Sam Darnold is Set Up For Success in Carolina
Over three years ago, the New York Jets drafted Sam Darnold out of USC to be their franchise quarterback- their savior: but he was not. Now, he is a Carolina Panther and regarded as a bust in New York. Meanwhile, the Jets have their new potential savior in Zach Wilson. It is fair to wonder how Darnold’s season will look with a new team in a new city with new coaching.
Darnold had minor help and poor coaching in New York, which contributed to his lack of development, but some of the blame is on him, with his haunting pocket presence and inability to stay healthy.
Darnold never got a No. 1 receiver, a quality pass-catching tight end, or a reliable rushing attack that ranked higher than 23rd in yards. This contributed to him having an abysmal career passer rating of 78.6.
On top of that, he was coached by Adam Gase, who many believed was an offensive guru when he worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. However, in his stint with the Miami Dolphins following that, Gase didn’t prove much.
His quarterback was Ryan Tannehill, a top ten pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, who never developed into a top tier passer in Miami. He had an EPA/Play of 0.025 from 2012-2018, which ranked 47th among all NFL QBs that took 320 snaps from this time frame.
According to ESPN, EPA/Play, or Expected Points Added per Play, measures the value of individual plays in terms of points. This is done by calculating the expected points of the down, distance, and field position before the play and contrasting it with the situation after the play.
Once Tannehill left Miami and stole the starting job from incumbent Marcus Mariota who got benched, he didn’t look back. In the last two seasons in Tennessee, Tannehill has an EPA/Play of 0.293 which ranks second in the NFL, just behind Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
His first year in Tennessee, Tannehill broke out recording an NFL-best 117.5 passer rating, a 70.3 completion percentage, an NFL-high 9.6 yards per attempt, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22:6 by the end of the regular season — all career-highs.
In Carolina, Darnold hopes to follow suit. He gets two insurmountable things he did not get in New York: an above-average supporting cast and well-respected coaching. Darnold’s weapons All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey and WRs DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr.
The presence of Joe Brady, the Panthers offensive coordinator, and former LSU passing game coordinator, should do dividends in Darnold’s development. Brady helped then LSU QB Joe Burrow breakout and produce what is arguably the best season for a quarterback in college football history.
For reference, in 2018, the season before Brady arrived at LSU, Burrow threw for 2,894 yards, 16 touchdowns, and five interceptions and was regarded as a mid-round draft pick at best. In 2019, he passed for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns, and six interceptions, going on to win the Heisman Trophy and being selected number one overall.
Even with Teddy Bridgewater quarterbacking in 2020 and Christian McCaffrey hurt for most of the season, the Panthers managed to muster the 18th ranked passing offense. With Brady, Darnold gets the luxury of learning from a coach who has the tutelage of aiding quarterbacks to their breakout seasons.
Many quarterbacks don’t get a second chance, let alone a second chance in such a nourishing situation. It will be up to Darnold to dictate how well he plays with good coaching and a good supporting cast. The Panthers recently picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option, locking him into Carolina for 2022, paying him $18.858 million. Darnold has two years to show what he can do, finally in the position to succeed.
The Panthers are behind him. Head coach Matt Rhule said: “I just believe in Sam, I believe that he deserves the opportunity to go out and play with us.”