In a perfect world, the Carolina Panthers are able to successfully salvage what the New York Jets left behind in Sam Darnold. But this world isn’t perfect and neither is this situation at quarterback.
On Tuesday, the Panthers announced a two-year contract extension with receiver Robby Anderson. The fifth-year wideout earned that money by being absolutely money for the team thus far, coming off a career season of 1,096 yards on 95 catches in 2020.
Although he’s largely thought of as a premier deep-ball threat, Anderson is much more than that. (He’s also, for you ham-and-eggers, much more than the guy who thought a giant cat was a bear . . . )
Many may overlook his prowess as a route runner, for one, given the assumption that he lives primarily off the go. He’s often exhibited sharp footwork and direction on his runs, which made him a particularly effective intermediate last season for Carolina. Anderson picked up 512 yards after the catch this past campaign, good enough for the fourth-highest total in the NFL.
His hands have gradually improved as well. Not only do the visuals prove that he plays with much stronger mitts, but so do the numbers. 2020’s catch rate of 69.9 percent, aided a bit by the dink-and-dunk layups from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, was by far his highest yet. The next closest mark was 55.3 percent back in 2017.
Overall, he’s closer to an entire package of a pass catcher than he is to being a Ted Ginn Jr. He’s a constant home run threat who can beat you downfield and underneath, whether that be on straight runs to bust the top open or a lengthy catch-and-run off a slippery slant route.
And that’s where this all ties into that Darnold lede you just read at the top. All of Anderson, as well as the cast next to him in running back Christian McCaffrey, fellow wideouts DJ Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. and tackle Taylor Moton, makes Carolina that much more of an appealing option for whoever is under center in 2022.
We’ll be fair to Sam, though. Yes, perhaps his fit in New York wasn’t healthy for either of the parties involved. Management had been disconnected, the top of the coaching tree was rotted early on and the personnel around the 2018 third overall pick was never worthy of the investment the Jets made in him.
But, to also be fair to facts and reality, Darnold hasn’t proved a damn thing yet. The promising prospect we saw at the University of Southern California has yet to make the trip out of Cali, as the poised, strong-armed, athletic slinger we saw in that Trojan uniform has become a distant memory.
Hopefully, for him and the Panthers, head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady and quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan get the most out of him. The thing is, what if Darnold’s most isn’t enough? What if he is what he is and doesn’t work out for the organization moving forward?
Well, that’ll give way to the next experiment, whomever that may be. Can they lure in a big-name veteran quarterback, say an Aaron Rodgers if the relationship in Green Bay keeps souring? Or maybe they can make a 2022 rookie feel comfortable right off the bat with the talented crop of weapons.
Either way, whichever path that Darnold and 2021 may take the Panthers down, they’re now set up. With Anderson, Moore, Marshall, McCaffrey and Moton all locked in for at least the next two years, Carolina could be a hot spot for the next best quarterback out.
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