The song remains the same for the San Francisco 49ers. The roster might be as good as any in the league from top to bottom, but the quarterback room is uncertain due to injury concerns. Sam Darnold was signed after both Trey Lance and Brock Purdy ended their season with serious ailments that sidelined them.
Darnold, who was picked third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, has spent the last five years with two different franchises confirming that he has been a complete bust. His struggles with decision-making and making plays in structure started with the Jets and continued after a trade to the Carolina Panthers.
Darnold will likely spend most of the season as QB3, with presumed starter Purdy and Lance expected to come in and fight for the QB1 job all season long. However, there is a good chance that Lance ends up getting passed on the depth chart, especially if Darnold is able to turn back the clock to his USC days and start off the preseason hot.
According to Ian Rapoport, Darnold is likely going to be the starter for San Francisco’s first game of the season, citing the fact that Purdy’s injury might cost him the first few games of the regular season and the uncertainty surrounding where Lance is in his recovery.
Sam Darnold eyed as 49ers Week 1 starting QB.
Darnold nearly had more interceptions (52) than touchdown passes (54) during his first two years in the league, throwing 24 picks against 18 touchdowns between 2020 and 2021. Still, his tremendous mobility and playmaking out of the design of the play is why teams keep giving him chances.
So why was Darnold signed? Well, first-round picks like him are often given multiple shots to prove themselves, especially if they come from franchises with a history of dysfunction. Perhaps the structure and support he has in San Francisco will help bring the best out of him.
If Darnold does end up being the Week 1 starter over a healthy Lance, that will likely be the final nail in his 49ers coffin. It will be very difficult to envision a world in which he returns to the 49ers and becomes a productive player with Purdy and Darnold ahead of him.
Whole fans should keep their expectations low for a Darnold-led offense, Shanahan has shown that he can win games and put up numbers with substandard quarterbacks. If he can’t make Darnold a quality pro starter, no one can.