3 Quarterbacks in Make‑or‑Break Years

  1. Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold was a highly-touted prospect coming out of USC. Drafted third overall in the 2018 Draft, many weren’t surprised that he was one of the top QB prospects coming out of that draft class. After being picked up by the Jets, many fans had hope that they would finally find their next franchise quarterback in Darnold. However, after only three seasons with the New York Jets, Darnold would find himself traded to the Carolina Panthers. He would end his short time with the Jets with 8000 yards, 45 TDs and 39 INTs.

Sam Darnold is entering his make-or-break years as he needs to be able to live up to the early first-round draft pick that he is. Casual fans and some analysts see it as the Jets not being able to properly develop the raw-college prospect. As more teams become pass-reliant, QBs are selected every year. Different teams take different approaches to this, and many blame the Jets’ incompetence at surrounding Darnold with talent and giving him the proper resources to develop properly. Granted, Adam Gase coached the team between 2019 and 2020, and this did no favors helping Darnold transition into an NFL-caliber quarterback. On the other hand, many also consider Darnold a “bust”. Through his games, he seems to show flashes of being able to compete in the NFL, but never truly showed the consistency to keep up with the complex defenses. Putting all that aside, his time on a new team maybe all he needs to finally click in an NFL offense.

As Darnold enters the 2021 season under the Panthers, there’s been a lot of changes since they finished 5-11 in the previous season. With the availability of Terrace Marshall Jr, David Moore, Robby Anderson, and D.J. Moore, there’s a lot of weapons at Darnold’s disposal. Add onto that Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, and the Panthers’ offense should be a well-oiled machine if Darnold can even only manage to perform at a decent level. Darnold is entering a functioning offense where he doesn’t have to perform at a very high level. The depth of the offense is great, and as long as a passing game can be established, the Panthers can still build a “run-first” offense around McCaffrey.

  1. Cam Newton

After putting up a monster season in 2015, finishing 15-1 in the regular season, and making it to the Superbowl, Cam Newton has done pretty well for himself as the first-overall-pick in 2011. As we all know, time passes pretty fast in the league, and Cam might find himself exiting the NFL if he can’t pick up the pace on the Patriots. After finishing third in the AFC East at a 7-9 record, the future of the Patriots looks pretty fine with Cam at the helm of the Patriots offense from the surface. However, the majority of the wins of the Patriots did not look convincing whatsoever. Cam’s arm looks shot, and even trying to throw in a “run-first” offense, it doesn’t look like the passing game is bright for the Patriots if Cam starts.

After the Pats drafted Mac Jones as the 15th-overall-pick in the 2021 Draft, Cam’s time with the Patriots seems to be coming to an end. Jones is coming out of a system that seems NFL-ready, but if we look at the Patriots from a rebuilding perspective, Jones is very likely going to sit for the first half or even his first year in the league as he learns from the veterans that surround him. This means that Cam is still in the driver’s seat and has to perform or he may find himself soon out of a job.

While the other quarterbacks in this list seem to only have a mental problem, Cam’s can be isolated to strictly physical issues. Reliant on his legs and the running game, the only bright spot of the 2020 Patriots offense seemed to be the ability of Belichick and McDaniel’s creativity to draw up running plays. When you look at it from the defense’s perspective though, it eventually becomes easy to read that they’ll be running the ball. As Cam ages, his mechanics and arm have slowly deteriorated. His sub-par mechanics got him through his time with the Panthers, but his injury history has left him no room to rely on it anymore. Due to Cam’s build and sheer strength, he was able to make “magic” out of the QB position, as it genuinely allowed him to do anything. However, as many QBs age, they adapt to their position as a more pocket-oriented QB. Cam doesn’t seem to have the time to switch up his mechanics, as it’s hard to re-write instinct over a singular offseason.

Without any doubt, I can say that Cam has the mental ability to function as a QB in the NFL since he has done it before. He’s entering his make-or-break years as he needs to “put up or shut up” fast since he no longer has any excuses to perform at a mediocre level in this Patriots offense. With the new signing of weapons, one of the greatest head coaches of all time, offseason therapy, and an above-average offensive line, Cam has everything he needs to place the Patriots in contention for a playoff spot.

  1. Drew Lock

Drew Lock is one of the more complex QBs on this list, as he’s only been in the league for two seasons, and started 10+ games for one of those seasons. However, with the addition of a new QB to the Broncos, Lock needs to “lock” up his role in the team or he will find himself as the backup to Bridgewater.

While he may not be the “highly-rated” prospect as the two other QBs on this list, Lock has a lot riding on his shoulders as the Broncos search for their new franchise quarterback. Since the departure of Manning, the Broncos have been on an awkward middle ground to find someone who’ll be commanding the offense for the next decade or so. Taken in as the 42nd-overall-pick in the 2018 Draft, Lock still has leeway to develop in the future, but his performance in the 2020 season showed that the future of the former college superstar may not look bright.

In his first season as a starter, he put up 2,933 yards, 16 TDs, and 15 INTs. For someone who spent time developing in their first season in the league, finishing your second year with almost a 1:1, TD:INT ratio, is not a good sign. The primary issue of Lock seems to be that he’s undisciplined with the ball and takes risks that aren’t necessary. For any other quarterback, I wouldn’t say that Drew Lock is entering his make-or-break years since it would seem like his development is just stunted by the team that drafted him. Matter of fact, I don’t think that a second-round pick being a “bust” is that big of a deal. Seems like just another misjudged player from a college system designed to benefit a QB. The main problem is the signing of Teddy Bridgewater.

The signing of Bridgewater now creates a starting-QB issue for the team and this is where I see Lock being in a make-or-break year. He needs to perform at camp, or at least in any games where he gets a chance to start or he’ll find his job taken away from him. For the front office and coaches, the choice is, do you take a QB who takes un-coordinated risks, or do you take the QB who doesn’t take any risks and just plays it safe the entire game? This QB competition may be the push that Lock needs to push him to a higher level, or it may be the nail-in-the-coffin that finally convinces the front office that Lock is just not the future of the franchise.

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