For better or worse, Sam Darnold will ultimately determine the success of the 2021 Carolina Panthers. Quarterback has always been the most important position in sports, and that has never been truer in today’s pass-happy league. Darnold spent his first three years in arguably the worst situation in the league, but can he improve with a better supporting cast?
Sam Darnold: Carolina Panthers Roster Preview
Originally drafted with the third-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Sam Darnold has not lived up to the hype. Since entering the league, Darnold is dead last in EPA/play and EPA+CPOE composite. One could argue he’s gotten worse since entering the league, as he set career-lows in yards per attempt, QBR, passer rating, and touchdown percentage last year.
The raw numbers aren’t good, but there is reason to believe he can improve in a better situation. Quarterbacks play the largest role in the success of a team, but nobody can do it all on their own. Darnold’s coaching, offensive line, and supporting cast have all been atrocious since entering the league, and there is a chance that an improved situation will finally help him look like a real franchise quarterback.
While his overall tape leaves something to be desired, every now and again you do see what made him so special in college. His accuracy comes and goes, but Darnold has the physical ability to make just about any throw he could ever need to make. Additionally, he has the size to break tackles and buy time just like a younger Ben Roethlisberger.
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2020
Can the Carolina Panthers Support Sam Darnold?
The Carolina Panthers are a much more stable organization than the New York Jets, but have they done enough for Darnold to succeed? The most important aspect is the coaching staff, and Matt Rhule and Joe Brady proved to be solid offensive minds during their first year in Carolina. Even while working with a subpar quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, the coaching staff managed to draw up plays that moved the ball down the field. Pro Football Focus was so impressed with Carolina’s work that they named Joe Brady the fifth-best playcaller in the NFL.
The top offensive play callers in the NFL, per @PFF_Eric
Do you agree? pic.twitter.com/ZBI5DrqhDb
— PFF (@PFF) June 9, 2021
At the end of the day, however, players play and coaches coach. Advantageous schemes are obviously helpful, but they won’t matter without players capable of executing at a high level. Fortunately, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of pass-catching talent.
D.J. Moore has exceeded 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons despite terrible quarterback play, and he should be a lock to do it again. He can line up all over the formation and make plays at every level of the field. Robby Anderson, meanwhile, proved to be a perfect fit for this offense and already has an established rapport with Darnold. He should be in for a huge year if he isn’t traded. Terrace Marshall Jr. has yet to play an NFL snap, but he had first-round talent and should be one of the NFL’s better third options.
The biggest question is the offensive line. Carolina tried to improve the unit, the fact of the matter is that this is still one of the worst groupings in the league. You don’t need a great offensive line to succeed in the NFL, but you do need some level of competence. Favorable schemes and open receivers won’t matter if Darnold can’t stay on his feet.
Will Sam Darnold Succeed?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine a world where Sam Darnold ever lives up to his pre-draft billing. Yes, New York was a terrible situation, but it’s hard to be that bad for that long without placing any of the blame on the quarterback’s shoulders.
Chances are, Darnold would need the perfect situation in order to improve, and Carolina doesn’t provide that. While the weapons and coaching are both solid, this subpar offensive line is going to be an issue. Good quarterbacks can overcome poor blocking, but nothing in Darnold’s professional career suggests that he is a good quarterback.
Hopefully, Darnold can prove me wrong. However, if he continues to play like his normal self, then the Carolina Panthers are going to spend quite a bit of time kicking themselves for passing on Justin Fields in the NFL Draft.
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