Sam Darnold showed at the scouting combine he’s his own man.
He had decided he wouldn’t throw Saturday during quarterback workouts and didn’t change his mind despite external pressure.
He said he won’t shorten the long throwing motion that was effective at USC but isn’t the prettiest and may bother some scouts.
He refused to enter the hype hurricane common at the combine, avoiding the self-promotion of his peers.
He even leads in an unconventional manner.
If Darnold’s the No. 1 pick, as expected by many, perhaps he has the perfect personality to help transform the Browns from perennial loser to consistent contender.
He said he’s always “accepting” of a challenge and that it would be “amazing” to be part of a turnaround in Cleveland.
“I’ve never turned a franchise around and I’m not going to know how to do that until I’m actually in the position to,” he said Friday in Indianapolis. “But I also think that there are great people in any organization, so me working alongside those people, it’s obviously going to be a work in progress, but I’m aware of that and that’s something that I’m really looking forward to if I get that opportunity.”
Darnold (6-foot-3 3/8, 221 pounds) could have the draft’s most desirable combination of size, athleticism, arm strength, accuracy, playmaking ability and leadership.
“I’d put my money on him,” USC running back Ronald Jones said. “He’s the best quarterback of this draft. He’s the most clutch. He can make all the throws. A competitor, and he’s a leader.”
Darnold, 20, has been labeled a clean prospect off the field. He was laid-back during his news conference, remaining true to his personality.
“He’s actually very quiet off the field but on the field he’s going to get with you,” Jones said.
“At the quarterback position, you do need to have a voice, need to be able to tell people what to do,” Darnold said. “That’s just part of the position. But also having a command of the offense is something I pride myself in and something that I’ve really been working hard at. And then off the field I’m just going to be myself.”
Darnold said he’d like to play for the Browns but would be happy with any team. He split from UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield when he didn’t declare himself the best quarterback in the draft.
“I don’t think that’s up for me to decide,” Darnold said. “I’m really here to just show my best and tell teams why I’m a really good quarterback.”
He allowed himself a compliment when asked about his attributes.
“I just think I have really good leadership skills,” he said. “I also think I’m able to do some things on the field that others aren’t able to do, in terms of instinctually. I feel the game in a certain way.
“I think my instincts are really good. And I think I’m a really good leader, as well.”
At USC he completed 64.9 percent with 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
He’s not a finished product and is training alongside Allen with Jordan Palmer, a former NFL quarterback and Carson’s brother. The focus mechanically is on the lower body rather than the right arm.
“It’s being able to bring my hip through,” Darnold said. “If you look on tape, I like to throw in some situations with all arm, which isn’t ideal in the certain situations that I’m put in, needing to drive the ball or being able to drive it down the field.”
The delivery in which he sometimes takes the ball on a loop from below his waist to above his ear is here to stay.
“I’m not trying to change my throwing motion at all,” he said. “There is kind of a windup but I think I get it off pretty quick and that’s the only thing that really matters to me.
“It’s got me to this point and I really haven’t run into trouble with it. It doesn’t change how fast I get the ball out. If I need to shorten up and get the ball in right now, I’m able to shorten my release and get it to them. I think my throwing motion is fine.”
What’s not OK, and Darnold’s the first to admit it, is the tornado of turnovers in his two years as the starter. He threw 22 interceptions and fumbled 21 times, losing 14, in 27 games.
“I think just young receivers trying to establish chemistry with him. Part of it was being under pressure with the offensive line, just being young and inexperienced,” Jones said.
Darnold declined to use the poor play of the line as an excuse.
“I don’t think it really played into the equation at all,” he said. “It was split-second decision-making that led to some of the turnovers. One thing that I really need to work on is the fumbles. That’s something that can’t happen, and I’m aware of that.”
If the Browns pass on Darnold in favor of one of the other quarterbacks, turnovers likely would be the reason.
“Every time turnovers happen, you have to understand why it happened,” general manager John Dorsey said. “He is a good player and he’s got some physical skill sets that all of us admire. Those are those questions you ask at the combine and see what his mindset is in regards to that.”