Sam Darnold’s signing has garnered attention from the national and local media, fans, and the 49ers organization through their comments. Some analysts have predicted Darnold will start if Brock Purdy isn’t ready for Week 1. Others have lauded Darnold’s potential combined with Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and the 49ers’ weapons.
Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area appeared on KNBR earlier this month to discuss the QB situation and made a statement that 49ers fans have discussed vigorously.
On the Murph and Mac show, Maiocco had this to say about Darnold:
“He might be — can I say this — the most talented thrower of the football that the 49ers have ever had. Let’s just put him in the very high echelon of guys who can just drop back in the pocket and throw the football. I think that he hasn’t really had any chance to succeed since his college days are over. I think he’s had four head coaches in five years, five offensive coordinators in five years. He’s a talented guy.”
Maiocco’s statement sent shockwaves through the fan base. I recently sat down with Maiocco and asked him to elaborate on his statement and provide further context.
Jason: All right, Matt, let’s not bury the lede here. There was a comment that was out there, floated around in the Twitter circles, and it was about Sam Darnold. And for the people that don’t know, it was one line out of an entire section of which you spoke. You spoke for a while about it, and I feel like the one line was taken, but basically, the line that had a bunch of people up in arms was Sam Darnold was the best thrower of the football the 49ers have ever had.
Maiocco: I think I said might be.
Jason: Correct, might be. My mistake. You wrote an article that contextualized it a little bit more, but I want to give you a chance to explain it a little bit further for the people that didn’t read and just go off of headlines.
Maiocco: Yeah, I think the overall point I made was that Sam Darnold can throw the football. And when you think of Sam Darnold as a quarterback, what’s the number one attribute that he brings to the table? It’s the ability to throw the football and I know that sounds kind of crazy because we’re talking about the quarterback position, but there are some guys I would never have described Joe Montana as he’s a thrower of the football.
I mean, I could list 20 attributes that made Joe Montana one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. And thrower of the football isn’t really up there. I mean, absolutely, he has arm talent and is accurate and all that, but with Sam Darnold, I think the reason he was drafted number three overall was because of this kind of exceptional arm talent that he had.
And when you look at the 49ers and the quarterbacks that they’ve had, who have they had here recently? Brock Purdy played really good football last year, but I wouldn’t put his arm talent up there among the best. I would say Garoppolo probably had a little bit underrated arm talent, too, but maybe to a different degree.
He’s changing arm angles and all that, but when I look at Darnold, it’s the ability to throw a football that is why he made it into the NFL as the number three overall pick and could have easily been the number one pick. So to me that’s not necessarily a compliment because if we’re talking about a guy being a great thrower, typically that means that maybe he’s not a great quarterback and I think there’s a lot of untapped potential there and maybe the arm talent that Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had at that quarterback position.
But as Kyle himself has said, there’s a lot more to playing the position. There’s anticipation, there’s timing, there’s a feel for the pocket, there’s being able to read defenses, it’s quick decision making, it’s heck, it’s supporting cast.
And in the case of Sam Darnold, I don’t know that he’s had a great chance to succeed. I don’t know that his coaching has been all that great through his first five NFL seasons. So I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be controversial. I know when I said it on the podcast, 49ers Talk, but I also said it on KNBR, and I remember Brian Murphy kind of pressed me on that, like, what about John Brodie?
And I didn’t say this at the time, but I’m thinking too now, if you’re talking about a quarterback 50 years ago as the first person that pops into your mind, then you know what? Then certainly Sam Darnold could be in that conversation. I think I kind of said he might have the best arm talent or might be the best thrower of the football the 49ers I’ve ever had.
And then I said, okay, well, he’s in that higher echelon. Now, all this said, I haven’t even seen Sam Darnold throw the football on the practice field. But in talking to Frank Gore and other members of the 49ers, including Kyle Shanahan, he’s expected to kind of open some eyes in the offseason program just through that one attribute of being able to sit back and deliver the football.
So it’s the 7-on-7 drills, and it’s the eleven on eleven practices in the offseason and training camp, training camp where I would fully expect Sam Darnold to kind of stand out just because of that one attribute that he has. But I’ve also said that there’s no getting around it. Has he been an average quarterback in the NFL?
Probably not. I would say he’s probably been a below average starting NFL quarterback.
But he has that one trait that will probably always give him a chance. And since I said that, there’s been a lot of people out there. Louis Riddick said something, Mike Martz said something. Heck, Kyle Shanahan even talked about the attributes that Sam Darnold has. But a lot of these people are kind of saying like, this is the opportunity that he has being in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
So I think the 49ers have made it clear that if Brock Purdy is healthy, he’s the starting quarterback. But we’re going to see in training camp, and I guess beginning next week when OTAs begin, how that quarterback situation looks, I think that it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens with that number two job, assuming that Brock Purdy is number one, is it going to be Trey Lance? Is it going to be Sam Darnold? And at this point, I really don’t know how it’s going to look when the 49ers break camp and the season begins.
It’s fairly clear from Maiocco’s follow-up statements that he is referring to Darnold’s potential and arm talent. There is certainly more to playing the position, and Maiocco was adamant that the QB situation will resolve itself in camp and practice field.
Here’s the entire conversation: