Panthers’ Darnold: Can be one of the NFL’s best QBs

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A 17-32 record as an NFL starter and the threat of being replaced in the offseason first by Deshaun Watson and now possibly by the third round, Matt Corral, has not made Carolina Panthers starter Sam Darnold less confident in his abilities.

“As long as I know what we’re doing, what the defense is doing, I’m convinced I can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Darnold said on Tuesday, the first time he has spoken to reporters since offseason training. began.

Coach Matt Rhule, who has not ruled out bringing a veteran in at some point, went so far as to say that Darnold is practicing with an “edge” he has not seen before.

“What Sam has been through this offseason has been very tough,” Rhule said. “Your back is against the wall. Everyone is questioning whether you can do this or not. We’ve seen a guy who shows up who has a little more edge to himself. He’s very, very focused.”

But going from focused to one of the best quarterbacks in the league would be a big leap.

Since the New York Jets selected him with the third pick in the 2018 draft, Darnold has consistently ranked as one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. His overall QBR of 33.2 in 2021, his first year with Carolina, ranked 29th among qualified quarterbacks.

He ranked 33rd in 2020 with a 32.9 rating, 25th in 2019 with 45.9 and 28th in 2018 with 45.9.

In four seasons, he has thrown almost as many interceptions (52) as he has touchdown passes (54). He has a career completion rate of 59.8% since 2018, which is also among the worst in the league.

Such numbers are the reason the Panthers were willing to give up three first-round picks and players for Watson, who was eventually traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns. That’s why Carolina continues to be interested in acquiring a veteran quarterback.

Among those the Panthers are keeping an eye on, according to a league source, is Baker Mayfield, whose Browns agree to pay most of his $ 18.8 million for 2022 or release him.

“Everyone, including myself, knows the situation,” Darnold said. “But having said that, it does not change my mindset. I have a great attitude that I go in every day.”

That mindset is focused on improving his footwork, which has been an issue since he arrived in the NFL.

“There were times last year when my feet got very … just, loose is a good expression … chaotic,” Darnold said. “It’s just having confidence in my feet and the system to go out there and put the ball where it needs to be.”

Darnold stopped by and agreed that this is a make-or-break year for him as he enters the fifth and final year of his rookie deal.

“If I had to think of it that way, I could get caught in the sink,” Darnold said. “When I’m in the meeting room, I’m focused on learning the system. When I’m on the training ground, I’m focused on executing that game.

“And even in matches, you’re not focused on: ‘This is a contract year, I’d better frolic.’ As a quarterback, you have to be constant. You have to be consistent every single day and every game. So it’s hard to think about , what if, or what may happen in the future. “

Darnold’s future is now with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, for the fourth time in his young career, that the former star in Southern California has had to learn a new system.

“It’s really just going out there and playing every piece as if it was my last,” Darnold said. “If I start thinking about the other things … it’s hard enough playing quarterback.”

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