A month ago, Jets fans would have pointed to Saturday night’s Southern Cal-Notre Dame game as a must-watch to scout USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who seemed like a match for a team that some expected to finish 0-16.
But the Jets have won three of their last four games, seemingly taking them out of the running for the first pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, and at the same time, Darnold seems less like a certain No. 1 overall after some early season unevenness.
Chris Simms, a former NFL quarterback and current NBC analyst for Notre Dame football, believes many of us got ahead of ourselves on evaluating Darnold entering the season.
“There’s a lot to be impressed by him,” Simms said. “The whole top pick of the draft thing, I have to pump the breaks on that, I really do . . . Look, he’s a really good football player. The No. 1 pick in the draft, I think that is a little overdoing it at this point.
“We have to stop letting like, ‘SportsCenter’ anchors create this genre of Sam Darnold as the first quarterback in the draft. Those ‘SportsCenter’ anchors told me that Matt Barkley was the first pick in the draft. They told me Tim Tebow was the greatest thing ever.
“So we have to pump the breaks on the people that are evaluating these things, making these types of statements. I think that’s the first thing that gets lost in translation. A lot of people make these qualifying statements that are not qualified to make them.
“Hey, he’s a talented football player, there’s no doubt about that. He has good size. He has a good arm, not a great arm. He is a good athlete . . . But to just say that he’s the first pick in the draft I think is a little ludicrous, especially with the way he’s played a little bit here.
“I would also say this: I’ve never seen a really big-time, superstar NFL quarterback with the throwing motion that Sam Darnold has. He really drops the ball, almost throws it like a baseball. It’s almost like a better version of a Tim Tebow throwing the football. I’m not trying to compare him to Tim Tebow. He throws the ball better than him.
“I’m just saying I’ve never really seen any successful NFL quarterback with that type of motion. I think you’ve seen a little bit of that this year. The magic has worn off, teams have gotten used to what he does a little bit and that’s why you’ve seen some errant throws and decisions.”
That is the sort of blunt analysis NBC wants from Simms, but initially he was surprised to be invited to join the Notre Dame coverage, given that most of his focus is on the NFL.
Simms appears with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio on NBCSN and NBC Sports Radio, and is the lead NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.
“When NBC came to me about the whole package of things, I knew the NFL part; I did not expect the Notre Dame thing,” Simms said. “At first I was like: ‘What? They want me to do Notre Dame? Don’t they know all I do is talk about the NFL?’ I can’t tell you how excited I was to do it, though. It is Notre Dame football. It is on NBC.
“And of course it is the prestige of Notre Dame, and how excited my family got, my little boy and my wife. My wife knows nothing about sports. When she heard about me being associated with Notre Dame, I think she liked me more. It’s been really cool, just to be there, be within the workings of Notre Dame football, seeing how they run things.
“It is top notch. I have a hard time thinking that any other college program, other than maybe Alabama, can be run in a top-notch way as Notre Dame is.”
As someone who grew up in northern New Jersey, Simms was aware of the power the Notre Dame brand still has in the New York area.
“I knew that going back to my days of playing high school football, the alumni from Notre Dame that were at my high school games just to say hi on behalf of Notre Dame, I realized then how big of a deal it was,” he said. “You realize the national attention it gets.
“To me, somebody who’s been around football my whole life, I am somewhat of a football traditionalist, and Notre Dame is pretty cool. It really is. It’s special. It’s like the Yankees or the Red Sox or any of the other great organizations in pro sports. Notre Dame kind of fits that mold for college sports.”
Simms said his NBC work does not rule out a larger role for him at WFAN. He has been a frequent fill-in and over the summer had a test run as the station seeks a new afternoon show to replace the departing Mike Francesa.
WFAN is expected to announce new afternoon hosts – as well as a new morning co-host for Boomer Esiason – in the next several weeks. Francesa’s last show is Dec. 15.
“It’s definitely not out of the picture, certainly not,” Simms said. “I’ve liked filling in at WFAN; I really do enjoy it. Right now I’m kind of just waiting and seeing and I’m honestly not even too worried about it. I really enjoy what I do for Bleacher Report. It’s an awesome job. And to have this on top of it with NBC Sports, I would have a hard time thinking there’s two better companies to work for, really . . . So I don’t know where it all is.
“I am still in the running. But I’m not too worried about. Like I said, things are going in the right direction for me, and I really enjoy the two jobs I’ve got right now. It’s still there. It’s still on the radar, certainly, but I’m not exactly calling the tabloids to keep my name in the mix publicly like some of the other candidates . . . I know I’m not out of it. Where I stand, I don’t know exactly. Hey, if that does get offered to me that’s a good problem to have and I’ll figure it out when it comes. But right now I’m extremely excited and content with what I’m doing. I really am.”
Simms said he considers this Notre Dame team underrated nationally and is looking forward to Saturday night’s high-profile matchup. But it would be even better if the Yankees won Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday and thus were not playing Game 7 on Saturday night.
“I’m a diehard Yankee fan,” Simms said. “There’s no team in all of professional sports that I’m more diehard with than the New York Yankees. So, yes, that will kill me if I’m sitting there watching USC-Notre Dame and I’m not going to get to sit down and watch the Yankees game. But that’s the price of doing business. I can handle it.”