Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at each position group and giving our way-too-early depth chart projections. Today, we begin with the quarterbacks.
After Teddy Bridgewater's disappointing season in 2020, the Panthers decided to go in a different direction and acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. Following the 2021 NFL Draft, the Panthers picked up the 5th-year option on Darnold's rookie contract, meaning that he will be on the Panthers' roster through the 2022 season.
We all know Darnold is going to be the starter in Carolina but the backup competition is going to be fun to watch, especially with the return of preseason games.
Starter - Sam Darnold
No surprise here. Darnold will be the starting quarterback for the Panthers in 2021 and there's really no competition. He is the clear favorite. I view this as a two-year tryout for Darnold after the Panthers picked up his 5th-year option. This will give him ample time to get familiar with the playbook, the scheme, concepts, and also gain chemistry and confidence with his receivers and offensive line.
If you're expecting big numbers from Darnold in year one, you're going to end up being disappointed, This is a foundation year for him in this offense. They won't ask him to play hero ball, they just want him to take what is given to him and not turn the football over. As he grows more comfortable in the offense, Joe Brady will start to open things up and take more shots down the field.
An average year for Darnold doesn't mean the Panthers should begin to search for another quarterback. Again, this is an entirely new offense that he's walking into and year two is where the judgment of Darnold's future really matters.
Backup - P.J. Walker
Walker got the start in Week 11 when Teddy Bridgewater was unable to go against the Detroit Lions. Walker threw a couple of interceptions in the end zone but aside from that, he played pretty well and led the Panthers to a 20-0 win. Walker has Matt Rhule's trust dating back to their time together at Temple. I don't think Walker is the clear-cut backup but I do think gaining that experience a year ago gives him a little bit of a leg up on the competition.
3rd string - Will Grier
Grier was inactive for nine of the final eleven games of the season and was not injured. The former 3rd round pick just hasn't been able to climb his way out of the bottom of the Panthers' depth chart but he hasn't been dealt the best hand either. He was thrown into the fire at the end of his rookie season in what tight end Greg Olsen called "an impossible situation" and struggled mightily. Then, a new coaching staff comes in, and P.J. Walker was signed out of the XFL - someone who has played for Rhule before. I believe this will be the best opportunity for Grier to really make that jump and have a chance at earning the backup job. With no OTAs, minicamp, or preseason games a year ago, it didn't give Rhule and the coaching staff a solid look at what Grier is capable of. A strong showing in training camp and in the three preseason games could catapult Grier over Walker for the No. 2 spot.
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