Sam Darnold wasn’t long for the New York Jets and they made it official on Monday when the Carolina Panthers moved their 2021 6th, 2022 2nd and 2022 4th round picks for the 4th year signal-caller. Let’s take a quick look at the immediate fantasy impact of Darnold’s trade from New York.
Impact for the Jets
The Jets were expected to move on from Darnold this off-season regardless. The writing was on the wall since the Jets season ended. The second overall pick gives them the option to select any non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback. Since 2018, Darnold had been subjected to the Adam Gase curse on an offense that refused to support him. However, Darnold isn’t blameless as his production never matched his draft position. The impact for the Jets pass-catcher is net-positive as they will have a new quarterback with a new system, free from the anchor that is Adam Gase. A Darnold trade was inevitable but we can hope that the new quarterback shows some more promise under head Coach Robert Saleh.
Impact on Carolina
Carolina’s passing offense last year wasn’t exactly dynamic despite Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson and, DJ Moore. A lot this was on Teddy Bridgewater and his tendency to check-down. In 2020, he ranked 28th in Air Yards Per Attempt (AYPA) with 7.1 AYPA according to Player Profiler. This turned Anderson into a short-area threat, neutralizing his speed and playmaking ability downfield. It also capped DJ Moore’s ceiling. The primary beneficiary was Samuel, who had a breakout season, and Mike Davis who filled in admirably for Christian McCaffrey. The bad news is Sam Darnold ranked 27th with 7.2 AYPA. The Darnold trade may not allow the passing offense to take the necessary leap we want for fantasy.
There’s a reason Darnold had a low yards per attempt though – he’s a terrible deep-ball passer. The chart below, created by Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz on Twitter) as part of his 2020-2021 Deep Ball Passing Project tells the story. Darnold’s 38.71% deep-ball completion percentage was good for ranking him 29th in the league among qualified quarterbacks.
To be honest, Darnold struggles all over the field. According to Player Profiler his True Completion Percentage (which factors out drops and unpressured throwaways) was 67%, 35th in the league. In the red zone, it drops significantly to 37.8%, 62nd among all quarterbacks last season.
The group of pass-catchers likely maintain value with this move. Both Anderson and Moore have shown the ability to produce in short areas. Moore, dynamic after the catch, will still thrive with an innovative coach like Joe Brady. Anderson, who found success as a low average depth of target player in 2020 should see success in a similar role this season. The wild-card is Christian McCaffrey since he didn’t play last season. Seeing Mike Davis’ usage and McCaffrey’s talent, it’s safe to say he’ll be fine.
Impact on Sam Darnold
It can’t get worse. If you have Darnold on your dynasty team this is a huge win. Going from an awful supporting cast and years of Adam Gase to Joe Brady is huge. Adding one of the NFL’s better wide receiver duos and the league’s best running back helps even more. I think some will aggressively rank Sam Darnold for the 2021 season on his ability to produce with the talent in the Carolina offense and I think that’s a mistake. Darnold–has consistently underwhelmed and has yet to show flashes that his game has another level and is likely to be overvalued based on the situation he’s stepping into. To provide actionable advice, I’d be looking to trade Darnold off the hype he’s going to be getting.
Are There Reasons to be Optimistic?
It’s easy to blame some of this on his wide-receiver group which, admittedly, was subpar. However, Darnold brought the group down with only a 69% Catchable Pass Rate, good for 43rd in the league. Notably, his receivers ranked 13th overall in Target Separation at 1.62 yards of separation per target. Teddy Bridgewater was substantially more productive in all statistics, most surprisingly with a 75.7% true completion percentage and 78.9% catchable pass rate, league-wide that was good for 15th and 7th respectively.
Darnold does have one glimmer of hope – his Clean Pocket Completion Percentage, ranked 6th in the league at 77.5%. Unfortunately, this would be better news if the offensive line wasn’t one of Carolina’s most pressing needs. Despite being 4th in Interceptable Passes with 29, he could potentially see both statistics rebound behind an improved offensive line. The Jets were a bad situation since Gase arrived in New York but Darnold still failed to elevate himself or his teammates.
Sam Darnold has not been as advertised since joining the Jets as the second overall pick and I’m not sure that’s likely to change anytime soon. While Darnold sees a bump in his overall dynasty value, the Carolina receiving room remains virtually unchanged and possibly in worse shape given Darnold’s struggles. Although there’s potential for Darnold to leverage clean pockets to make key throws in a Joe Brady offense, betting on what we’ve seen thus far is a safer move. For 2021, Darnold should be the starter for Carolina, however, his struggles create a murky picture long-term for the offense.
The weapons surrounding him should be fine but I would be wary of investing significant resources to get Darnold on my dynasty roster.