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Sam Darnold says the right things, but won’t throw at NFL Combine

The USC quarterback deflects debate about the best passer at the combine and says it doesn’t matter which team drafts him.

Sam Darnold of the USC Trojans looks to

Sam Darnold of the USC Trojans looks to throw against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first half of the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 29, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ron Jenkins

INDIANAPOLIS — Many people believe that Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in this year’s draft class.

Sam Darnold is not one of them. At least, he’s unwilling to cop to being one.

While quarterback after quarterback stood in the exact same spot Darnold occupied Friday afternoon — in front of the microphone and an army of media members at Podium 1 at the Indiana Convention Center — to profess their conviction and confidence in being the top dog in an NFL Combine filled with plenty of talent at the position, Darnold demurred.

“I don’t think that’s up for me to decide,” the USC product said when asked point-blank if he is the best. “I’m really here just to show my best and tell teams why I think that I’m a real ly good quarterback. That’s pretty much it.”

You’d probably need a degree in psychology to know what that means about Darnold, how it reflects on his place in the hierarchy now and more importantly at the draft at the end of April. But Darnold seems to have come to the combine without much desire to prove anything to anyone. He’s the only one of the top-tier passers who will eschew the passing drills Saturday. He’ll save that for his pro day back in sunny Southern California with the receivers he’s been throwing to all season.

“I felt like it was the best decision for me,” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to throw at my pro day and I think that’s a good opportunity for teams to be able to look at how I can spin it.”

As for not bragging about being the best, Darnold shrugged off that designation.

“I don’t think that’s my position to be talking about anyone else or to say I’m the best quarterback in the draft,” he said when pressed on the matter. “I think that’s for other people to decide. I’m really just here to try to put my best foot forward, give it my all, and show teams why I should be with their organization. If they don’t want me, they don’t want me. It’s not my decision to make. I’m just going to continue to be myself because it’s gotten me to this point.”

He did, at least, entertain the idea that he very well could be the first overall selection in the upcoming draft. He spoke about being excited to possibly play in Cleveland, given their huge allotment of draft picks and cap space.

“Turning a franchise around is obviously a hard thing to do but I’m always accepting of a challenge and I think it’d be an amazing thing to do,” he said. “It’s another opportunity to show why I think I’m a good quarterback.”

But he also seemed willing to go with, say, the second overall pick. If the Giants do select him, it would mean starting his career behind Eli Manning.

“If an organization wants to draft me, it’s their choice of what to do with me when I get there,” he said. “I would just be happy and make the most of any opportunity.”

That might be an uncomfortable dynamic for some. Baker Mayfield bristled at the prospect during his media availability earlier in the afternoon. But Darnold said his early experiences at USC prepared him for the possibility.

“I was actually the [third-stringer] when Cody Kessler was the starter at USC and then Max Browne got the starting job my redshirt freshman year,” he said. “During that process, I was preparing every single day to be the starter, but also helping Max out. Me and Max were really good friends. I think that helped me prepare.”

He also added that playing in Los Angeles prepared him for the Giants in another way, too: “For the opportunity to go to a big stage like New York City.”

Wherever he ends up, Darnold said he’ll just try to continue to be relaxed and not try to live up to any hype or titles bestowed upon him at this point in his career.

“I really want to prove to people that I’m capable of leading a franchise, but it doesn’t have to be the number one team to select me,” he said. “It can be any team. I’m just going to continue to be myself and if a team happens to fall in love with me and they take me number one or they take me whenever in the draft, I’d be happy to go anywhere.”

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