This is the key to ex-USC Football star QB Sam Darnold's NFL success

Sam Darnold, USC Football, USC Trojans
Sam Darnold, USC Football, USC Trojans / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Former USC Football QB Sam Darnold's only concern coming into the NFL was the questions over whether he was turnover-prone or not. Darnold had 13 interceptions in his final season at SC (14 starts).

Anyone who actually watched Darnold play knew that he had to try to play hero ball due to the injuries around him and the lowly offensive line play in general, but many people chose to ignore that, and blamed all of it on him--claiming that he's too turnover-prone to succeed in the NFL. And before this season, they likely thought they were correct.

Darnold had 63 turnovers in 50 career games before this season. Darnold had a tough time protecting the ball under the awful New York Jets and Carolina Panthers franchises (as any quarterback would). He had to play for Todd Bowles, Adam Gase, and Matt Rhule. Three head coaches who were fired during Darnold's tenure with the teams. All three have had horrendous head coaching careers in the NFL.

Darnold also didn't have an offensive line ahead of him. He had one of the worst O-Lines in football each year of his career. He had weapons in Carolina, but not so much when franchise player and RB Christian McCaffrey was out due to injury for almost every game Darnold played in for Carolina last season. In New York, Darnold's weapons were so bad that he was throwing the ball to Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios.

This year, however, ex-USC Football QB Sam Darnold is protecting the football without coaching or a supporting cast.

After his first four starts of the season this year, former USC Football Rose Bowl Champion Sam Darnold is 3-1 with ZERO turnovers on the year. He's making this kind of magic happen despite the Panthers trading McCaffrey and Darnold's buddy Robbie Anderson.

The offensive line is wildly inconsistent, and had him sacked four times in the one loss Darnold's had this year (and Darnold still averaged 9.78 yards per pass attempt and 10.65 adjusted yards per pass attempt that game).

He's working with Steve Wilks as his interim head coach (after Rhule got fired), who went 3-13 in his one year of head coaching before being able to work with Darnold. Wilks was 2-4 this season before Darnold came back from injury. Darnold is in another brutal situation this year, yet is still playing turnover-free football.

The best part is of course the fact that he's making good decisions with the football and protecting the rock, but it's also about what he can do in addition now that he's extending possessions. Darnold has scored six total touchdowns this season (four passing) in addition to his zero-turnover mark.

He's averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt and 9.5 adjusted yards per pass attempt. Those are great numbers. His longest stretch without a turnover (four games of course) has led to him being so efficient as a passer, and proving how strong of a QB he truly is.

He's not a turnover machine--he just simply needed a somewhat better offensive line than one of the very worst in the NFL (which he now finally has for the first time in his career), and he has willed the Panthers into the NFC South Division race. Carolina had no shot at winning their division without Darnold, as they were 3-8 without him.

With Darnold, however, they are now just one game out of first place, and they have a couple of games left (including one against the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday). If the Panthers would have simply started Darnold from the beginning, he likely would not have been injured in the preseason.

That's because he wouldn't have had to be playing behind the Panthers' putrid second-team offensive line. Since Rhule was such a bad NFL head coach, however, he went with Baker Mayfield over Darnold and Darnold ended up getting hurt behind that awful backup O-Line.

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Mayfield went 1-5 with Carolina this year. If only the Panthers would have started Darnold, they'd be in a different position than where they're at now. Giving up on a just 25-year-old Darnold was a mistake, but luckily Wilks didn't make it when he took over.