Schuyler Callihan - QB Sam Darnold
This is an easy one for me. You could make an argument for some other guys like RB Christian McCaffrey who needs to prove he can stay healthy or CB Donte Jackson who is entering the final year of his rookie deal but for me, it's Darnold. The Panthers exercised the 5th-year option for Darnold which essentially gives him two years to prove he can be the answer at quarterback for the long-term. However, he needs to get off to a strong start and show flashes of brilliance every now and again to gain confidence and trust from not only his teammates, coaches, and the front office, but the fan base as well. If there is very little to no improvement from what he put on display in New York, the Panthers front office may start to rethink their options moving forward.
Blake Johnson - CB Donte Jackson
I’m going to go a little bit outside the box since Darnold has his option picked up, the pressure on him to perform is off a bit I believe. My eyes are on cornerback Donte Jackson. The speedy corner is in the final year of his rookie contract and needs to have a strong season to get re-signed. Jackson has 10 interceptions in 3 seasons with the Panthers, which needs improvement if he wants to be a top corner in this league. Jackson's speed is there - no question - but he needs to become a true, all-around corner for the Panthers squad.
Jeff Haseley - QB Sam Darnold
In my opinion, it's Sam Darnold. The opportunity and potential are there for him to thrive, but ultimately he will need to be the one who has to break through and shine. The Panthers' season and his career are on the line if he doesn't rise to the occasion and improve this offense, especially the red zone efficiency. He may have a new sense of confidence but surely he must know in the back of his head that it's now or never for him as a starting NFL quarterback. David Tepper, Scott Fitterer, Matt Rhule, and Joe Brady will do their part to provide him with the tools and know-how for success, but Darnold still has to go out and prove to himself, the team, and his doubters that he belongs in the league and is the right man for the job. There is a lot riding on his shoulders. It's officially go-time for him to make a name for himself and prove he belongs.
Matt Alquiza - QB Sam Darnold
The only answer for me is Sam Darnold. I may be seeing through some black and blue goggles, but the roster surrounding Darnold is incredibly talented on both sides of the ball. The Panthers’ offense has a stable of weapons for Darnold to get the ball to, and an offensive line with promise. The Panthers’ defense has playmakers at every level and is looking to build on a solid finish to 2020. The fate of NFL franchises lies disproportionately on the arm of their quarterback, and Sam Darnold will be given the chance to sink or swim this season. Will we see the Darnold of the past few seasons that has been seeing ghosts? Or will we see flashes of the Darnold that was the number three pick out of USC with loads of potential? The answer to those questions will define the Panthers season, so the pressure is squarely on Sam Darnold’s shoulders.
You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on Twitter:
Facebook - @PanthersOnSI