The Panthers have one of the league’s only quarterback competitions this summer and plan to draw it out a bit longer. Carolina doesn’t plan on making what head coach Matt Rhule calls a “major decision” on any position battles until after the team’s second preseason game on August 19, according to David Newton of ESPN. This, of course, includes the starting quarterback battle between incumbent Sam Darnold and trade acquisition Baker Mayfield.
Darnold’s debut season in Carolina was the worst of his career according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). PFF has consistently graded Darnold among the worst NFL quarterbacks, ranking him 29th, 31st, and 35th in his first three seasons in New York. He continued his downward trajectory ranking as the 36th out of 37 ranked quarterbacks last year, finishing only over Ben Roethlisberger.
Mayfield, on the other hand, graded out very poorly in 2021 (30th out of 37), but has seen success in his healthier seasons in Cleveland, even taking them to the playoffs and earning their first postseason win since the 1994 NFL season in 2020. His career has been a rollercoaster celebrating the ups of his 2018 and 2020 seasons while stomaching the downs of his 2019 and 2021 seasons. Still, that’s two more impressive seasons than his competitor has seen in the NFL and should give him an initial edge.
Mayfield is the expected leader in the race right now based on that past success. The two have split reps on first and second team down the middle this summer, giving both a chance to work with the ones. At some point, though, the Panthers staff is going to want to give somebody more first team reps in preparation to be the Panthers’ starting quarterback for the regular season. Rhule seems to imply that a decision could ultimately be pushed even closer to the start of the season.
“I’m not putting a timetable on the quarterback position until after we get back from Patriots week,” Rhule explained after today’s scrimmage. “The Patriots week is a true litmus test for us. That will really show us where guys are.”
In addition to the QB1 battle, there are a couple of other positions that have battles to be decided after the team’s time in Foxborough. Wide receiver Terrace Marshall is expected to take a big step in his second season and push Robby Anderson for the WR2 spot behind D.J. Moore. The return of cornerback Jaycee Horn presents a logjam atop the depth chart of the position. The Panthers will have to decide if they like Horn or last year’s trade acquisition C.J. Henderson on the outside. If they choose Horn, Henderson will have to compete with Keith Taylor in the slot. In they choose Henderson on the outside, Horn will likely man the slot.
It will be interesting to see how Carolina approaches the third preseason game. The last game of the preseason is traditionally a game full of backups and roster bubble guys as the starters tend to rest in order to prevent injury. If the Panthers are waiting until that game to make crucial depth chart decisions, they may be forced to give the finalized first string some reps together in their last game action before the regular season. Regardless, it sounds like Panthers fans will have to wait until late August to know exactly what the Panthers’ depth chart will look like.