Sam Darnold, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Sam Darnold #14 of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings are in no rush to put J.J. McCarthy under center. Despite their significant investment in trading up to the No. 10 pick of the 2024 draft to select him, they signed former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold to bridge the gap.

Head Coach Kevin O’Connell has expressed confidence in Darnold’s best football lying ahead of him. The Vikings are Darnold’s fourth NFL franchise in six NFL seasons.

But Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay says to “sell” the idea Darnold can hold onto the job for long.

“It’s hard to envision him keeping McCarthy at bay for long if he doesn’t step up in Minnesota,” Kay wrote on June 18. “There’s a chance Darnold rehabilitates his career thanks to the opportunity to work with elite receivers such as Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, but the cries for the Michigan product to take over will be heard quickly and loudly if the 27-year-old stumbles at all.

“With a tough opening slate that includes a slew of strong defenses in the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers and New York Jets in the first five weeks, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Darnold benched in favor of McCarthy by the time the rival Detroit Lions come to town following Minnesota’s Week 6 bye.”

“I think his best football is ahead of him because of how he handled the last couple of years.”

Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell is happy to have Sam Darnold on his team.

Darnold has a 21-35 career record as a starter with 12,064 yards and 63 touchdowns to 56 interceptions on 59.7% completion.

He was 4-2 with a 1,143/7/3 line in his last stint as a starter with the Carolina Panthers.

O’Connell has spoken about his long-standing interest in Darnold. He has also touted the QB’s growth and development last season with the 49ers under head coach Kyle Shanahan. Darnold completed 60.9% of his passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick.

Insider Gives J.J. McCarthy Slim Chance to Start in Week 1

J.J. McCarthy, Minnesota VikingsJ.J. McCarthy, Minnesota Vikings

GettyJ.J. McCarthy #9 of the Minnesota Vikings.

Further bolstering Darnold’s position, NFL insider Albert Breer gave the rookie “less than 10%” chance of unseating the veteran as the Vikings’ starter, at least by the season opener.

“That’s not any affront to McCarthy,” Breer wrote on June 18. “It’s about Kevin O’Connell and Sam Darnold. The former put together a detailed, step-by-step development plan for McCarthy that’ll require the quarterback to hit certain milestones before the team presses him into real action.

“Now, I’m not saying Darnold is going to morph into Joe Montana or anything like that. But I do think he’ll do enough to keep the bar high for McCarthy to get on the field.”

Breer pointed to Darnold’s performance in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens. The game was a 33-19 Ravens blowout. But Darnold was “suddenly playing faster and with much better rhythm” than before.

Darnold was 8-for-14 for 81 yards with one touchdown and one pick in the contest.

Darnold has successfully showcased his wares in the offseason and the preseason before. But he has struggled to perform as well consistently when the games count, which could be ominous for the Vikings.

Vikings Have Strong Support System for QBs

Kevin O'Connell, Harrison Smith, Justin Jefferson, Minnesota VikingsKevin O'Connell, Harrison Smith, Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

GettyMinnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell, Harrison Smith #22, and Justin Jefferson #18.

How long the Vikings allow Darnold to falter (if he does) will be key. They just extended Jefferson and their brain trust is secure in place.

But the organization has just one playoff appearance in the last four years.

The urge to find a spark that jumpstarts the season if it goes awry – they began last season 0-3 and 1-4 with Kirk Cousins under center – could lead to calls for McCarthy. With the investment in him, it is already a matter of when he takes over for Darnold, not if.

As long as Jefferson is healthy and McCarthy is calling plays, though, the Vikings should field a potent passing attack regardless of who is under center.

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