The USC Trojans had one player selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker went 14th overall to the New York Jets.
Vera-Tucker is joining the team that selected a former USC QB No. 3 overall at the 2018 draft. Sam Darnold spent three seasons with the Jets before being traded to the Carolina Panthers following New York’s selection of Zach Wilson No. 2 overall.
The 23-year-old Darnold completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 8,097 yards, 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions during his tenure in the Big Apple. With uncertainty in the front office and head coach Adam Gase’s head-scratching decisions also playing a factor, the Jets went 13-25 with Darnold under center.
New York overhauled its coaching staff this offseason and hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to replace Gase.
The new regime decided to part ways with Darnold, trading the former Trojan to the Carolina Panthers for three draft picks (sixth-round pick this year, plus a second and fourth-round pick in 2022), landing him with former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule.
USC head coach Clay Helton — who coached Darnold during his three seasons with the Trojans — was asked about Darnold’s trade and is optimistic his former QB will turn things around in Carolina (h/t 247Sports).
“What a tremendous opportunity for Sam,” Helton said. “So happy for him going to a great coaching staff in Carolina right now. And then you saw the investment, which was really neat to see, in the draft. The investment that they made at the offensive positions, the skill that’s going to be around him. I know he’s extremely excited for the opportunity. We’re all thrilled for him. I know he’s going to do some really special things in Carolina. I cannot wait to watch it. I feel like it’s going to be a tremendous fresh start for him.”
Darnold started 27 games for USC during his time with the program. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns and 22 picks. The Trojans went 21-6 during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and Darnold helped lead the team to a Rose Bowl win in 2016 and Pac-12 title the following year.
Darnold wasn’t set up for success with the Jets. The team lacked playmakers around him, and he never had a top receiver to help open up the field. That will change in Carolina with running back Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore giving Darnold two high-end weapons that he didn’t have in New York.
For his part, Darnold is looking forward to the next chapter of his pro-career.
“There’s a little bit of both — relief and excitement,” Darnold said via the Panthers’ team website. “There’s been so much uncertainty this offseason, not knowing what your future was going to look like, that was hard. But now that I’m in Charlotte, I’m excited, and yeah, I guess I am kind of relieved to be here.”
How do you think Darnold will do in Carolina?