The Carolina Panthers have three solid QB options in Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker, but can't find a recipe for success.
Both Photos by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Carolina's QB Carousel Continues to Spin Panthers into the Ground

Every team in the NFL is looking for their endorsement loaded, cereal box studded, franchise quarterback. A leader who can launch deep, run smart, inspire teammates, and repeatedly carry a team to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, for most franchises in the NFL, that's a hard ask. We're past the midway point in the season and we're still seeing a bit of goldilocks-ing across the league. This quarterback is too slow, this quarterback throws too many interceptions, this quarterback is just right. 

The Carolina Panthers are one of the many NFL teams who've struggled to sort out their offensive ringleader. It seems bonkers to be this late in the season and still trying quarterbacks on for size, looking for the right fit. Yet the quarterback goldilocks situation has been widespread this season, thanks in part to injuries and an overall identity issue we've been seeing across the league. We've seen the quarterback shuffle and backup quarterbacks taking the lead all season long in places like Indianapolis, Washington, Cleveland and New Orleans. We've also seen legendary vets struggling. Thursday night's action will shine a spotlight on one team's quarterback question—the bewildering Carolina Panthers. 

Searching for Consistent Leadership at the Helm

Sam Darnold #14 of the Carolina Panthers and Baker Mayfield #6 warm up before the preseason game

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The Panthers are the worst team in the NFC. They've been struggling on both ends of the field this season and it doesn't seem like there is anyone in Carolina leading this team. Leadership on the field isn't the only form lacking this season—their head coach Matt Rhule was fired in October.  

Yes, they've battled for a couple close ones, but they've also gotten absolutely clobbered. This team is a bit of a conundrum and it's clear they're struggling across the board. 

A beating from the Bengals inspired Carolina to pull P.J. Walker—who was in the midst of his first five game start—and send in Baker Mayfield. When Mayfield took the field the Panthers were already down a whopping 35-0. Ultimately, the demolition was already irrecoverable, but Mayfield did lead them to a less embarrassing losing score of 42-21. Despite Baker Mayfield looking good at relief last week, the Panthers announced they would be sticking with Walker for the foreseeable future. 

At the moment, Mayfield leads the Panthers in offensive yards and the controversial quarterback stands above P.J. Walker in both completions and touchdowns. Yet Carolina is going back to Walker for Thursday's action. Walker may have had some moments—most notably his win against Brady's Bucs—but at best he's a solid backup, not a franchise leader. He only has a single win on his resume this season.

On the flip side, Mayfield led the Panthers to a problematic 1-4 start. Both quarterbacks have secured a solitary win a piece—an uninspired and pathetic showing for both athletes. Even still, after the Bengals absolute thrashing I expected Carolina to return Mayfield to the helm, at least for Week 10. 

After all, the Panthers put forth a lot of effort to bring the quarterback to Carolina and make it "his team". What once looked like a winning addition to the franchise now looks like a confusing mess. Is there a lesser of two evils here or is it just the quarterback carousel from hell?

Panthers Prowling With P.J.

Carolina quarterback PJ Walker (11) drops back to pass during the NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons

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It's clear interim coach Steve Wilks has a lot of faith in Walker, but where this faith comes from I don't know. Walker may have been a highlight reel back in the XFL in 2020, but this is the big time and so far the junior NFL quarterback has left much to be desired out on the field. He had the lowest possible passing rating last week of 0.0. And no, that's not a typo, he literally rated a big, fat zero. Clearly Carolina has entered the "I know it's bad, but we have nothing to lose" phase of their season. If Carolina has any plans to add some W's to their record, they'll need Walker to bring some of his XFL swag to the pro field. 

Walker shows the passion and dedication required of a QB1 and we've seen glimmers of his impressive arm. The Panthers backup turned starter threw an inspired 62-yard hail mary to DJ Moore during his last meeting with the Falcons, a heartbreaking loss in overtime. In fact, the pass was so beautiful it drew the attention and applause of some of the league's greatest gunslingers. Patrick Mahomes called it "the best throw of the year and not even close!"

It's clear there's untapped raw talent in Walker, but whether that talent can withstand the transition into the NFL is still doubtful. The beauty of the truly terrible record Carolina carries is they now have an opportunity to just let it play out. The worst has already happened; their season is in the toilet, they're rocking an interim coach, and they're fighting an uphill battle, not just in the QB1 slot. Let the XFL star try and find his light here in Carolina.

Speaking with the media prior to Week 10's short week, the quarterback seemed confident and focused on both his shining moments—like the 62-yarder—as well as the team's upcoming challenges. "I think I'm capable of that type of performance every week," Walker said. "So, for me, I've just got to go out there and do it. It's just go out there, do my job, and be resilient. Things happen throughout football games; I try not to be fazed."

Resiliency is definitely something the Panthers starting quarterback is going to need heading into the back half of an already challenging season. Wilks may be turning to Walker because of the shortened week, his performance last time he faced Atlanta, or because...well, why the heck not? Wherever the faith is stemming from, we might just see it come alive Week 10. The Panthers came so close to beating the Falcons just two weeks ago and this time they'll have the home field advantage. A home field that could be impacted by Hurricane Nicole's widespread effect on the east coast. Carolina's open-air Bank of America stadium in downtown Charlotte could deal the players wet and wild conditions, adding another unpredictable element to Thursday night's rematch. 

The Panthers are in the midst of a rebuilding, identity expedition, and mess of a season. Their quarterback roundabout is merely a microcosm of an off-course franchise. I for one think it would be fun to watch Walker find his way. And frankly, if he doesn't, the Panthers won't be worse for wear. They've got so many holes in their sinking ship it'll take more than Walker effectively executing to stop the ship from taking on water. So keep your eyes glued to Thursday Night Football on Prime to see if the Panthers make any lineup changes mid-game. I wouldn't put it past them—especially if the Falcons are destroying them. I'm rooting for P. J. Walker's XFL alter ego to step into the limelight and carry the Panthers to their third season win. 

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