Baker Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers: Measuring the Fantasy Football Impact

The Panthers traded for quarterback Baker Mayfield. Are they better off with Sam Darnold, or can Mayfield elevate the offense?

There is, perhaps, no more important position in all of sports than quarterback, and NFL teams that don't have a franchise quarterback will spend their offseasons planning ways to find one.

While the Carolina Panthers may still consider sticking with Sam Darnold under center, their trade for Baker Mayfield likely says otherwise.

Let's dig into each passer's efficiency and see what that might mean for key fantasy football options such as Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, and -- well -- I guess that's really it.

Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold

So, at numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which is our expected points model. It rewards plays that are above expectation and penalizes those that are below expected.

Here is a snapshot of how these two quarterbacks have played in comparison to the NFL average by season. Stats above the average are shaded in green.

Year Name Team Drop
Passing NEP/
vs. Average
Passing Success
vs. Average
2018 Baker Mayfield CLE 511 0.00 -0.8%
2019 Baker Mayfield CLE 574 -0.09 -3.1%
2020 Baker Mayfield CLE 512 0.06 2.4%
2021 Baker Mayfield CLE 461 -0.10 -2.6%
2018 Sam Darnold NYJ 444 -0.13 -4.5%
2019 Sam Darnold NYJ 474 -0.07 -3.9%
2020 Sam Darnold NYJ 399 -0.27 -7.7%
2021 Sam Darnold CAR 441 -0.20 -5.8%

Yeah, not a lot of green here.

That said, it's pretty evident that it's Mayfield who has played more toward the peak of the NFL than Darnold has.

In 2020, Mayfield ranked 16th among quarterbacks in Total NEP (Passing NEP plus Rushing NEP), and in 2018, he was 19th. Darnold has put up just one top-30 season, and that was in 2019, when he finished 29th.

I'm frankly not a Darnold detractor. He's been placed in bad situations with a lot of coaching turnover. Mayfield's situation hasn't been ideal, either. That said, we're probably looking at a league-average passing situation being the best outcome for either quarterback in 2022.

Here's what that would mean for McCaffrey and Moore.

Passing Efficiency's Impact on Fantasy Production

There's a misnomer in fantasy football that volume is what generates fantasy points, and while, yes, you need to rack up counting stats, efficiency helps a ton.

Since 2012, we have 120 individual seasons of top-12 wide receivers and running backs we can examine.

Of those 120 receiver seasons, 37 (or 30.8%) played on top-five passing offenses by our Adjusted Passing NEP per play metric (whereas 15.6% of teams each season would be top-five offenses). Further, 81 receivers in this sample played on a top-12 offense (67.5%, compared to 37.5% of NFL teams that would rank top-12).

This stuff matters.

Yes, 26 of these receivers (21.7%) played on a bottom-half adjusted passing offense, but that's obviously well shy of the 50.0% mark we'd expect if efficiency was irrelevant.

Passing matters for running backs, too. There have been 30 top-12 rushers on top-five offenses and 59 on top-12 offenses. Of course, it's more likely that a running back can overcome a poor passing offense (46 -- or 38.3% -- played on bottom-half adjusted passing offenses), but it sure helps to play alongside good quarterbacks.

Does this mean that neither McCaffrey nor Moore can be top-12 performers if they're capped at an average offense? No. Here's where volume comes in.

The 46 backs to have a top-12 season while on a below-average offense averaged 314.5 opportunities (carries plus targets). The 26 receivers to do it averaged 147.7 targets.

Carolina Panthers 2022 Fantasy Football Projections

Baker Mayfield is projected to be the QB26 in fantasy formats by our fantasy football projection model on the back of a 4,046-yard, 23.0-touchdown, 15.6-interception season. He is the QB31 in best-ball average draft position on FanDuel.

Christian McCaffrey (the RB3 on FanDuel) remains our RB2 in half-PPR formats and is projected for north of 400 opportunities and 2,000 scrimmage yards. His workload can be -- at his peak -- unmatched.

DJ Moore is our WR10 in half-PPR setups and is projected for a 156-target, 1,256-yard, 6.3-touchdown season. That's above the average target total (when accounting for the extra game in the season now). Despite this, he's being drafted as the WR28 in best-ball formats.