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Baker Mayfield ‘setting himself apart’ from Sam Darnold in Carolina Panthers QB battle

Matt Johnson

Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield drew the start in the preseason opener just weeks after being traded to the franchise. While head coach Matt Rhule is downplaying the importance of it publicly, it is a sign of the direction this quarterback competition is headed.

The Panthers acquired Mayfield on July 6 for a conditional 2025 fifth-round pick, bringing in the former No. 1 overall pick to compete with Sam Darnold for the starting gig. While many expected Mayfield to win the competition, Carolina made it clear the two signal-callers stood an equal chance of coming out on top.

Darnold entered with experience and rapport on his side, playing with the same cast of offensive weapons in 2021 and having months to learn Ben McAdoo’s system. However, his peer from the 2018 draft class arrived in July with the same opportunity to win the job.

  • Baker Mayfield contract: $4.85 million salary in 2022, $3.5 million in available incentives

Mayfield drew the start in the preseason opener, but he is still splitting first-team reps with Darnold in practice this week. While the competition is open right now, it appears a decision could be made soon and there is a clear standout.

According to Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus, Mayfield is setting himself apart from Darnold in training camp thus far. For evaluators and the coaching staff, the former No. 1 overall pick is playing at a high level in drills, joint practices and in the preseason opener.

Related: 2022 NFL Power Rankings – Outlook for all 32 teams entering summer

Why Baker Mayfield will start over Sam Darnold

NFL: Carolina Panthers Training Camp
Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports

The competition between Darnold and Mayfield was headed for one outcome. Carolina saw more than enough out of the former No. 3 pick last season. Not only did they trade future draft capital to select rookie Matt Corral, they also engaged the Browns in trade talks for months before a deal for Mayfield finally came together.

Neither passer dealt with the best circumstances in 2021. Mayfield played through a shoulder injury that bothered him all season and Cleveland’s receiving corps proved to be a major issue. Meanwhile, Darnold lost Christian McCaffrey early and the Panthers’ offensive line made things even worse for a player who struggles under pressure.

With both quarterbacks dealing with their own issues, Mayfield clearly outperformed Darnold.

YPAQB RatingCompletion %PFF gradeOn-Target %
Sam Darnold6.271.959.9%55.274.5%
Baker Mayfield7.283.160.5%63.673.6%
Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold stats via Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus

The Panthers are heading into the 2022 season under intense pressure. Rhule is squarely on the hot seat and owner David Tepper will make sweeping changes if there isn’t significant improvement. With so much at stake for the head coach and general manager, Carolina is going to do whatever it takes to field the best team.

Based on everything we’ve seen over the past three years, Mayfield is the superior quarterback and he’s already proving that at training camp. When the Panthers take the field for the regular-season opener in Week 1, Mayfield will be under center facing his former team.