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In April of 2018, the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets were ready to turn the page and begin a new era for their franchises by selecting Baker Mayfield number one overall and Sam Darnold two picks later at number three. Since coming into the league, these two guys have had a rough go of it to say the least. Mayfield has thrown the most interceptions in the league with 56 since being drafted in 2018. Sam Darnold is next in line on the list throwing 52 picks. Four years later on July 6th following the Mayfield trade, these two young quarterbacks now play for the same team in a different conference, the Carolina Panthers. A team that has shown flashes of excellence through Christian McCaffrey and Brian Burns but cannot string together wins towards the end of the season.
Both Mayfield and Darnold are coming off rather unimpressive years in 2021, which leaves Panthers head coach, Matt Rhule, in a difficult position to select a week 1 starter. Mayfield is coming off his worst season since coming into the league throwing 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, while only completing 60.5% of his passes. Mayfield had 14 starts and missed three games due to multiple injuries, but especially the injury to his non-throwing shoulder plagued him the most.
Throughout last season, it was obvious that Mayfield had been playing through the shoulder injury, making it likely that was the sudden cause for his decrease in play after having a career year in 2020. Mayfield had surgery repairing a torn labrum back in January this year and has made a full recovery for the start of training camp.
Mayfield said when addressing the media for the first time as a Panther, “It’s just an exciting time for myself and my family and just this new chapter. No animosity towards Cleveland. It’s a good football town that gave me the first four years of my career and thankful for those trials and tribulations, all the challenges, a lot to learn from and look back on and reflect. Just really focused on right now and being a Carolina Panther and pumped up to do so” (Nick Shook, NFL.com).
The other option for Rhule to consider is the second-year Panther, Darnold. Darnold in his last 2 seasons (one with the Jets and Panthers) has started 23 times and has only won 6 games. During that 2 season stretch, Darnold has also been completing less than 60% of his passes and has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Despite leading the Panthers to a 3-0 start last season, the Panthers only won 2 more games the rest of the season, which killed Darnold’s stock and forced Panther’s front office to make a move for some fresh blood in the quarterback room for which Rhule to work.
Not only is this decision important for the careers of Mayfield and Darnold, but it is also paramount for Rhule to make the correct decision on his week 1 starter, as his job is being called into question by fans and media after posting a 10-23 head coaching record with the Panthers. If Mayfield continues to look shaky post-surgery and Darnold still can’t put the pieces together in year 5, don’t be surprised to see Rhule take a chance on third round rookie, Matt Corral, to save his job.
Mayfield is the heavy favorite to be the week 1 starter with odds of -1200. Darnold’s line is at +500 and Corral has an underdog line of +5000.