New Vikings Passer Gets Both Praise and a Mandate from Minnesota’s Head Coach

Oct 10, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) scrambles with the ball during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

New Vikings passer Sam Darnold is navigating a tricky situation.

Since being taken 3rd overall in 2018, Darnold has been a disappointment. Part of the reason for his struggle is due to the Jets and Panthers — where he played his opening five seasons — being terrible. More recently, he was the QB2 with the 49ers, allowing him to sit at Kyle Shanahan’s feet to soak up quarterback wisdom. How much did that help?

Jan 9, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports.

On Thursday afternoon, the Minnesota media got a chance to toss their questions, queries, and concerns toward Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell. There was no shortage of QB chatter.

The GM was sure to delineate that he doesn’t want to shoehorn Darnold into a “bridge” assignment, instead clarifying that he thinks of the new passer as “a quarterback that’s on our roster under contract for a year.” Shortly thereafter, Adofo-Mensah brings things around to being able to run O’Connell’s offense with proficiency.

Meanwhile, O’Connell was his usually upbeat self. The head coach is optimistic about where things can go, explaining that his evaluation of Darnold revealed some “growth” that resulted in the coach being “excited.” Per O’Connell, the mandate is to fully jump into the opportunity: “As far as what he’s been told and my dialogue with Sam, it’s been all about coming in and competing. And fully just investing in the process, investing in a daily attack of just trying to continue to be the best version of himself.”

Being able to “chase improvement” is what O’Connell is looking to see.

New Vikings Passer Sam Darnold & The Press Conference Takeaways

Folks, there was a reason why Sam Darnold was highly regarded coming out of college.

In his final season at USC, Darnold completed 63.1% of his passes for 4,143 yards, 26 TDs, and 13 INTs. Darnold, by no means a burner, was able to snag 5 rushing TDs.

The NFL’s website compared him to Andrew Luck and had this to say in their scouting blurb: “At the end of the day, Darnold has NFL size, arm strength, accuracy, pocket mobility, poise and field reading capability. His windup is an eyesore for sure, but he has the velocity to mitigate the additional release time […] His floor is solid starter, but he has the ceiling to be one of the top tier quarterbacks in the game as he gains more experience.”

Jan 7, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates after a play during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the ambitious projection, Sam Darnold has struggled to get his NFL career off the ground. The embattled quarterback has played in 66 games, starting 56. For the most part, things haven’t gone particularly well.

He has a 21-35-0 QB record, and the broader set of stats aren’t flattering.

Sam Darnold has completed 59.7% of his passes, a concerning number given how high of a priority accuracy is for Kevin O’Connell. The 63 career touchdown passes stand alongside 56 career interceptions and 38 fumbles.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jan 1, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (45) pressures Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

An idea that really shines through in the press conference from earlier in the day is that Minnesota’s leadership believes in the resources they can offer a quarterback. Of course, we can think of the top-tier facilities and a team culture that’s praised far and wide. One also thinks of Josh McCown, the highly-respected QB coach.

And then there’s the on-field talent.

Whoever ends up taking most of the snaps in Minnesota is going to be well supported. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill are an excellent pair of tackles. The pass-catching trio — Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson — is elite. And then the Aaron Jones addition means that the running game has the potential to become respectable.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell on the sideline against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Darnold’s deal suggests that he’ll be given every opportunity to snag the starting job. When directly asked if he felt compelled to choose a quarterback in the draft, Adofo-Mensah said that they would do so if it made sense but don’t feel like it’s something they have to do. Currently, the other QBs available to Minnesota are Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall.

Darnold will turn 27 in June.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference CFB helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.