It’s time for Sam Darnold to shine. On Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers announced that their previously eliminated QB would make their first start of the 2022 season against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, pushing Baker Mayfield to second.
Darnold, who played 11 starts last year with the Panthers 5-12, spent most of the season on the reserves after suffering a sprained ankle in preseason. He and Mayfield were battling for a spot in the starting lineup, and although Darnold seemed unlikely to win it, an ankle problem made the decision easier for the Panthers.
Darnold’s initial prognosis was 4-6 weeks, and the Panthers scheduled him to return from injured reserve in mid-October. They had 21 days to activate it and waited for the 19th day (November 7th) to do so.
When Darnold moved to IR, it was hard to imagine that he would get a chance to start with Mayfield in the driver’s seat. Since Mayfield left Cleveland, he was expected to resume play at or close to his top level. That did not happen. Mayfield was lethargic and ineffective to the point that interim head coach Steve Wilks forced Mayfield’s backup, PJ Walker, to make multiple starts. But now Walker is treating his own ankle injury. And faced with the choice of more Mayfield or giving Darnold a chance, Wilkes decided to go with Darnold.
Oddly enough, Darnold and Mayfield showed roughly the same results for the Panthers. In 12 games last year, Darnold completed 243 of 406 passes (59.9 percent) with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In seven games this year, Mayfield finished 119-of-206 (57.8 percent) with six touchdowns and six interceptions.