Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold: Who is winning Panthers’ QB1 battle to start Week 1?

The Browns thought Baker Mayfield would be a franchise quarterback when they drafted him for the first time overall in 2018. The Jets thought Sam Darnold would be a franchise quarterback when they drafted him for the third time overall that same year.

Heading into the 2022 season, Mayfield and Darnold compete for the starting quarterback job with the Panthers. The two are toying with fifth-year options as they prepare for their first post-season trip to free agency.

The couple got to this point in different ways. Mayfield was successful in leading Cleveland to the playoffs in 2020 and appeared to be the answer under center, but an injury in 2021 handicapped him and an offseason trade for Deshaun Watson sent him out of northeast Ohio.

Darnold is in his second season with the Panthers after being traded from the Jets following the 2020 season. His 2021 campaign was the worst season of his career; He recorded his lowest QBR (33.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (9:13) and was replaced as a starter by Cam Newton midseason.

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Don’t expect a competitive resolution any time soon. After a scrimmage on Aug. 6, Carolina coach Matt Rhule said there won’t even be a timeline for a decision until after the second matchup of the preseason, a duel against the Patriots.

“Patriot Week is a real litmus test for us,” Rhule said. “That will really show us where boys are.”

Where does the quarterback fight stand between the two first-rounders? Here’s what Rhule said about Mayfield and Darnold.

What did Matt Rhule say about Baker Mayfield?

When Rhule first spoke about Mayfield, he acknowledged the newcomer had some catching up to do but also said he was making progress.

“There’s no doubt he has to come here and learn offense and he has to go from Level 1 where he knows offense to Level 4 where you’re subconsciously confident,” Rhule said at the start of training camp in late July , per ESPN. “It’s part of his journey.”

Rhule later said that Mayfield had “a lot of juice and energy.” When asked about Mayfield’s progress, Rhule said he couldn’t ask for much more.

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“He’s through the fourth install,” Rhule said, according to USA Today. “I will know more next week as we get into more situations. But I couldn’t be happier with Baker – how much he’s learned from what we’ve done. But there’s a lot more to do to sort of get through this phase.”

What did Matt Rhule say about Sam Darnold?

Before Mayfield arrived in Charlotte, the starting job was clearly Darnold’s.

Even after his ongoing struggles in 2021, Darnold received a vote of confidence from Rhule in June.

“Sam has gotten a lot better,” Rhule said, per “Really, really better offense and if we played today Sam would be our quarterback.”

Rhule said Darnold needed to demonstrate progress at training camp.

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“He’s got to go to training camp and improve, and he’s got to do it with the pads while people are trying to put you down,” Rhule said.

Rhule has praised Darnold for how he handled the competition with Mayfield.

“When we told him we were going to make that move, he treated it like the ultimate team guy, the ultimate pro,” Rhule said. “He took it very much like, ‘Hey, I’m going to control what I can control, and that’s how I play.’ I’m looking forward to seeing him play great football at this camp.”

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