The Carolina Panthers have their first week of practice in the books, with four straight practices open to the public followed by a rest Sunday. They were back Monday with their last training camp practice before the pads came on for Tuesday. That means we haven’t really learned a lot yet. What we can do is start to narrow down our questions so that we can be more intelligent about how we pay attention to the information that will soon coming flooding out Spartanburg as the Panthers begin their padded practices. Here is one of the most important questions I am asking:
When can I deliver a verdict on Sam Darnold?
While I would like to reserve judgment for at least the quarter mark of the season, I’m assuming most fans will have their minds made up during the preseason. Darnold has presented an extremely difficult resume for evaluation given his history with the Jets and his still-young age. I’m still expecting anything from an MVP-caliber season to a PJ Walker-led offense down the stretch. We’ll have to wait and let Darnold prove to us just what he is capable of in a new environment.
We have already seen some pretty, deep throws, but those were most likely publicized to tease a Panthers fan base that forgot what those looked like after the last few seasons of injuries and Teddy Bridgewater. We’ve also heard tell of a few nice interceptions by Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn. Are they studs in the making or is Darnold a bust? We truly cannot say just yet.
The real answer here is that it depends on just how well Darnold performs. If Darnold is bad this year then we can probably assume that he is not cut out to be an NFL quarterback and we had all better hope that Justin Fields doesn’t lead the Bears to a Super Bowl. If he starts decently and trails off significantly then we can assume that he is an average, back-up level talent whose warts could only be hidden by offensive scheme for so long. We’ll call that the 2020 trajectory.
The answer to ‘when can we judge Darnold’ gets a lot more complicated if he lights up the league. A good to great Darnold falls—much closer to earth—along the Brady-Belichik spectrum, and we will have to reserve our judgment until we’ve seen at least one season of performance in a post-Joe Brady era. We simply won’t have enough data on a good Darnold in the NFL to draw conclusions about his ability outside of his current coaching staff. The good(?) news for Panthers fans is that would just mean waiting for next year, because there is no way Brady isn’t a head coach in 2022 if he proves capable of piloting a ‘Sam Darnold career resurrection’ narrative through 2021.