Well, it looks like the New York Jets will be taking a quarterback with the second pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Incumbent starter Sam Darnold has been dealt to greener offensive pastures with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have seemingly found their answer at the quarterback position.
Darnold is a large and athletic gunslinger, that was worthy of a top-three pick just a few years back. He was disappointing over his four years with the Jets. He is more famous now for ‘seeing ghosts’ against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots than for any sort of playmaking resume in New York. However, that is hardly his fault, according to most pundits and fans. The Jets have been a laughably incompetent organization up until this point, and Darnold’s alma mater, USC, was scarcely better when he was there.
This trade to the Panthers offers Darnold his first chance to play in a legitimately good offensive system, and for strong offensive-minded coaches. Head coach Matt Rhule is famous for turning the Baylor University football program around, and his offensive coordinator Joe Brady made his mark in college football by helming LSU’s historic 2019 offense. If you don’t remember, that LSU team is most famous for how it ran roughshod all over college football at the hands of another late bloomer: Joe Burrow.
Both USC and Panthers fans will be waiting with bated breath over how Sam Darnold will perform over the course of his time with his new team. It should be mentioned that this deal is an absolute win for Carolina, who was treading water with Teddy Bridgewater under center. Darnold offers heaps of upside in comparison, and all signs point to Joe Brady and him forming a beautiful friendship in the black and Carolina blue. Why? Here are three reasons:
1. Youth experience
One of the reasons Kyler Murray found so much success this year is because of his close relationship with his head coach. Cliff Kingsbury is young, unproven, and raw, but the Arizona Cardinals made a shrewd move to hire him alongside drafting Murray. The important thing about the bond between the two of them is that Kingsbury and Murray are familiar with one another. Kingsbury saw firsthand what Murray was capable of in college, and so knows the best way to use his skillset in the pros, at least on paper.
Ditto for Joe Brady and Sam Darnold. While Brady doesn’t necessarily know Darnold to the degree of Kingsbury/Murray, he is fresh off of a campaign managing one of the greatest college football seasons in recent memory. If you don’t recall, what made Joe Burrow special was his story as almost an unheralded reclamation project. However, once he was plugged into an offense with NFL-caliber weapons and a coach who knows how to use them, you had magic. Recall too that there were questions about Burrow’s potential coming into last year’s draft. After all, LSU’s talent and scheme were both off the charts, anyone could succeed in that arena. The Panthers have plenty of weapons on multiple levels, and now they have the mind behind that magical Bayou Bengals season.
Darnold is better at thinking on his feet than Burrow, to compliment his big arm, and is athleticism. Imagine what he can do under the tutelage of the man who built Burrow up from nothing.
Speaking of weapons: the Panthers have a lot of them.
It goes without saying that when healthy, Christian McCaffrey has a legitimate place in the discussion for the best running back in the NFL. If nothing else works for Darnold, Christian McCaffrey is one of the best check-down options and safety valves in the league. What’s even better is that Mike Davis might be the league’s best backup RB, and he is still under the age of 30. So regardless of McCaffrey’s health, Darnold will have by far the best running back in his time in the NFL, and no, LeVeon Bell doesn’t count.
Outside of both backs, Darnold also has a pair of multi-level receiving threats in DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. Anderson was one of Darnold’s favorite targets before he left New York, and it stands to reason that Darnold is excited to light those fires again. This comes off the heels after Anderson exploded this past season with Bridgewater throwing the ball. DJ Moore might have had a slightly quieter 2020 season, but the tape shows that the primary culprit of that was Bridgewater not trusting Moore as a deep threat. When he did, the results were almost always spectacular, and Moore is arguably a top-five outside receiver in the league on pure talent.
Listen, regardless of youth or an unproven track record of success, the coaching duo of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady is one of the biggest collective brains in the NFL. They didn’t make the playoffs, but they were legitimately in every game that they played. Note that this record was with one of the most conservative signal-callers in the league (despite his steadiness at the position), and with a very weakened defense.
Upgrade Bridgewater to Sam Darnold, and that unlocks so much potential and creativity in this offense that both coaches would like to take advantage of. DJ Moore should be more widely used in the offensive scheme, and you can bet that Rhule and Brady plan to give him much more to do with Sam Darnold under center. Darnold’s quick thinking and fearlessness can be ruled in by coaches that know how to curb reckless habits, and for what he’s able to do, Brady and Rhule can now afford to gamble a bit on offense.
What This Mean For Panthers and Sam Darnold
If nothing else, Sam Darnold is finally free. Whatever that means for the NFL as a whole, every eye will be trained on the Panthers to see what this kid can actually do with some competent football minds around him. Joe Brady and Matt Rhule have shown the ability to be game-changing individuals on the sideline, and Brady in particular ticks off all the boxes that Sam Darnold needs.
If the Panthers were stripped of their offensive prowess coming in, then there might be a question as to whether or not Darnold could succeed in this system. However, their weapons, personalities, and intelligence are all for the taking. The NFC South had better watch out because the Panthers might have just gotten their bite back.