Why Robby Anderson Is the Fantasy Winner of the Sam Darnold Trade (and More)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Robby Anderson, Sam Darnold
The Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers in exchange for three draft picks, bringing some degree of clarity to the quarterback situation in Carolina — for now, at least.
The Panthers, of course, own the No. 8 overall pick in 2021 NFL Draft and had been linked to quarterbacks in mocks across the industry — in fact, in 85% of mocks that our draft analyst Matthew Freedman indexed before Monday’s trade, a quarterback was mocked to the Panthers at eighth overall.
While the acquisition could impact what Carolina chooses to do with that pick and whether there will be a quarterback competition in camp, Darnold does emerge from this deal as the team’s presumptive Week 1 starter.
With that in mind, three of our analysts weigh in on how the addition of Darnold impacts the fantasy football outlooks of him and his new teammates. (Spoiler: All three like what it could mean for Robby Anderson’s stock and don’t believe it should impact Christian McCaffrey’s status as the top pick in most drafts, but disagree elsewhere.)
Fantasy Impact of Sam Darnold Trade
Chris was the 11th-most accurate weekly in-season ranker of the 2020 season according to FantasyPros.
Darnold is seemingly Plan B for a Panthers team that had been looking to acquire Deshaun Watson. It’s not a needle-mover in fantasy, especially since Darnold is unlikely to maintain the job for all 17 games.
In 38 career starts, Darnold has been an on-field liability and fantasy non-factor, averaging only 213.1 yards and 1.18 touchdowns per game passing while tossing more than a pick per start (1.03). He may be able to take a modest step forward under offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who last season helped Teddy Bridgewater to career-highs in ESPN’s Total QBR (64.2) and yards per attempt (7.6). But Darnold averages only 6.6 YPA for his career and has seen his QBR regress each season (45.9, 45.6, 40.1), so there’s still more downside than upside.
The most likely winner if Darnold starts is Robby Anderson, who was Darnold’s former teammate in New York. Anderson and Darnold have a way of hooking up for touchdowns, connecting for 11 in 163 career attempts. That 6.75% rate easily outpaces Anderson’s career mark with all other QBs (3.74%) as well as Darnold’s career mark to all other receivers (3.44%).
Ultimately, I expect the Panthers to employ Darnold as a game manager (Carolina averaged 34.4 pass attempts per game last season, 22nd) with a short leash. With Curtis Samuel gone, Anderson, Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore project to hog targets regardless of who the QB is in Carolina.
Sean was the most accurate fantasy football draft ranker of the 2019 season (FantasyPros).
Sam Darnold: Going from Bridgewater to Darnold seems like a lateral move for the Panthers offense, with built in upside.
We shouldn’t write off Darnold at this point in his career — he’s turning 24 this season, and a change of scenery could put his career back on track. There’s a chance that Brady will unlock a post-Gase version of Darnold reminiscent of Ryan Tannehill.
I expect Darnold to be a low-end QB2 option for 2021. Considering there was a genuine chance he would open up the season as a backup, it’s safe to say his stock is up following the trade.
RB Christian McCaffrey: The Panthers are heading into 2021 with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. It’s concerning for CMC’s and Darnold’s outlooks. However, CMC’s receiving ability should help mitigate that.
I still view CMC as the 1.01 in most formats.
WR Robby Anderson: Anderson is the biggest winner of the trade. He and Darnold already have plenty of chemistry thanks to their two seasons with the Jets. Anderson has WR2/3 upside if Darnold has a post-Gase breakout, similar to what we saw from Anderson last season when he set career highs in receptions (95) and yards (1,097).
WR D.J. Moore: Moore’s value remains a mid-range WR2. He’s one of the best young receivers in the game and could be instrumental to Darnold having a career year.
WR David Moore: The Panthers offense was able to support three fantasy-relevant WRs last season. While Moore is underrated, he’s nowhere near the talent the now-departed Curtis Samuel is. The offense likely won’t be potent enough to make Moore anything more than a WR5/6 flier. Darnold doesn’t have a history of spreading the ball around and tends to lock in on a couple weapons.
TEs Ian Thomas/Dan Arnold: Neither tight end will be fantasy viable unless one of them misses time. I do like Arnold as a sneaky TE3 flier in best ball leagues. He offers enough upside that I could see him becoming one of Darnold’s favorite red-zone targets. The Darnold to Arnold connection may be a frustrating one for play-by-play announcers.
Samantha is a fantasy football analyst.
As a Panthers fan and avid fantasy player, I am cautiously optimistic for Darnold’s post-Gase glow-up.
Darnold joined the Jets as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but was never set up for success:
- So far, the USC product has played under two underwhelming head coaches — Todd Bowles and Gase — both of whom were fired.
- Darnold was hampered by limited talent from the Jets’ pass catchers. Over the last three years, New York’s best receivers have been Anderson in 2018 (752 yards), Jamison Crowder in 2019 (833) and Crowder again in 2020 (699 yards). Darnold has never had a receiver crest the 1,000-yard mark.
Darnold departs Gang Green with a 59.8% career completion percentage and has thrown for 8,097 yards 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions over 38 starts. The Jets went 13-25 over that span.
Darnold is set to replace Bridgewater, whom the Panthers paid starter money for by way of a three-year, $63 million contract less than a year ago to replace Cam Newton. The 28-year-old was a dud, however, and completed 61.9% of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He tacked on five rushing touchdowns and was benched late in the year for former XFL star P.J. Walker.
Finances aside, the move should benefit fantasy all-round.
At just 23 years old, Darnold has a lot of potential to turn his career around in Carolina. So far, he has finished as QB28, QB27 and QB31. He has a legitimate chance to make the jump into the high-end QB2 range this season given his coaching and weapons improvements.
For reference, Bridgewater managed to finish as QB17 for fantasy sandwiched between Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers in 2020.
On the wide receiver side, both D.J. Moore and Anderson broke the 1,000-yard mark last year in spite of the Panthers’ limited passing attack. Moore, 23, was WR22 while Anderson, 27, was WR17 in half PPR through Weeks 1 to 16.
Anderson probably benefits slightly more given his preexisting relationship with Darnold, but Anderson and Moore should see an uptick in production and have the potential to finish as high-end WR2s for fantasy this season — especially without competition for targets from Samuel.
McCaffrey should return to full strength after an injury-plagued 2020 cut his season short. The 24-year-old previously finished as RB2 and RB1 in half PPR in 2018 and 2019 during Newton’s decline.
McCaffrey has a proven track record of being able to perform independent of QB play in his four years in the league. He could see a marginal lift opposite Darnold and should be the first RB — or player, depending on the format — taken off the board in fantasy drafts as the projected RB1.