Sam Darnold isn’t the Vikings savior, however right here’s how he wins

The Vikings had been left in an unimaginable determination with the announcement that Kirk Cousins was heading to the Atlanta Falcons. It was an anticipated departure within the close to future, however Minnesota didn’t assume it could come to an finish this rapidly. It left the crew with out a beginning quarterback, a market of thinning choices, and a draft place that didn’t guarantee they’d discover a prospect within the 2024 NFL Draft.

Enter Sam Darnold, the one-year rental designed to only regular the ship whereas the group works out what it’s subsequent step will likely be. The fact is that 2024 went in a short time from an assumed return to the playoffs, to an entire nightmare for Vikings followers — with very actual considerations whether or not Justin Jefferson, the league’s greatest vast receiver, will endure this rebuild on the place.

I’m intimately conscious of Sam Darnold’s recreation. As a fan of the Panthers I watched him play for a season and a half below middle, arriving in Carolina with a lot of the identical promise that this might be the crew that would “repair” him. Let’s dive into what Darnold’s time in Carolina taught us, and whether or not Vikings followers have something to look ahead to.

Who’s Sam Darnold as a participant?

Bodily you’re speaking a few man who has all of the instruments. This was current when he was drafted in 2018. Darnold has good dimension, underrated athleticism, and an NFL-caliber arm to make nearly all of the throws you need to see regularly.

The largest problem is consistency. Actually, Darnold could also be probably the most inconsistent beginning quarterbacks I’ve seen play in Carolina. He persistently vacillates between making All Professional caliber throws, then wanting as if he’s forgotten the best way to play the place the following.

It’s not for insecurity, however quite a pervasive worry of stress. Darnold’s notorious “seeing ghosts” line in New York exists to at the present time. If the pocket is clear and he feels comfy he’ll make the throws, however he reacts extremely poorly to not simply stress, however perceived stress — and that’s a mammoth drawback.

Darnold was unable to distinguish occasions the place he was really below risk of being hit and wanted to get the ball away, and when it solely regarded like he was going to be taken down. This led to far too many performs Darnold gave up on, or launched the ball too early, leaving yards on the sphere in consequence.

In 2022 when Darnold bounced again right into a beginning function he returned below a a lot better Panthers offensive line. It’s because of this his numbers jumped and he was capable of finding his rhythm. Nonetheless, there stays a pervasive, ceaseless drawback the place Darnold mishandles stress, and when this begins he tends to get in his personal head and spiral.

Sam Darnold, contained in the numbers

So the query now’s “The place does Sam Darnold win?” That is really an space the place he’s a very good match for the Vikings. As a quarterback he has been hard-coded with distrust, doubtless from his time in New York. In consequence he doesn’t lead his receivers significantly nicely, or throw any passes he doesn’t really feel will likely be wins.

Each Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison excel at getting separation early of their break. That is enormous for Darnold below middle, as a result of he likes to have a security blanket of figuring out he’s acquired an open window earlier than he releases the ball.

When he has that affirmation he can really be a fairly good quarterback. D.J. Moore was expert at getting early separation in 2022, and the hyperlink between Darnold and Moore was one of many solely vibrant spots in regards to the Panthers offense that 12 months. When he has that degree of security there’s no drawback with him ripping the ball downfield, with supposed air yards in 2022 of seven.9 that season — nicely above league common.

The flip aspect is that he was extremely nicely protected. Darnold was solely below stress on 20.2 % of snaps in 2022, which is astonishingly low for a struggling crew. By comparability Bryce Younger, below the crumbling Panthers line in 2023, was below stress on 24.2 % of downs.

Darnold is at his greatest operating performs off play motion. His 2022 splits in Carolina had been pronounced on this regard.

  • Play motion passes: 45-of-52 (86 %), 414 yards (8.0 yards-per-attempts)
  • Conventional drop backs and RPO: 37-of-88 (42 %), 729 yards (8.2 yards-per-attempt)

If the Vikings can set up the run with Aaron Jones, and the specter of his dashing means leads defenses to committing a security to the field, then the crew can run play motion and Darnold could be most comfy.

Darnold is an unimaginable streaky passer, so don’t get caught within the hype

At occasions Darnold’s performances can look out of this world, however they’re fools gold. His tenure in Carolina taught followers this the laborious method. After the commerce in 2021 he got here out of the gate wanting like a Professional Bowl quarterback. His four-game streak to open the season actually had followers believing the crew had fleeced the hapless Jets and gotten a soon-to-be high quarterback.

99-of-146 (67 %), 1,189 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT — 95.38 passer ranking

Then all the pieces fell aside. These early video games had been a product of an absence of stress, not quarterback talent. Darnold completed the season with 9 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a passer ranking of 71.9.

The cautionary story is that even when Darnold comes out of the gates scorching, don’t fall into the entice of assuming he’s a modified QB — as a result of his DNA as a passer stays as somebody who doesn’t deal with in-game adversity nicely.

What’s the ceiling for the Darnold-led Vikings?

That’s the large query mark. If this crew can defend him, and the run recreation is a risk, then there’s no cause to imagine this crew can’t win video games. The difficulty is that he’s going to overlook a number of throws that Kirk Cousins might have made, and sluggish the offense in consequence.

A number of stress falls on Brian Flores to plot a protection that may preserve Minnesota in a very good place. Darnold will not be a quarterback who can throw you again into video games, or thrive in apparent passing eventualities. He must be dealt with with child gloves, at which level he could make performs.

Darnold will not be a very good quarterback, neither is he a nasty one — he simply is who he’s. When you can insulate him there’s success available, however don’t assume for a second that this would be the time he turns it throughout.

Finally the expectation needs to be for a protracted season in Minnesota, punctuated with small quantities of pleasure.

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