Ex-USC Football QB Sam Darnold makes case to start early in Preseason

Sam Darnold, USC Football, USC Trojans
Sam Darnold, USC Football, USC Trojans / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers QB and former USC Football QB Sam Darnold looked good in the Panthers' first preseason game against the Washington Commanders. In two drives, he went two for three with 16 passing yards and a touchdown. He posted a passer rating of 119.4 in the contest. He was the best Panthers QB on the roster on the day.

Baker Mayfield, who Darnold's competing with for the starting job, looked fine. His 6.4 yards per attempt was actually higher than Darnold's 5.3. That being said, he didn't lead a touchdown drive in the game, and had three incompletions in just seven attempts.

PJ Walker was fine, completing only 10 of 19 passes but throwing for 136 passing yards. Former SC commit Matt Corral looked awful, going one for nine for 11 yards. Darnold was the only QB to score a touchdown. Carolina Head Coach Matt Rhule said that he's not picking a starter until after next week's preseason game, but Darnold did what he could when he had the chance this week.

Former stud USC Football QB Sam Darnold should be the starter for the Carolina Panthers.

Sam Darnold hasn't had the chance to succeed in the NFL after being drafted third overall out of the USC football program. He has been in the worst overall situation in these last four years out of any QB in the NFL over the last four years. He has had a bottom-four offensive line every single year he's been in the league, and for half the time had Adam Gase as his head coach.

Gase was the consensus worst head coach in football. Darnold had to start his career with Todd Bowles as his head coach, who was a massive failure in NY. Then he had to go with Gase, and now he's dealing with an unproven coach in Rhule who is already on the hot seat.

Heck, Darnold's Offensive Coordinator (Joe Brady) was so bad last year that he had to get fired mid-season. Darnold just hasn't had the chance to prove himself in adequate circumstances. Besides, it wasn't too long ago when Darnold was throwing to Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios as his wide receivers.

Sure, the receivers were much better when he went to the Panthers, but the offense is supposed to run through franchise player Christian McCaffrey, who was hurt last year. Before McCaffrey got hurt, Darnold balled out of control. He went 3-0 in his first three games of the season, tossing for 888 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for three touchdowns too, and threw just one interception.

That's even with McCaffrey missing much of the third game. Darnold began to struggle once he was down to not just an OC who had to be fired during the middle of the season, and not only a bottom four O-line, but also no McCaffrey--who the team paid to be there and be the franchise player. He was left out to dry.

Then, when Darnold got hit so many times he got injured, the team tried changing QBs to a former MVP in Cam Newton. Even a former MVP couldn't get it done, and didn't win a single game for Carolina. Darnold won four, and that's even with Newton having McCaffrey for three out of the five games he had before Darnold came back from his injury.

Newton had a worse completion percentage than Darnold, a worse interception percentage, a worse yards per pass attempt rate, a worse adjusted yards per pass attempt rate, a worse passer rating, and a worse QBR. There's a reason Darnold is still in Carolina and Newton isn't. The Panthers already tried changing QBs and it didn't work. Why are they trying to change again?

Why change it with a QB who was a failure in Cleveland despite having the coach of the year on his side (Kevin Stefanski), one of the best offensive lines in the game, two elite RBs, an elite WR in Odell Beckham Jr., another very good receiver in Jarvis Landry, and two ultra-talented tight ends in Austin Hooper and David Njoku?

He's going to have the opposite quality of a supporting cast and surrounding situation in Carolina, so who's to say he'll be better? Mayfield has finished with an above .500 record the same amount of times Darnold has in their careers, and that's with Darnold getting his whole career with the Jets and Panthers.

While Darnold did not produce for the Panthers last year, it's important to remember the context and their past attempts to try to prove he was the problem and their failures at that. They already traded for Mayfield, so it shows they have strong interest in him. Darnold does deserve another shot, though, and looked good in his preseason opportunity.

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The best part is that this at least builds his case to be traded somewhere and have a chance to start somewhere this year if Carolina decides to go with Mayfield. Besides, it's no secret that former USC Head Coach Pete Carroll is a fan of Darnold's...