Some people were convinced New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold would survive a new regime’s temptation of drafting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson No. 2 overall later this month after incoming wideout Corey Davis seemed to spill the beans about being told the former No. 3 selection would be the starting quarterback in 2021.
Others suggested the Jets could still draft Wilson and let Darnold start until it was no longer practical. Now we all know the plans have effectively been etched into stone with Darnold being traded to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth-rounder, a 2022 second-round choice, and a ’22 pick in the sixth.
The Jets now will turn the keys over to a more exciting prospect who doesn’t have the stigma of admitting to seeing ghosts on the field. From New York’s perspective, Wilson is more physically gifted than the former USC Trojan, and while he is mostly inexperienced, it’s not unfair to question how he could be a step backward from Darnold.
As for the Panthers, the move presumably sends Teddy Bridgewater to the bench or puts him on the trading block. He acquitted himself admirably in 2020 given all of the changes around him. The well-traveled quarterback could function as a stopgap for a team looking to either groom as rookie or wait another year to draft its franchise passer.
It’s also fair to wonder what the Panthers’ staff saw in Darnold that they couldn’t extract from Bridgewater. Perhaps there’s some good old-fashioned hubris at play here … coaches are confident in their ability to get the most out of a player, and we’ve seen Carolina offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s guidance work wonders over the past two years, dating back to his time at LSU. And it’s worth noting Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has a storied history of turning around teams in a hurry. Steering into the skid keeps the car on the track, so he deserves some deference in this situation.
Fantasy football outlook
Every now and again, a change of scenery and introduction to a new system revives a career. This is where fantasy footballers should feel mildly optimistic. Darnold, who turns 24 this summer, enters his fourth year as a starting quarterback and endured possibly the worst the NFL had to offer in his time with the Jets. The talent was putrid around him. The defense fell off the map after showing promise. His team had no running game to rely on to alleviate pressure. He learned under arguably the worst head coach in recent memory. A pandemic to threaten his maturation process. The list goes on, but no one wants excuses. Gamers want results.
An offseason that should more closely resemble a traditional program will benefit Darnold. He also has quite possibly the best running back in the game. The receivers in Carolina — one of whom is a familiar face in Robby Anderson — present a major upgrade at the position. The Panthers still have the No. 8 overall pick to improve Darnold’s weaponry, and free agency has a couple of worthwhile names still searching for a home.
It is not as dreary of a situation as he faced with the Jets at any point in his tenure. That said, fantasy footballers shouldn’t be keen on drafting him as anything more than a low-tier backup in 2021. He will have his detractors based on past results, and some drafters will give him a boost in their rankings. The safest response is Darnold belongs on the bench in deeper leagues and the wire in more casual, smaller formats. Look his direction if you’re into playing the matchups with a weekly QB rotation, so long as he is paired with a more reliable partner.
The long-range outlook will depend upon how much Carolina can get out of him in Year 1. His fifth-year option for 2022 has been picked up, carrying an affordable $18 million cap charge for next year. Then again, he really could be a bridge to another starter in 2022 if Darnold still has Casper whispering in his ear when he surveys a field.