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What we learned about Darnold, Rosen at Pac-12 Media Days


HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy last year, but the QB generating the most excitement this offseason plays for the USC Trojans. Sam Darnold caught fire after taking over the starting quarterback role a few games into last season, leading the Trojans to 9 straight wins, including an epic Rose Bowl victory.

Darnold will have a big decision to make this spring. Will he apply for entry into the 2018 NFL Draft or elect to return to USC for his redshirt junior campaign? That's a question I posed to sources close to Darnold a few weeks ago, and I was told not to be surprised if he ultimately decided to stay at USC for another season. It wouldn't be unprecedented for a top QB to make such a decision, as Andrew Luck opted to stay at Stanford for his redshirt junior season several years ago.

My colleague Bucky Brooks and I had the opportunity to chat with the Trojans QB at Pac-12 Media Days this week, and it was great to hear from him directly about his plans for the future. Darnold told us that he hasn't even thought about that decision and he's focusing on the 2017 season.

Now, I'm sure some folks will have a cynical reaction to his answer and question whether he's telling the truth. However, after spending some time with him, I'm convinced he's being honest. He really hasn't made up his mind. In other words, when it comes to Darnold and the 2018 draft -- TBD.

Here are five other takeaways from our time at Pac-12 Media Days.

2. The message from UCLA QB Josh Rosen's head coach and teammates was that he has really matured and is poised for a big year. Jim Mora told us the shoulder injury that ended Rosen's season prematurely in 2016 might be the best thing to happen to him. He believes Rosen got a glimpse of life without football and now appreciates the game more than ever before. The Bruins' center, Steve Quessenberry, said Rosen is assuming a more vocal leadership role and he has complete control of the huddle. Nobody doubts Rosen's physical ability and it's encouraging to hear that he's growing into a leader for the Bruins.

3. Washington State's Luke Falk is one of the most underrated QB prospects in the country. I enjoyed studying his play this summer and he received rave reviews from his teammates at Pac-12 Media Days. Running back Jamal Morrow gave Falk every ounce of credit for the Cougars' success running the ball last fall. He told us Falk had the freedom at the line of scrimmage to get the offense into the correct run call. They throw the ball a lot under head coach Mike Leach, but Falk has taken ownership of the run game and it's paid off.

We also spoke to Falk's roommate, linebacker Peyton Pelluer. He told us about Falk's obsession with Tom Brady. He tries to emulate the Patriots QB both on and off the field. He's fanatical about taking care of himself and Pelluer said Falk shuts it down at 9 p.m. every night. He takes his role very seriously and I think NFL scouts are going to fall in love with him once they gather all of the background info.

4. My sleeper pick for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year -- Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage. This is the first time I've seen the talented ball carrier in person, and he is impressive. He's all of 230 pounds and carries his weight very well. Head coach Todd Graham told us Ballage will run 4.4 or better in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine while carrying 230-plus pounds. Graham also mentioned he spent time with the Patriots' offensive staff in the offseason to find out more ways to incorporate Ballage into the passing game. He caught 44 passes last fall and I expect him to be closer to 60 catches this season. There are a lot of talented running backs around the country, but Ballage might be the best one none of us have been talking about.

5. Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips was our favorite interview of the two-day experience in Hollywood. Put simply, he's a stud. He's a powerful point-of-attack player on tape and his wrestling background probably has a lot to do with his success. He was a national champion in high school. He never lost a match and could've gone to any school in the country on a wrestling scholarship. Stanford is going to miss 2017 first-round pick Solomon Thomas, but guys like Phillips will uphold the physical standard on which Stanford has built its reputation.

6. We had a great chat with Washington head coach Chris Petersen about his talented defensive tackle, Vita Vea. I congratulated him on convincing Vea to return to Seattle following an impressive 2016 campaign. However, Petersen was quick to correct me and explained that the decision to put off the draft for at least another year was made entirely by Vea. He sees areas where he can improve and he wants to be a very high pick when he makes the jump to the next level. He raved about Vea's maturity and believes we will see a better player this fall. That has to be a scary thought for Pac-12 offenses.

Hear more from Pac-12 coaches and players about some of the top QBs in college football on the Move the Sticks podcast with former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.



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