Sam Darnold is likely to miss “several weeks” with a fracture to his shoulder blade on his throwing shoulder. It appears that Darnold’s last chance as a full-time starter has passed him by. We see this happen so often with high end draft picks, especially at the QB position. Darnold has also missed parts of multiple games this season already for various reasons. Considering that this injury could be yet another flashpoint in his career, let’s take this opportunity to review and reevaluate Darnold’s career thus far.
How We Got Here
As said by the great Dave Dameshek, the draft is a crapshoot. Even the best GMs and front offices only have a success rate of around 50%. That being said, it is always important to look back and see what can be learned from a pick like Sam Darnold. How teams evaluate a player during the draft process and how a team evaluates previous draft picks into their career is also an imperative factor to consider. In Darnold’s case, he was given the chance to be a starter for two different teams thus far, which means multiple teams are evaluating him differently at this point. Let’s take a look at how and why Darnold got here.
Sam Darnold Draft Analysis
Sam Darnold played his college ball for the USC Trojans. He served as the Trojans’ starting QB for two years before entering the NFL Draft. Darnold was a freshman sensation after his first year and an NFL ready QB after his second. The Trojans’ QB threw for over 7,000 yards and 57 TDs in his college career. It’s also notable that he threw 22 interceptions during that time, throwing 13 in his final season with USC. Overall, Darnold had an illustrious college career; the best of any Trojans QB in years. He was touted as the #1 pick by some scouts, and even on the day of the draft it seemed possible that he would go 1st overall. Let’s take a look at what a couple of scouts said about Darnold in the lead up to the 2018 NFL Draft.
From Daniel Jeremiah:
NFL Comparison – Tony Romo
- “He has a long, loopy throwing motion, but it’s actually very quick and explosive”
- “He has shown the ability to tighten it up at times.”
- “Overall, Darnold has some areas to clean up, but I love his size, competitiveness and ability to make plays on and off schedule.”
From Lance Zierlein:
NFL Comparison – Andrew Luck
- “His windup is an eyesore for sure, but he has the velocity to mitigate the additional release time. While Darnold has the mental toughness and talent to start tomorrow, early sideline seasoning could help him better process coverages in an attempt to eliminate future interceptions.”
- “Takes what defense is offering and won’t overcomplicate it”
- “Turnover total is alarming; finished 2017 with 13 interceptions and nine lost fumbles”
Sam Darnold And The New York Jets
Regardless of all of the good and bad that came from the college tape, Sam Darnold was selected 3rd overall in the 2018 Draft by the New York Jets. Baker Mayfield was picked before Darnold by the Browns. Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson were the other 1st round QBs in that draft. During Darnold’s time with the Jets, he had two head coaches, Todd Bowles and Adam Gase. Darnold didn’t have many highlights from his Jets career. In his first season, Darnold showed flashes of the big play ability. He also showed his propensity for turning the ball over. He finished his rookie season with a TD to INT ratio of 17-15. The Jets would finish 4-12 in Darnold’s rookie year. The Jets moved on from HC Bowles after that season.
In 2019, Darnold’s sophomore campaign got off to a rocky start to say the least. His first game against the Bills was a horrible performance. Darnold would come down with Mono the next week. He would miss 3 games and the Jet’s looked as hopeless as ever. In his return, Darnold led the most successful stretch of his career. He won 7 games, finishing with a 7-6 record as a starter. Sam threw for 19 TDs and 13 INTs and had two 4th quarter comebacks. He even managed to save Adam Gase from being fired after only 1 year. But let’s not forget that this is also the season responsible for Darnold seeing ghosts.
In 2020, everything came crashing down for Darnold and the Jets. The team would finish last in points scored. Sam only threw for 9 TDs and had 11 INTs. The Jets would finish 2-14. New York fired HC Gase and were in line to select a QB at #2 overall in the upcoming draft. GM Joe Douglas would make the move to trade Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 6th round pick as well as 2022 2nd and 4th round picks. Darnolds’s Jets career had officially ended.
A Fresh Start With Old Friends
Before we get into Darnold’s start with the Panthers, I think it is important to note that the Panthers were involved in talks with the Lions for Matt Stafford before his trade to the Rams. They were also heavily involved in Deshaun Watson trade rumors, even after the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct came to light. This is important because, even from the beginning, it seemed like Darnold was a consolation prize for Carolina.
Despite all of this, Sam Darnold would get a fresh start with the Panthers. He would be reunited with old Jets teammate Robby Anderson, who Darnold had some proven success with. He would also join Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, two more uber talented offensive weapons. The coaching staff, mainly HC Matt Rhule, would go on to publicly boast about Darnold and his talents. The Panthers would pick up his 5th year option on his contract despite never seeing him play a down for their team. In Darnold’s first four starts, he looked promising. He had a 5-3 TD-INT ratio and had rushed for 5 more TDs. He seemed to be relying on the talent around him. His team was 3-1. Then, CMC went down.
The Downfall Of Sam Darnold
After McCaffrey went down in week 4, Darnold and the Panthers looked like a completely different team. In his last five games, Darnold has thrown 8 INTs and only 2 TDs. Sam hasn’t thrown a TD in the last three games. Before suffering this most recent shoulder injury, Rhule benched Darnold in week 7 due to his poor play. He also missed time in week 8 due to a concussion. During his week 9 game against the Patriots, Darnold performed poorly. He threw 0 TDs and 3 INTs. Darnold was seen on the sideline catching an ear-full from WR Robby Anderson.
Darnold seems to have lost all of the support he had in that building. Owner David Tepper perpetuated trade rumors surrounding Deshaun Watson with his actions leading up to the trade deadline. Coach Matt Rhule has benched Darnold and announced to the media that Darnold needs to play better on multiple occasions. This maybe another one year QB for the Panthers.
What’s Next For Sam Darnold
When looking at Darnold’s career thus far, he reminds me a lot of Mitch Trubisky. He is a guy that has some talent but cannot perform consistently as an NFL starter. Although the Panthers picked up Darnold’s 5th year option on his contract, look for them to try to move forward without Sam this offseason. For Darnold, I believe he has a chance to be a valuable backup in this league like Trubisky. He has enough talent to win a couple of games if you need him to. He is athletic and does some nice things in the quick passing game. For now, Darnold is just too inconsistent to be a long term solution for any team.
What’s Next For The Carolina Panther
Look for the Panthers to make a move for QB this offseason. HC Matt Rhule and Owner David Tepper are in lockstep when it comes to doing whatever it takes to secure a franchise QB. Watch for a potential trade for a high end guy like Watson or even Russell Wilson, who has showed uncertainty in his status with the Seahawks. They may also look to the draft for a solution like Sam Howell, who currently plays for UNC. Regardless of the decision, I don’t foresee the Darnold experiment making it to year 2 in Carolina
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