Carolina Panthers Training Camp Battles: Sam Darnold vs Matt Corral

Panthers Training Camp
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For the fourth straight year, the Carolina Panthers enter the season with a massive question mark at the quarterback position. Barring a last-second addition of someone like Baker Mayfield, the Panthers will enter training camp with Sam Darnold and Matt Corral battling it out for the starting quarterback job.

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Sam Darnold vs Matt Corral: Carolina Panthers Training Camp Battles

The Case For Sam Darnold

As it turns out, a change of scenery did not do anything to help Sam Darnold. After struggling during his first three seasons with the New York Jets, the Panthers organization believed that the quarterback could turn his career around in a more positive environment. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, as Darnold was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league by just about every metric available.

At this point, it’s safe to say that Sam Darnold is not the long-term answer under center. However, he could be the best short-term option. Even though the overall body of work left a lot to be desired, Darnold did have some stretches of solid play and put together a few highlight-worthy throws while under center.

It also stands to reason that Darnold could improve during his second season in Carolina. In addition to being more familiar with the playbook, the Panthers have upgraded the offensive line. Carolina had one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2021 but should have a serviceable unit in 2022.

This passable blocking combined with a strong defense means that the Panthers might be able to win a few games with their quarterback doing the bare minimum. While they definitely won’t challenge for the division, they could compete for the final wild card spot with a quarterback that takes care of the football and doesn’t try to do that much, and Darnold could perform in that type of a role.

The Case for Matt Corral

The Carolina Panthers entered the 2022 NFL Draft with basically no draft capital. Thanks in large part to the Sam Darnold trade, the Panthers were supposed to endure a 131-pick gap between their first and second selections. However, they found a way to trade up in the third round and grab their guy: Matt Corral out of the University of Mississippi.

Even though he was only a third-round pick, the organization would have taken him earlier if they had the resources to do so. Personally speaking, Corral was one of the hardest evaluations of any recent quarterback prospect. Mississippi’s offense was a well-oiled machine that rarely required Corral to do anything out of structure. While he can certainly execute a basic play call at the collegiate level, the NFL requires a higher level of play.

Quite frankly, the only way to know if he’s able of playing at a higher level is to throw him into the deep end and see if he can swim. Corral doesn’t have elite physical tools, so he won’t win with athleticism, but he has the necessary arm and accuracy to make it in the NFL if he can read a defense at a high level. Darnold will never be anything more than a bottom-10 quarterback, but Corral has the potential to develop into a league-average starter. In today’s pass-happy NFL, you need one of those if you want a genuine chance to compete.

Who Should Start

Matt Corral has the higher ceiling, but Sam Darnold has the higher floor. While Darnold will never elevate his football team, there is a real chance that an inexperienced third-round rookie like Corral could actively sink the entire operation. Learning to read an NFL defense takes time, and putting Corral out there could be detrimental to his growth. Unless Corral clearly proves that he is the better player throughout training camp, Darnold should enter Week 1 as the Panthers starting quarterback.

That being said, the second the Panthers fall out of playoff contention, they need to put in Corral. With seven playoff teams, the Panthers shouldn’t be realistically out of the playoff hunt until the middle of the season, at the very earliest. This gives Corral enough time to learn the offense and begin to understand how to diagnose an NFL defense. At this point, the rookie should be able to go out there and show what he can do. If he shows some signs of promise, then perhaps he can be the future of the franchise. If he doesn’t, then the Panthers should have a high draft pick in a talented 2023 draft class.