1. Winner: Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold is getting a second chance in Carolina to reach his potential of being an elite player. The history books are filled with quarterbacks who failed to live up to their draft billing after falling short in their first go-round.
However, there are reasons to believe that the best of Darnold is yet to come, and it has to do with where he is headed.
Darnold is getting a prime opportunity to succeed in his second chance that other highly-touted quarterbacks in the past like Blake Bortles, Josh Rosen, Joey Harrington, and so many others aren’t normally afforded.
Once you fail to live up to the hype of being a franchise quarterback, the second act of your career isn’t paved in gold.
In many ways, Darnold’s situation in Carolina is very similar to that of Jameis Winston in New Orleans. Two top-tier drafted quarterbacks who are getting a second football life in optimum situations. Both Darnold and Winston will be competing against one another now in the NFC South.
Typically, when you are drafted as high as Darnold was, third overall, and fail to meet expectations, your second life as a quarterback is a severe fall from grace and a complete career reset.
Life for quarterbacks after being the anointed one becomes a very humbling experience. See Dwayne Haskins, who is currently buried deep on the Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart. He may never receive another chance to lead an entire football team.
Despite his inconsistencies and struggles as a signal-caller, Sam Darnold never really felt like he was a failure with the Jets.
Ultimately, that’s the result, but his performance or shortcomings do not have the same feel as other Jets’ quarterbacks who failed to live up to the hype like Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Browning Nagle, etc.
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The soon-to-be 24-year-old is headed to a team and coaching staff that believes in him, like Matt Rhule, who almost coached Darnold on the Jets in an alternate universe and rising coaching star offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
The Panthers’ offense under Brady is very creative and aggressive. It stands to benefit Sam Darnold’s elite skillset. On top of that, Darnold has a lot of weapons to play with in Carolina. Something that he didn’t have with the Jets.
From superstar runner/receiver Christian McCaffrey to elite wide receiver D.J. Moore and Darnold’s former go-to guy Robby Anderson, Darnold will get plenty of help and support with the Panthers.
Furthermore, Carolina has the eighth pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft and could add another weapon to replace Curtis Samuel, who departed for Washington.
In theory, Sam Darnold could also be throwing passes next season to Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle, depending on which one falls to the Panthers’ at eight.
The three difficult years that Darnold endured with the Jets could actually aid him in the next phase of his career.
The saying goes, you learn a lot about someone during times of adversity, and while Darnold may not have asserted himself as a consistent superstar on the field, he certainly was one off of it. Darnold carried and conducted himself like a true franchise quarterback and leader.
It’s quite frankly why he has so many supporters and believers, despite his less-than-desirable results on the field.
In this respect, adversity revealed the high level of character that Darnold has, and going through the perils early on in his career, could be the training ground needed for what’s to come.
Ultimately, Sam Darnold may never live up to his lofty billing on the field. But there’s no question that he’s in a better situation to succeed now than he was in New York.
If Darnold does fall short, it won’t be because of the circumstances surrounding him. He’s got everything he needs now. He never had that with the Jets.
Next: 2. Winner: Joe Douglas