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Fantasy Football: Are we really buying a Sam Darnold bounceback?

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The 2020 Carolina Panthers were your typical bad team on both sides of the ball, finishing 24th and 18th in scoring offense and defense during the first season of head coach Matt Rhule’s tenure. However, digging beneath the surface reveals that this offense was actually quite talented, as Mike Davis, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore each surpassed 1,000 total yards on the season. The problem was that Teddy Bridgewater, while accurate, largely failed to produce 1.) high-end big-play ability, and 2) efficiency in the red zone, which could’ve boosted this offense to at least an above-average level.

New general manager Scott Fitterer seemed to agree with the notion that Bridgewater was holding this offense back, as the Panthers sent a 2021 sixth-round pick, a 2022 second-rounder and a 2022 fourth-rounder to the New York Jets to acquire the services of Sam Darnold.

Freed from the shackles of Adam Gase, many are buying into the idea that the former third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft could thrive in an offense flush with higher-end talent than he’s used to just about everywhere on the field.

What follows is a breakdown of just how bad Darnold was with the Jets for the past three seasons, as well as if we should trust him to rebound in fantasy football ahead of 2021.

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Pick a stat, any stat: Darnold has been horrific

First, we’ll take a look at how Darnold compares straight up to the rest of the league’s QBs with at least 300 dropbacks over the past three seasons:

  • PFF passing grade: 61.3 (No. 44 among 50 qualified QBs)
  • Big-time throw rate: 3.5% (tied for No. 38)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 4.2% (tied for No. 40)
  • Yards per attempt: 6.6 (No. 40)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 72.3% (No. 44)
  • Passer rating: 78.6 (No. 48)

Yes, Darnold has repeatedly ranked near the top of the position when it comes to pressure rate. Also yes, he has the ninth-slowest average time to throw since entering the league. Pressure tends to usually be more of an indictment on a team’s QB than its offensive line.

Overall, both Darnold’s PFF passing grade and average target depth have decreased ever since his rookie season: Generally, he’s been inaccurate and inefficient while struggling to create big plays as well as limit turnovers.

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