Is Panthers QB P.J. Walker a viable alternative if Sam Darnold can’t go?

Dean Jones
(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports) P.J. Walker
(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports) P.J. Walker /

Is current backup P.J. Walker a viable replacement for Sam Darnold if the Carolina Panthers quarterback cannot go in Week 9 with a concussion?

Although Sam Darnold showed some signs of life with less responsibility on his shoulders at the Atlanta Falcons, it came at a price. The Carolina Panthers quarterback took two huge hits on the same drive in the fourth quarter, the second of which saw the signal-caller leave the game with a concussion.

The former first-round pick is now in the NFL’s concussion protocol and Darnold’s status for Carolina’s game against the New England Patriots in Week 9 is in question. With the Panthers opting to release Will Grier just before the campaign, P.J. Walker could be in line for another start if the USC product is unable to go.

Walker’s only other start since joining the Panthers was in 2020 – a shutout win against the Detroit Lions. But his level of production when coming in to replace either Darnold or Teddy Bridgewater during games wouldn’t be classed as stellar by any stretch of the imagination.

The Temple product is a mobile presence under center and has the arm strength to make a difference. Even though his decision-making isn’t where it needs to be and something that came in for criticism from head coach Matt Rhule after a throw almost ended in a turnover when Walker came in for Darnold.

"“Obviously really, really disappointed in that throw he made on the goal line. That’s a ball you get out there, and you throw away. I’ll say this, I don’t think there’s a guy in the locker room that doesn’t believe in him. I think most of our guys see him in practice, saw him last year against Detroit, and know he can lead us.”"

Coming in at a moment’s notice isn’t the easiest of tasks for any player. Depending on Darnold’s status this week, Walker should get more first-team reps before potentially getting the green light to start.

Carolina Panthers can help P.J. Walker out by running the football.

There is a chance Carolina brings in additional reinforcements with only the inexperienced James Morgan on the practice squad. Although learning the playbook in double-quick time is almost impossible for any potential target.

Walker looks set to get the nod. So the Panthers will have to prepare him the best they can in the face of Bill Belichick – who’ll be smelling blood in the water against a backup quarterback.

Carolina is adopting a run-first mentality that resulted in 203 yards from 47 carries at the Falcons. A trend that needs to continue in Week 9 with or without Christian McCaffrey in the backfield.

McCaffrey is hoping to get back on the practice field this week. But the Panthers should not go away from what worked in Atlanta by relying too heavily on the All-Pro considering the complications he’s suffered over the last two seasons.

It appears as if Walker is never going to be good enough to be an NFL starter. But he’s the best option the Panthers have if Darnold doesn’t clear tests.

From a continuity standpoint if nothing else.

This is far from an ideal situation. But the Panthers aren’t alone in having some problems regarding the injury status of their quarterback and they’ll just have to get on with it.

Walker is out of contract next spring. So this might be the only audition the former XFL MVP candidate has of attaining a new deal.

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Whether he is up to the task or not is another matter.