ARLINGTON, Texas — USC quarterback Sam Darnold isn’t campaigning to be the first player taken Thursday night in the NFL Draft, but he would cherish the accomplishment if the Browns call his name on the No. 1 pick.
“I think in Pop Warner, in high school and college, there’s something about being No. 1, whether it’s the rankings or whatever it might be,” Darnold said Wednesday at an NFL Play60 event next to AT&T Stadium, site of the 2018 draft. “There’s something cool about going No. 1. But at the same time, I understand that whatever team picks me, if the Browns don’t take me, if whoever doesn’t take me, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be with a team that wants me the most. That’s been my mindset going into this thing.”
The Browns haven’t given any definitive indication of which player they’ll take with the first overall pick — they also own the fourth choice — but Darnold has been linked to them in recent weeks. If Cleveland takes another quarterback or else decides to wait until the fourth pick to take a passer, Darnold could very well end up with either the Giants at No. 2 or the Jets at No. 3.
“Whatever happens for a reason,” he said. “I’ll be excited to go anywhere.”
Darnold’s final visits among teams that he met directly were with the Giants and Jets. He thought highly of both organizations.
“They’re both great organizations with great facilities, great coaching staffs, great front office,” he said. “I didn’t get to meet with [Eli Manning]. I saw him from a distance and didn’t want to bother him. We had a chance to meet at the Manning [Passing Academy], which was awesome.
“The Giants and Jets were the only teams I got to see the players on my visit. That’s the coolest thing for me on the visits, how the players interacted and knowing that I’m going to fit right in.”
That wasn’t a suggestion that he preferred either of the New York teams, although he did make an interesting choice for his walk-up song for when he’s selected Thursday night.
“Enter Sandman,” he said of the Metallica classic. “I was debating all these things. I just thought it would be fun and entertaining.”
“Enter Sandman” was also the walk-up song for former Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, although Darnold didn’t link the song to Rivera and the New York area.
Darnold said he got some advice from another former USC quarterback who went early in the draft. Former Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, the sixth overall pick in 2009, has met with Darnold a handful of times.
“We trained a couple times this season, and he just said, ‘Hey, man, just be yourself,’ ” Darnold said. “Just know that you’re to be the face of the franchise. Some of the [other] advice he gave me I’ll keep between me and him.”
Darnold said the biggest thing he needs to work on is ball security, an issue that several teams asked him about during pre-draft conversations.
“Fumbling was the biggest thing teams brought up,” he said. “For me, there’s not a ton of personality issues or off the field stuff, so the fumbles were a thing. I’ve been working on it, getting better on it, doing some drills to get better at it. I understand that the No. 1 priority as a quarterback is to protect the football. The biggest thing for me was taking my left hand off the ball. But with that, there were a lot of plays where I took my left hand off the ball where I made a huge first down or I threw a touchdown, so there’s a risk and reward there.”