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Sam Darnold has been good with the Panthers, but he’s no Cam Newton

Let’s chill a little on the legendary comparisons already.

Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The decision to trade for Sam Darnold has so far been one of the best deals of the NFL season. Carolina saw an opportunity to roll the dice on a quarterback they believed was trapped on a bad Jets team, and may have found a franchise player out of it. That’s a hell of a return for only giving up a six round pick, as well as a future second and fifth.

That said, we can appreciate Darnold without going overboard to the point of losing any sense of time and space — like Terry Bradshaw.

Bradshaw said this before the Panthers played Dallas on Sunday, but honestly that game didn’t really weigh either way. Darnold threw two interceptions, but also passed for two more and ran in two scores. It was a perfectly fine game, which is important because it doesn’t allow for wiggle room on Bradshaw’s statement.

The Panthers have done a remarkable job building the offense to support Darnold’s skillset. In New York there was very little in the way of support schematically, causing him to fail. Carolina does not have a good offensive line to provide protection, but they are drawing up plays to take advantage of quick reads, deep throws where available, and plenty of outlet routes which allows Darnold to build rhythm and comfort in the offense.

Darnold’s rapport with top receiver D.J. Moore is already paying dividends, with Moore sitting at 4th in the league in receiving yards with 398, and on pace for over 1,500 yards on the season, which would be a career high — even without the 17th game.

Finally there’s Darnold’s goal-line running, which has already warranted memes. Instead of throwing the ball in pressure situations in the red zone, the team is simply calling Darnold’s number. For some reason teams still aren’t believing Darnold will actually run the ball, allowing him to scamper for five touchdowns this season, putting him on track to score 21 — seven more than Cam Newton’s best season. This shouldn’t be a point of emphasis, but rather an appreciation of hilarity.

In total the situation looks very good for Carolina, and they have to be overjoyed with Darnold’s performance so far, but it’s a far cry from that to “best quarterback in franchise history,” as Bradshaw is suggesting. Firstly, no, no he’s not. Cam Newton exists. So does Jake Delhomme. Hell, even Steve Buererlein is in the discussion here ahead of Darnold. Secondly, it’s been four games. We can really chill on making ludicrous proclamations so early.

I know everyone is in the quest for hot takes. Hell, we heard them when Darnold was traded for. So many NFL writers and personalities rushed to say Darnold would be terrible, only to be proven wrong — now there’s whiplash and he’s suddenly a legend. We can simply take a measured approach and say “this is looking really good so far,” and leave it at that. Let me illustrate the danger of gleaning too much off a four game stretch. Let’s compare some recent Panthers QBs over their first four starts, then we can discuss where Darnold belongs.

Panthers QB comparison over first four starts

Sam Darnold 99 146 1,189 8.1 5 3 95.4
Teddy Bridgewater 103 141 1,147 8.1 4 3 97.4
Cam Newton 104 163 1,386 8.5 5 5 88.1
Matt Moore 63 99 725 7.3 3 3 83.1
Jake Delhomme 53 93 510 5.5 4 4 68.8

I know it’s pretty impressive to see this and say “wow, Sam Darnold is doing better than Cam Newton,” but it’s decidedly less amazing to say “Darnold is worst than Teddy Bridgewater.” Panthers fans know that Teddy started 2020 hot, then fell off a cliff — and the same possibility remains open for Darnold.

Now, to his credit, Darnold looks like he has a far better command of what Carolina is trying to do on offense than Bridgewater did, and he’s willing to take more shots downfield to open things up — but that doesn’t change how ludicrously premature it is to say “Well, he’s the best in franchise history.”

Darnold should be happy with his performance so far. It’s been a bright spot in an already surprising season for the Panthers, and proved wrong those who said this trade was a bust. However, we have a long way to go before anointing him as the best quarterback in franchise history. One step at a time. It’s okay not to have a hot take yet.