Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Who is winning Panthers' QB1 battle to start Week 1?

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The Browns thought Baker Mayfield would be a franchise quarterback when they drafted him first overall in 2018. The Jets thought Sam Darnold would be a franchise quarterback when they drafted him third overall that same year.

Heading into the 2022 season, Mayfield and Darnold are competing for the starting quarterback job with the Panthers. The two are playing on fifth-year options as they prepare for their first trip to free agency after the season.

The pair got to this point in different ways. Mayfield found success in leading Cleveland to the playoffs in 2020 and appeared to be the answer under center, but an injury in 2021 hampered him and an offseason trade for Deshaun Watson sent him out of northeast Ohio.

Darnold is in his second season with the Panthers after he was traded from the Jets following the 2020 season. His 2021 campaign was the worst season of his career; he posted his lowest QBR (33.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (9:13), and he was replaced as the starter by Cam Newton in midseason.

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Don't expect a resolution in the competition any time soon. After a scrimmage on Aug. 6, Carolina coach Matt Rhule said that there won't even be a timetable for a decision until after the second preseason matchup, a clash against the Patriots.

"The Patriots week is a true litmus test for us," Rhule said. "That will really show us where guys are."

Where does the quarterback battle stand between the two first-rounders? Here's what Rhule has said about Mayfield and Darnold.

What has Matt Rhule said about Baker Mayfield?

The first time Rhule spoke about Mayfield, he acknowledged that the newcomer needed to catch up but also said that he was making progress.

"There's no doubt he has to get here and he has to learn the offense and he has to go from Level 1 knowing the offense to Level 4 mastery where you're unconsciously confident," Rhule said at the start of training camp in late July, per ESPN. "That's part of his journey."

Rhule later said that Mayfield has "a lot of juice and energy." When he was asked about Mayfield's progress, Rhule said that he couldn't ask for much more.

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"He’s through the fourth install," Rhule said, per USA Today. "I'll know more next week as we get into more situations. But I couldn’t be more pleased with Baker — how much he’s learned of what we’ve done. But there’s way more to put in to kind of get through that phase."

What has Matt Rhule said about Sam Darnold?

Before Mayfield arrived in Charlotte, the starting job was clearly Darnold's.

Even after his continued struggles in 2021, Darnold was given a vote of confidence by Rhule in June.

"Sam's gotten a lot better," Rhule said, per NFL.com. "Really, really improving in the offense and if we played today, Sam would be our quarterback."

Rhule said Darnold needed to demonstrate progress in training camp.

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"He's got to get to training camp and improve and he's got to do it with the pads on with people trying to knock you down," Rhule said.

Rhule has praised Darnold for how he has handled the competition with Mayfield.

"When we let him know we were making this move, he handled it like the ultimate team guy, the ultimate professional,'' Rhule said. "He took it very much like, 'Hey, I'm going to control what I can control, and that's the way I play.' I look forward to seeing him play great football during this camp.''

Author(s)
Edward Sutelan is a content producer at The Sporting News.
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