Sam Darnold’s Strange Response about the Vikings’ Offense

NFL: Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Most seem to believe that Sam Darnold is the favorite to be Minnesota’s QB1 in 2024.

And, to be sure, there’s good reason for holding that belief. The veteran has consistently been praised by the team’s main leaders. More importantly, he landed a $10 million deal, a reasonably large sum of money that suggests he’ll be leaned on to start. While chatting with the media this week, Darnold was asked about what he was excited about with Minnesota’s offense and the initial part of his response was definitely unexpected.

Sam Darnold’s Surprising Response

The question was about what made Darnold excited about joining the Vikings offense. Apparently, the run game was something that caught his eye.

“The way that, obviously, they run the football,” Darnold notes. Immediately thereafter, the quarterback praises “the way that they spread the ball out, too.” He moves into a reflection of the “tempo offense that was used last year against” San Francisco, Darnold’s former employer.

In 2023, the Vikings finished at 29th in the NFL by piling up 1,553 rushing yards. The rushing touchdowns were in a tie for last place — 7 TDs on the ground — but the yards-per-carry average was a bit better, coming in at a 4.0 average. Not groundbreaking stuff, no, but good enough to be in a tie for 21st in the NFL.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Oct 17, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) fakes a handoff during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When Sam Darnold mentions the run game, is that just standard press conference optimism? Maybe he was just being positive about the offense as a whole. Or, perhaps, he foresees good things in the future rather than being negative about some modest production recently.

But then the other layer to his answer rests in how he shrinks things down to just his experience as a visiting 49er. Minnesota won that game by a score of 22-17, doing so largely because they won the time of possession battle by holding onto the football for 34:56.

Within that performance, though, was some modest production from the runners. Alexander Mattison had 8 carries go for 39 yards; Cam Akers had his 10 carries go for 31 yards. Neither scored a touchdown (Jordan Addison had a pair through the air and then Greg Joseph tossed on 9 points with his trio of field goals).

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

Moving forward, the Vikings are hoping that the ground game helps rather than hinders. Aaron Jones was a major addition in free agency. He’s a bit older but still has the capacity to be an efficient, powerful runner. Darnold’s life will be much easier if Jones is able to consistently put his QB into 3rd and short.

Sam Darnold, 26, isn’t known as being a runner. However, he did turn 48 carries into 222 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns back in 2021. Maybe the veteran QB can help to bolster the ground game himself as he looks to thrive in Minnesota’s offense.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap 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.