Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Who will be Panthers' starting QB in 2022?

Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Who will be Panthers' starting QB in 2022?

The Baker Mayfield trade saga is officially over. The former No. 1 overall pick has a new home in Carolina after the Panthers traded a conditional fifth-round pick for the Browns quarterback.

The Panthers were able to trade for Mayfield at a reduced price, as the Browns reportedly agreed to pay $10.5 million of his salary. Carolina will pay him roughly $5 million after he agreed to cut roughly $3.5 million from his base salary.

The question now becomes: Which of Mayfield and incumbent starter Sam Darnold will start for the Panthers in 2022? Both quarterbacks have struggled in recent years, but both have shown flashes that reflect their statuses as the Nos. 1 and 3 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Despite trading for Mayfield, it doesn’t appear the Panthers will simply give him the starting position: Per Mike Garafolo, Darnold “had a good spring” and will battle Mayfield for the right to start Week 1 vs. … the Browns.

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It may be easy to assume Mayfield would win the starting position over Darnold, considering he generally has outproduced his fellow 2018 draftee. But, it’s also worth noting that his new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, did not think highly of him coming out of college in 2018:

Of course, that was four years ago. Times have changed, and opinions can too. In the end, Mayfield and Darnold will settle things once and for all in preseason camp for the Panthers.

With that, The Sporting News has everything you need to know about the upcoming quarterback battle between Mayfield and Darnold ahead of the 2022 NFL season:

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Panthers QB depth chart

As it stands now, the Panthers have five quarterbacks on their roster: Mayfield, Darnold, 2022 third-round pick Matt Corral; former Temple and XFL quarterback P.J. Walker (who played under coach Matt Rhule) and undrafted free agent Davis Cheek.

Presumably, the Panthers will have three quarterbacks on their active 53-man roster, with the top two spots likely going to Mayfield and Darnold. That leaves one spot for one of Corral, Walker and Cheek, with the two odd men out likely being relegated to practice squad duties.

At this point, it appears the Panthers have invested the most into Mayfield, Darnold and Corral. They could very well be the active quarterbacks at the start of Week 1, with Corral serving as the third-stringer behind Mayfield and Darnold. Who will start opposite the Browns in Week 1 likely won’t be decided until the week of.

Player (position)Place on depth chart
Baker Mayfield1/2
Sam Darnold1/2
Matt Corral3
P.J. WalkerPractice squad
Davis CheekPractice squad

MORE: Baker Mayfield trade details: Browns end QB’s saga in Cleveland with friendly deal to Panthers

Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold in 2018 NFL Draft

Mayfield and Darnold will be inexorably linked ahead of the 2022 season, not only as competitors in the Panthers’ QB room but also for the fact they both entered the league in the same season.

Mayfield, of course, was the No. 1 overall pick to the Browns; two picks later, the Jets drafted Darnold No. 3 overall, bookending the No. 2 overall pick, Saquon Barkley.

Here are the other quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft that year:

Player (position)Round (pick)Team
Baker Mayfield1 (1)Browns
Sam Darnold1 (3)Jets
Josh Allen1 (7)3Bills
Josh Rosen1 (10)Cardinals
Lamar Jackson1 (32)Ravens

Curiously, the only two quarterbacks who remain on the teams that originally drafted them are Allen and Jackson. Allen was named as a second-team All-Pro selection in 2020, while Jackson is a two-time Pro Bowler (including first-team All-Pro in 2019, the same season he won MVP honors).

Mayfield was traded from the Browns to the Panthers; Darnold was traded from the Jets to the Panthers; and Rosen was traded from the Cardinals to the Dolphins following the 2018 season, where he was then waived in 2020. He has since spent time on the Buccaneers, 49ers and Falcons’ practice squads across the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Baker Mayfield career stats with Browns

Mayfield may have been traded by the Browns, but he has been among the more successful quarterbacks of his draft class, stats-wise. While he compiled losing records in three of four seasons, he was able in 2020 to lead Cleveland to an 11-5 regular-season record and a 48-37 win over the division rival Steelers in the wild-card round. Mayfield completed 21 of 34 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.

It was the team’s first playoff win since the 1994 season.

But injuries, in-season drama with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the availability of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson caused the Browns to move on from Mayfield. Below are the fifth-year quarterback’s stats during his time in Cleveland:


MORE: McAdoo declares, then un-declares, Sam Darnold as starting QB

Sam Darnold career stats with Jets, Panthers

No first-round quarterback from the 2018 draft has had a worse career — barring Rosen — than Darnold. He has one season with a winning record, leading the Jets to a 7-6 season in 2019 (the Jets were 0-3 that year in games he did not start). That was his best season to date, stats-wise; he holds career highs that season with completions, attempts, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns.

Following a 2020 season in which he went 2-10 as a starter, however, Darnold was traded from the Jets to the Panthers in return for a 2021 sixth-round pick and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022. Darnold was part of one of the worst quarterback rooms of the 2021 season alongside Walker and former MVP Cam Newton.

Still, the Panthers exercised Darnold’s fifth-year option following the 2021 season. It stands to reason Carolina only did so because of a weak quarterback class; the only QB taken in the 2022 draft was Pitt’s Kenny Pickett to the Steelers, at No. 20 overall. The Panthers used their No. 6 overall pick on N.C. State tackle Ikem Ekwonu.

McAdoo, for what it’s worth, briefly declared Darnold the starter for the 2022 season in April before walking those comments back.


*With Panthers