From the moment BYU quarterback Zach Wilson completed his pro day, Sam Darnold's days with the New York Jets appeared to be numbered.
On Monday, that number approached zero.
The third overall pick in 2018 was shipped to the Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and 2022 second and fourth-round picks. New York gets a clean start, moving on from their starting quarterback who went 13-25 as a starter in three seasons, throwing for 8,097 yards and 45 touchdowns and a 78.6 passer rating.
For Jets GM Joe Douglas, he gets to move on from the quarterback he inherited when he was brought in for the fired Mike Maccagnan.
Darnold was a fantasy non-factor in 2020, finishing 33rd amongst QBs with 134.02 points, averaging a paltry 11.2 PPG in Adam Gase's offense. For comparison's sake, Darnold, on a per-game basis, averaged fewer PPG than Mike Glennon (12.1), Andy Dalton (12.4), and Nick Foles (11.6), all of which played in a minimum of five games.
So why is Carolina taking this swing? Darnold is 23 and is entering just his fourth season in the NFL. While the overall numbers have regressed from his second to third year, Darnold will still tantalize fans with arm talent and improvisational skills that showcase why he was taken so high in the draft.
It's also evident that the Panthers don't see current quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as more than a bridge to the future. He's entering year two of a three-year deal which also times out perfectly with Darnold's current contract status. If this year goes well, the Panthers can either reward him with a long-term extension or, at the least, pick up his available fifth-year option.
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Bridgewater in 2020 finished as the QB18, just ahead of former Rams quarterback Jared Goff and one spot behind Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Bridgewater only threw for 15 touchdowns last year but was aided by five rushing touchdowns.
In Carolina, Darnold will be surrounded by more offensive talent than he ever had in New York, including his former favorite receiver in Robby Anderson. While the Panthers only finished 21st in total yards in 2020, it's still a substantial upgrade from the 32nd ranked Jets; finishing with 1,113 more total yards last season. He'll have a healthy Christian McCaffrey, the consensus RB1 in the backfield, along with two wide receivers in Anderson and D.J. Moore that combined for 2,289 receiving yards a season ago. They'll have 97 vacated targets with Curtis Samuel headed to Washington, but whoever occupies that third wide receiver role (likely David Moore from Seattle) should settle in for a solid season in this offense.
While Darnold's average draft position should climb as a result of the deal, it's doubtful he ends up being more than a mid-tier QB2 even with the multitude of weapons he'll have in his offense. He also has yet to play more than 13 games in a season.
Darnold should surpass his career-high in several offensive categories. However, even with a relatively soft schedule (combined 2020 record of 124-131-1), it would still be a surprise if he ends up playing at a QB1 level.
2021 PREDICTION: 14 games, 22 TD, 12 INT, 3,520 passing yards (QB20)