Can Sam Darnold see out the 2022 season as Carolina Panthers QB?
By Dean Jones
Could quarterback Sam Darnold see out the 2022 season under center after an encouraging performance against the Denver Broncos?
The quarterback carousel has been frustrating to witness. It’s been a revolving door for the Carolina Panthers during Matt Rhule’s reign and after the newly crowned king of Nebraska was rightfully fired, which has caused significant complications and taken the shine of real improvements on defense, special teams, and across the offensive line in 2022.
Steve Wilks got a slight tune out of P.J. Walker before his unfortunate injury. But that wasn’t the case with Baker Mayfield and the interim head coach opted to throw Sam Darnold into the mix versus the Denver Broncos in the hope he could provide a sense of stability that’s been sorely lacking.
Darnold‘s production in 2021 left little cause for optimism. However, it was an encouraging display overall behind an exceptional offensive line and strong running game, which saw Carolina secure its third-straight home victory with minimal fuss.
The former USC star played turnover-free football and took calculated risks downfield when opportunities arose. Darnold’s game management was a far cry from the erratic consistency displayed last season and something that clearly impressed Wilks enough to keep him under center after the team’s bye week at the Seattle Seahawks.
Sam Darnold praised for orchestrating Carolina Panthers’ offense
Wilks was particularly impressed with Darnold’s ability to fit in seamlessly and take complete command. This was especially positive when one considers how potent Denver’s defense has been more often than not throughout the campaign.
"“When you just talk about Sam himself and his performance yesterday, I thought he did a great job really orchestrating and running the offense. Good things for us, getting outside the pocket, utilizing his feet, and still having his eyes down the field to try to convert. I thought he did a good job at communicating with the protections and making sure that we’re in the right looks at times. Just overall orchestrating the offense.”"
Walker is expected to come back from an ankle problem after the bye, which means Mayfield could be relegated to No. 3 on the depth chart as his fall from grace continues. This also piles additional pressure on Darnold to take his newfound momentum and put it to good use in the hope he can keep the job for Carolina’s remaining fixtures.
Going to the Seahawks is always a difficult proposition. It’s cold at this time of year and their fanbase is among the league’s loudest, so there’s a chance Darnold becomes overawed and returns to the player we’ve seen plenty over his five-year career.
With that being said, there is something different about Darnold these days. This is a signal-caller playing with a smile on his face and without any sort of expectations on his shoulders, which seems to be providing useful for the No. 3 overall selection in 2018 with far superior options around him.
It could all go horribly wrong if Darnold is forced to do too much. But there are some cracks appearing in Seattle after a promising start that the Panthers could take advantage of after their extended period of rest.
Wilks has always said it would be a constant evaluation with every quarterback on a week-to-week basis. But with five games remaining, the interim head coach could decide to roll forward with Darnold for the duration at this juncture.
Nothing is guaranteed where Carolina is concerned. However, there was a lot to like about Darnold’s transition back into the starting role and the Panthers need to ride the hot hand while they can.