Former XFL star P.J Walker is set to battle with Sam Darnold for the starting spot in the Carolina Panthers team ahead of the 2021 campaign. Many expect the former Houston Roughnecks QB to lose out to the new arrival from the New York Jets.
Walker was the leader in the XFL in passing touchdowns and passing yards in 2020 until the season was canceled. He scored an impressive 15 touchdowns across those matches and recorded 1,338 passing yards. Arguablly his best performance came in a 28-24 victory over the St Louis Battlehawks as he shone with the ball in his hand.
His former Temple coach Matt Rhule signed him on a two-year-deal later that year to back up Teddy Bridgewater. An injury to the starting Panthers QB opened the door for Walker to make his debut for the NFC South team in week eight.
The undrafted QB from the 2017 NFL Draft featured in three games last season. He replaced an injured Bridgewater in two of those matches. In his only start for his team, he led them to a 20-0 victory over the Detroit Lions. He threw for 258 yards, had one touchdown and there were two interceptions in what was a pleasing opening start in the sky-blue jersey.
Bridgewater returned to the league in week 12 in 2020 which meant Walker did not get the chance to add to that success. However. it may have been enough to convince his coaches that the 26-year-old is good enough to play in the NFL.
Carolina Aiming To Bounce Back From Poor Year In 2020
Carolina will be desperate to improve on their 5-11 record from 2020. They finished third in the NFC South. As of the 3rd August, the Panthers are +900 in the latest NFL odds to win their division next season. They will have to overcome Super Bowl defending champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers if they are to win their first title since 2015.
The competition for places at quarterback might work in the franchise’s favor. Both players should push each other every day in training. They also have Will Grier on their roster. He was drafted in the third round in 2019. He featured twice in his rookie season but did not complete a snap in 2020.
Darnold Under Pressure To Deliver
There is arguably more pressure on Sam Darnold within the Carolina roster in 2020 than Walker. The former third overall pick in the draft arrives after a disappointing three years in New York. This could be his final chance to prove himself in the league.
In his 38 games for the Jets, Darnold recorded 45 passing touchdowns and 39 interceptions. He was traded to the Carolina Pamther for a 2021 sixth round pick and a second and fourth round picks in 2022. This is a new opportunity for him to shine but along with that comes a lot of pressure.
In Darnold’s defense, the Jets really did not progress during his three years in New Jersey. Some would argue a large part of that is down to the starting quarterback. He certainly has not had the weapons around him to help make his job easier.
Fresh Start Could Help Darnold
A switch in the NFL teams could be what he needed. It is a fresh start for the 24-year-old. He is certainly young enough to recover from his rocky start to his professional career. He also knows he is in an organization which wants him. This should improve his confidence.
The new recruit will have the benefit of having one of the leading running backs, Christian McCaffrey behind in his new team. There is also a lot of talent at wide receiver for Darnold to throw to. If he can form a relationship with them, his touchdown number could really rocket up this year.
Darnold is a player who was praised for his arm strength in college football. Unlike some of the modern day QBs, he is not quite as strong outside the pocket or when he is on the move. That said, Tom Brady proved last season, throwing the ball is still a good receipe for success.
Carolina’s opening game of the 2021 season will come against the New York Jets. Time will tell if it’s Darnold who gets the chance to punish his former team or Walker who has the first opportunity to prove he can be the Panthers’ franchise quarterback.
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