INDIANAPOLIS — In a sense, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold are currently competing. Some analysts believe the two quarterbacks are the best bets of anyone at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine to go No. 1 overall in the upcoming NFL Draft.
But until then, they’ll be trying to make each other better.
Allen, a former Wyoming quarterback, and Darnold, a Southern California product, have been living and training together along with former Houston quarterback Kyle Allen and quarterback coach Jordan Palmer in San Clemente, California.
“I like to call it ‘Sam Clemente’ because that’s where he’s from,” Josh Allen said jokingly during his news conference Friday at the Combine.
Allen and Darnold went through different experiences playing at USC and Wyoming; one played in the spotlight of Los Angeles, while the other represented the least populous state in the union. But the quarterbacks went through somewhat similar trajectories en route to the Combine. Both had breakthrough seasons in 2016 and struggled by comparison in 2017 before deciding to leave early for the draft nonetheless.
Darnold’s defining breakthrough moment as a freshman came in the Trojans’ shootout win over Penn State in the January 2017 Rose Bowl. While it was essentially a given that Allen would exit Wyoming after his junior year, some thought Darnold might return for a third season. Then he announced that he would join this year’s much-hyped quarterback draft class.
“I was going to prepare to have a great redshirt sophomore campaign and decide after that season,” Darnold said. “So throughout this last season I wasn’t thinking about the decision at all. I was preparing for whatever game was to come next. And then after that Ohio State game (at the end of the 2017 season), I was going through the decision-making process. That’s kind of how I went about it.”
Darnold chose not to throw at the Combine, instead opting to wait for his USC Pro Day.
“I just felt it was the best decision for me,” said Darnold, who denied that any medical issues played into the decision. “Obviously I’m going to throw at my Pro Day. I think that’s a good opportunity for teams to be able to look at how I can spin it. I’m going to be throwing to guys I’ve played with. I think given all the information I had, I thought that was the best decision.”
Allen chose to throw, as did most quarterbacks in attendance. He said that his biggest focus while working in California has been his footwork.
“Kind of every throw that I had this past season where I missed, it was derived from my feet,” he said. “So, try to put myself in the most uncomfortable position, getting back to the same base, short front stride, letting everything else follow through and sequence consistently and hopefully we’re getting close and hopefully when we step on the field (at the Combine) and throw people see improvement. I feel (like I’ve made) improvement and I feel like whenever my feet are set I’m as accurate as anybody.”
The lower body has been a focus for Darnold as well.
“For us, (Palmer) is working on a lot of stuff mechanically,” he said. “For me, it’s being able to bring my hip through. 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, being able to, or needing to drive the ball or being able to drive it down the field. And obviously he’s working on us on the board, being able to just get smarter at football. He’s really helping in that regard.”
While Darnold and Allen are currently jostling for draft position, and could soon become competitors on the field, they have become friends while preparing to reach that point.
“It’s been super great to get to know him, obviously we’re living together, and throwing with him and, in that aspect, we want to throw better than each other when we’re out on the field,” Allen said. “But he’s one of the greatest guys I’ve met. We’ve become really good friends. It’s just really cool because he’s a USC guy, he’s had all the media and he knows what he’s doing, he’s a very good quarterback and any team that gets him is going to be super lucky.
“At the same time, we’re also throwing with Kyle Allen and he’s throwing throw-for-throw with us and he’s just as good as anybody, I think, here, and it’s been a super blessed type of opportunity to go down and throw with Sam and Kyle and work with Jordan Palmer every day.”