Sam Darnold’s Revival: Why the Carolina Panthers Presented Jets Reject With Easily the Best Situation of His Career

Many people wrote Sam Darnold off after the New York Jets essentially dumped him for a newer model after the 2020 NFL season. His new home is with the Carolina Panthers, and he’s thriving after a fresh start.

Through two weeks, there’s already a different aura about the 24-year-old quarterback. A change of scenery may be just what Darnold needed to revive his rocky NFL career.

The Sam Darnold era with the Jets was a failure

The New York Jets selected Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of USC. The 2018 quarterback class was one of the most talked-about in recent memory.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield went No. 1 overall. The Bills drafted Josh Allen four picks after Darnold. The Ravens traded up to grab Lamar Jackson at the end of the first round. Some experts Josh Rosen discussed as one of the best of the class, but he never panned out after the Cardinals drafted him at No. 10 overall.

Heading into the draft, Darnold passed the eye test. He possessed ideal size and all the physical tools to be a successful NFL quarterback. The Jets appeared to strike gold with the pick.

However, New York didn’t appear to be a good fit for the USC product. In three seasons with the Jets, Darnold showed some flashes but never really had a breakout. He threw 39 interceptions from 2018 to 2020, compared to just 45 touchdowns.

The team’s offensive struggles couldn’t be placed solely on Darnold, though. Poor coaching, horrendous offensive line play, and lack of surrounding talent led to a disappointing tenure.

The franchise ultimately decided to go in a different direction, selecting Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Panthers offer more stability for Darnold to succeed

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold runs off the field after a Week 2 victory
Sam Darnold leaving the field after the Carolina Panthers defeat the New Orleans Saints | Mike Comer/Getty Images

The Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets after the 2020 season in exchange for three draft picks. It was initially unclear what Carolina’s plans were at quarterback. However, after moving on from Teddy Bridgewater, Darnold appeared to be their guy.

After three lackluster seasons with the Jets, doubts emerged about if the Capistrano Beach, California native could even be a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. However, he’s settled in quite nicely in his new home.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen is very close with the Panthers signal-caller and believes he has what it takes to be elite. “I don’t think that. I know that,” Allen told The Athletic. “I have so much faith in what he’s gonna do.”

So far, so good for Darnold, too. He’s thrown for 584 yards and three touchdowns through the first two weeks of the 2021 season while completed 68.5% of his passes.

Two games is a small sample size, but the fourth-year quarterback looks much more comfortable in Carolina. There’s more talent around him than New York ever surrounded him with.

It remains to be seen if Darnold can be the Panthers’ franchise quarterback, but he’s off to a surprisingly great start.

Sam Darnold and the Panthers are off to a 2-0 start in 2021

The Carolina Panthers are one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises through the first two weeks of the 2021 season. Under head coach Matt Rhule, the team notched back-to-back wins over the Jets and the New Orleans Saints.

Carolina boasts the hottest defense in the league so far. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s unit ranks first in just about every major statistical category heading into Week 3. They’ve given up only 21 points thus far in 2021.

The defense gets an additional boost with the return of cornerback A.J. Bouye, who was serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

The offense has been doing its job with Sam Darnold under center as well. Improved offensive line play cannot go unnoticed. The young quarterback had time in the pocket to make throws, which was uncommon in his years with the Jets.

Darnold has some talented pieces around him, too. Christian McCaffrey, when healthy, is one of the most complete backs in the NFL. Receivers D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr. each have unique skill sets. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is putting them in positions to succeed.

Establishing rapport with reliable weapons is valuable to any quarterback, especially one trying to find his way. The Panthers’ skill players make Darnold’s job easier.

The Panthers might be legit, which would bode well for Sam Darnold’s future with the team.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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