The Panthers have not yet announced who will start for them in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season, but it appears that the team has already made its decision.
According to The Athletic, Baker Mayfield is expected to be the winner of the Panthers' quarterback competition. He had been going head-to-head with incumbent starter Sam Darnold since joining the team via a July 6 trade between the Panthers and Browns.
Now, Mayfield appears poised to start against his former team when Carolina hosts Cleveland in Week 1.
The timing of Carolina's impending decision shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Coach Matt Rhule had hinted after the Panthers' 23-21 preseason win over the Commanders that the team might be ready to make a decision in the not-so-distant future.
"I wanted to at least get to this point. When we know, we know. So it could be at any point," Rhule said, per The Athletic. "It could be two more weeks from now. It could be now. … We’re just making sure we’re thorough."
It also shouldn't be a surprise that Mayfield is expected to be the choice. He was the presumed favorite in the QB battle heading into training camp and solidified his spot atop the team's depth chart during it.
How exactly did Mayfield impress the Panthers? Here's a look at why Mayfield is set to be Carolina's choice at quarterback.
Why Panthers' Baker Mayfield is expected to start over Sam Darnold
Mayfield seems poised to start for the Panthers for a couple of reasons: his performance has exceeded that of Darnold and he has impressed the team with his leadership skills.
Baker Mayfield outshined Sam Darnold in preseason debut
Mayfield and Darnold both played sparingly in the Panthers' first preseason game, but each led a scoring drive in limited action. That said, Mayfield was more impressive on his one drive than Darnold was on his two.
Carolina got the ball second in its game against Washington and Mayfield was the first quarterback on the field. He led a 13-play, 54-yard drive during which he completed 4 of 7 passes for 45 yards. He kept the chains moving converting 3 of 4 third downs and showed solid movement skills that allowed him to scramble out of a potential sack and for a 3-yard gain.
Mayfield didn't lead the Panthers to a touchdown; the team stalled out in the red zone thanks in part to a fumbled exchange between Mayfield and center Pat Elflein. Still, he moved the ball better than Darnold, who had an impressive touchdown pass after being given a short field but finished just 2 of 3 passing for 16 yards on two drives.
A preseason red carpet rollout 😎 pic.twitter.com/4km3e7LmvA— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 13, 2022
Rhule noted that Mayfield had a solid performance in his postgame news conference.
"He did a nice job moving it with his feet and finding checkdowns," Rhule said.
Evidently, it was nice enough to win Mayfield the starting job.
Baker Mayfield stats vs. Sam Darnold stats
Mayfield outperforming Darnold in the preseason was to be expected. Since both entered the league in 2018, Mayfield has routinely surpassed Darnold in all major passing categories.
Mayfield has also led a team to a winning record at least once; Darnold has not.
Below is a look at how Mayfield's career stats per 17 games played compare to those of Darnold.
|Player||Comp. %||Passing yards||Y/A||Pass TDs||INTs||Rating|
Add in that Mayfield's 29-30 career record (.492 winning percentage) is significantly better than that of Darnold (17-32, .347 winning percentage) and Mayfield's previous performance inspires significantly more hope than his counterpart. This is especially true when considering that Mayfield battled through several injuries in 2021, including a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.
Baker Mayfield's leadership
Mayfield's personality has frequently been a talking point at Panthers camp and his leadership skills have impressed his new teammates and coaches immensely.
You need only look to offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and wide receiver Robbie Anderson to see this. Both men seemingly were among Mayfield's detractors before the Panthers acquired him, but each has changed his tune regarding the quarterback in recent weeks.
McAdoo noted that he was impressed with both Mayfield and Darnold in the team's starting quarterback competition before Carolina's first preseason game. When pressed about Mayfield, he noted leadership as one of the 27-year-old quarterback's best qualities.
One of his strengths is command. He can lead a room, he can command a room, he can command an offense. He has a good presence about him. And, you know, he's got a fire in his guts.
Anderson thought the same thing and also noted that Mayfield's swagger helped him win over Carolina during his six weeks with the team.
"He’s smart," Anderson said, per Sports Illustrated. “He’s picked up the offense, like, rapidly. I like his energy a lot. I like that a lot about him. Like his leadership. And his confidence.”
Anderson had written on social media earlier in the offseason that he didn't want Mayfield to join the Panthers. Now, it seems like he is happy with the trade, so perhaps he was merely defending Darnold, who was his quarterback at the time of the Mayfield trade speculation.
Either way, Mayfield seems to have emerged as a true leader for Carolina. That certainly went a long way toward helping him win the Panthers' quarterback battle.