as people from across the country tuned in to watch the Trojan NFL hopefuls showcase their abilities. At the center of attention, of course, was the prospective first overall pick, quarterback Sam Darnold, who did not disappoint in a spectacular throwing session in the pouring rain. Other potential NFL prospects like receiver Steven Mitchell and safety Chris Hawkins also put on impressive performances, looking to improve their draft stock. Every NFL team had representatives present, from area scouts to head coaches and general managers.
Almost every team in the NFL sent a sturdy committee to Pro Day, headlined by the Cleveland Browns nearly bringing their entire front office to the event. Owner Jimmy Haslam, GM John Dorsey, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and head coach Hue Jackson were all present, probably to get a good look of their potential selection at the No. 1 slot in the draft in Darnold. GMs Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals and John Schneider of the Seattle Seahawks were in attendance, as well as Reggie McKenzie of the Raiders, Mike Maccagnan of the Jets and Marty Hurney of the Panthers. The list of head coaches that showed up was extensive as well, with Mike Vrabel of the Titans, Todd Bowles of the Jets, Pat Shurmur of the Giants, Steve Wilks of the Cardinals and Anthony Lynn of the Chargers all making an appearance. Plenty of notable alumni came by as well, with Adoree’ Jackson, Matt Leinart and Nelson Agholor all showing up to support the Trojan Family.
Pro Day Performances
Perhaps no one boosted their stock more at Pro Day than center Nico Falah. Falah, who probably was not present on most draft boards before today, had himself a day that may have forced scouts to take notice. He weighed in at 301 pounds before running a 5.13 second 40-yard dash and jumping a vert of 32 inches, both extremely impressive at that size.
Safety Chris Hawkins also did well for himself, running a 4.60-second 40 and 6.88-second 3-cone shuttle.
Receiver Steven Mitchell ran the fastest 40 of the day at 4.43 seconds, going on to catch passes for Darnold in his passing session.
Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and defensive end Rasheem Green were both closely watched by scouts, and although they did not participate in much of the testing, they put on strong performances in the bag and cone drills.
Highly regarded running back Ronald Jones elected not to test due to the hamstring injury he sustained at the NFL Combine, much to the dismay of many who have awaited a blazing 40 time from the speedster. He did, however, run routes for Sam Darnold in the throwing session, albeit at a noticeably slower speed than normal.
Receiver Deontay Burnett opted not to participate, just as he had at the combine, for unknown reasons.
Sam and the Storm
The highlight of the day, the reason NFL Network sent their whole crew to Cromwell, of course, was Sam Darnold’s throwing session. The quarterback’s decision earlier this month not to throw at the combine put his passing performance at Pro Day squarely in the spotlight.
The other standouts at quarterback in this year’s draft class like Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield all threw at the combine, and although many consider Darnold the No. 1 pick, a strong performance at his Pro Day would go a long way toward solidifying that status and moving him ahead of the pack. He did not disappoint.
Early in the session, the rain came pouring down onto the field, yet Darnold continued his session unfazed. He threw nearly 60 balls, only about three of which were off target. Although quite a few of the throws were incomplete, this was largely due to drops by the receivers. He showed great anticipation and zip on his balls, showcasing a shortened delivery during his throws.
The highlights of his performance came on a pair of back-to-back 50-60 yard deep balls perfectly placed to his receivers amid the downpour, going a long way to answer questions about his deep ball ability, especially compared to Josh Allen and Rosen, something that has been brought up by many critics. Darnold’s performance went about as well as it could have, and he seemed quite happy with it himself when speaking to NFL Network afterwards.
“It’s special to be out here one last time at USC, throwing to my guys,” Darnold told the NFL Network. “It was just a great day in general.”
For what it’s worth, Browns owner John Dorsey was seen talking to Darnold’s parents during his workout. We’ll see exactly how impressed he was by their son on April 26 when the Browns make the first selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.