CHARLOTTE, NC — In the revolving door known as the Carolina Panthers quarterback position, Sam Darnold will become the team’s third different starter in as many weeks Sunday against the Denver Broncos at Bank of America Stadium.
The team made the announcement Tuesday after interim coach Steve Wilks told his quarterbacks he will go with Darnold instead of Baker Mayfield, who had two passes intercepted and failed to get the Panthers (3-8) into the end zone in Sunday’s 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
It will be Darnold’s first start in a regular-season game since a Jan. 9 losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end the 2021 season.
Wilks made the decision after evaluating Mayfield’s performance against Baltimore and finding out that PJ Walker would not be ready to return Sunday from a high ankle sprain.
Mayfield began the season as the starter after winning the job in training camp during an open competition with Darnold. Sunday was his first start since Week 5, when he suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He replaced Walker, who was 2-3 before suffering his own sprain in a Week 10 win against the Atlanta Falcons.
Mayfield had a Total Quarterback Rating of 20.4 against the Ravens, giving him an NFL-worst 17.8 rating among qualified players. His 57.8 completion percentage ranks next to last.
Darnold was 4-7 as the starter last season and had a Total QBR of 38.6 that ranked ahead of only those of Zach Wilson (33.4) of the New York Jets and Justin Fields (31.4) of the Chicago Bears.
Mayfield was the first pick of the 2018 draft and Darnold the third. The Cleveland Browns traded Mayfield to Carolina in July after dealing for Deshaun Watson earlier in the offseason. After selecting Wilson with the second overall pick of the 2021 draft, the Jets traded Darnold to the Panthers.
Wilks has said several times that the Panthers want to get a look at Darnold, who, like Mayfield, is in the last year of his rookie contract.
The decision to go with Darnold over Mayfield also impacts what the Panthers owe from their trade with Cleveland. Mayfield currently has played 58% of the snaps and would need to play 70% for the Browns to get a fourth-round pick in 2024. If he doesn’t reach that threshold, that pick becomes a fifth-rounder.
The Panthers, who if the season ended today would have the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft, are expected to select a quarterback in the first round next year in a QB strong class. They would consider a veteran such as Darnold to help bring that player along.
Darnold recently said he learned a lot being the backup while recovering from a high ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve to start the season.
“You learn a lot just by watching,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn in terms of walking around the building, learning from other guys. There’s a lot you can learn when you don’t have the stress of being a starter. But at the end of the day, I want to be out there.”