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Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold to compete for Carolina Panthers’ starting QB gig

Matt Johnson
NFL: Carolina Panthers Minicamp
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers provided quarterback Baker Mayfield with the fresh start he wanted in 2022. If Mayfield is going to make the most of his second chance, he first must prove he can beat out Sam Darnold in a quarterback competition.

It’s a training camp battle no one would have expected before the 2018 NFL Draft. Mayfield and Darnold were competing to be viewed as the best passer in the 2018 draft class. Ultimately, the Cleveland Browns selected Mayfield with the first pick and the New York Jets landed Darnold with the No. 3 selection.

Before the 2021 season, New York threw in the towel on Darnold. Seeing an opportunity to dump him on the Carolina Panthers, the Jets dealt him to Carolina for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and fourth-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Related: Carolina Panthers schedule

Stuck in quarterback purgatory, Carolina hoped a change of scenery would unlock Darnold’s raw talent and help solve their own issues. Instead, he provided further evidence of being one of the biggest NFL Draft busts in recent memory.

  • Sam Darnold stats (2021): 2,527 passing yards, 9-13 TD-INT ratio, 59.9% completion rate, 71.9 QB rating, 6.2 ypa, 4-7 record

Fast forward to the 2022 offseason and the Panthers’ front office once again found itself in a desperate situation.

Months after Carolina traded a future third-round pick to jump up and select quarterback Matt Corral in the 2022 NFL Draft, it has now added Mayfield in exchange for a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick.

Heading into training camp, the Panthers now have a variety of options to choose from. However, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Mayfield and Darnold will be locked into a training camp battle for the Week 1 starting gig,

  • Baker Mayfield stats (2021): 3,010 passing yards, 17-13 TD-INT, 60.5% completion rate, 83.1 QB rating, 7.2 ypa, 6-8 record

Who will win the Carolina Panthers quarterback competition?

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Jeff Lange/ Akron Beacon Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

It comes as no surprise that the Carolina Panthers are publicly indicating this will be an even competition. Darnold already holds the trust of the coaching staff and the locker room, with his familiarity in the scheme and building providing him an advantage in the battle.

If Carolina creates a situation where all things are equal, though, it might not be a lengthy competition. Even with Mayfield playing through a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in 2021 – a decision he made despite its negative impact on him and the offense – he largely outperformed Darnold.

YPAQB RatingCompletion %PFF gradeOn-Target %
Sam Darnold6.271.959.9%55.274.5%
Baker Mayfield7.283.160.5%63.673.6%
Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold stats via Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus

This isn’t to suggest Mayfield is an above-average starting quarterback. He is a passer with limited physical skills and statute, but he also has a history of better decision-making than Darnold and he handles pressure better.

Jobs are on the line this year and that extends beyond the quarterbacks. Matt Rhule is likely on thin ice as head coach and he’s going to name the starter who gives him the best chance to survive for another season. Based on everything we’ve seen from the last two years, the decision should be the same one made in 2018 when Mayfield was picked ahead of Darnold.