The New England Patriots will have to make a hard decision at quarterback in the coming weeks. Cam Newton had plenty of high and low moments during his first season in New England, and there is a chance the organization moves on after this year. Even if New England brings him back, Newton wouldn’t be anything more than a bridge quarterback. If the Patriots want to look for someone that could be the long-term answer, they might turn towards Sam Darnold.
Sam Darnold: New England Patriots 2021 Quarterback Targets
Why the Patriots Might Want Him
Based on what he did in college, Sam Darnold has the potential to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. During his time at USC, Darnold impressed with his coveted combination of accuracy and arm strength. While he wasn’t the most consistent, the high-end plays were enough to make him the third-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
As a professional, Darnold’s NFL career has left a lot to be desired. However, every now and again you do see the talent that made him so intriguing all those years ago. The big-play potential is still there, although it doesn’t come out as often as you’d like.
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2020
Normally after three years, quarterbacks are who they are. Generally speaking, quarterbacks don’t take a massive leap after this long in the NFL. However, there is reason to believe that Darnold could be an outlier and salvage his career down the road.
The New York Jets are a mess of a franchise, and Darnold has had to deal with arguably the worst situation in football over the past three years. Since entering the league, Darnold’s best offensive weapon has been Robby Anderson and his offensive-minded head coach is Adam Gase. While New England isn’t exactly overflowing with playmakers, Bill Belichick is much, much better coach than Adam Gase. Quarterbacks are not immune to a poor situation, and nobody’s had it worse than Darnold.
Why New England Might Say No
Even when accounting for the poor situation, Sam Darnold has been bad as an NFL quarterback. Since Darnold entered the league in 2018, 27 quarterbacks have played 1,000 or more snaps. Of those 27, Darnold ranks 27th in EPA+CPOE index, 27th in EPA/play, and 26th in CPOE.
The overall numbers are not good, and he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement since entering the league. Of the 33 quarterbacks that played 250 snaps in 2020, Darnold ranks 33rd in EPA+CPOE, 33rd in EPA, and 32nd in CPOE. The film isn’t any better, as PFF’s tape-based grading system has Darnold ranked 38th out of 39 eligible quarterbacks. Even the conventional numbers show that Darnold is having an especially bad year.
The situation limits Darnold’s overall ceiling, but you’d like to see more signs of life out of a potential franchise quarterback. Making the situation even worse is the fact that Joe Flacco has outplayed Darnold by just about every measure. While it’s admittedly a relatively small sample of 161 plays, Flacco has Darnold beat in EPA+CPOE, EPA/play, CPOE, and PFF grade. It’s understandable why Darnold can’t play like an All-Pro in New York, but it’s harder to explain why he can’t outplay an age-35 Joe Flacco.
How Could the Patriots Get Sam Darnold
The New York Jets are on a collision course with the first-overall pick, which means that Sam Darnold is going to be on the trading block. Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect in quite some time, and Darnold isn’t good enough to stop the Jets from drafting the Clemson product.
Darnold won’t be a Jet in 2021, but it’s hard to imagine the Jets cutting him. As a former top-three pick at the NFL’s most important position, Darnold still has some trade value and will probably have a market. The Patriots are far from the only quarterback-needy team out there, and there are only so many draft prospects to go around.
While it’s impossible to know Darnold’s exact market, we can use Josh Rosen as a comparison. Like Darnold, Rosen was a 2018 top-10 pick that failed in a terrible situation. The Cardinals held the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and decided to move on from Rosen after just one season. That move paid off, as the Cardinals selected Kyler Murray with the first-overall pick and traded Rosen for a second-round pick.
Chances are, the Patriots would need to give up a second-round pick to acquire Darnold’s services. Quite frankly, that’s probably a little too rich for a quarterback that hasn’t done much of anything on the NFL level. Instead of trading a Day 2 pick for Darnold, the Patriots should invest that pick in a quarterback to compete with Jarrett Stidham and/or Cam Newton.
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