Sam Darnold

Why King believes 49ers can unlock Sam Darnold's true potential

NBC Universal, Inc.

The 49ers took a chance on veteran quarterback Sam Darnold when they signed him to a one-year, $4.5 million contract this offseason.

While the move initially puzzled many 49ers fans, it began to make sense for San Francisco to add a vet to the QB room alongside young quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Trey Lance. But NBC Sports' Peter King foresees Darnold serving as more than just a veteran presence.

King told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco on the latest "49ers Talk" episode that he believes coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers organization can unlock something special in Darnold.

"If you look at Kyle Shanahan's history, he got some useable football out of both [former 49ers QBs] [C.J.] Bethard and [Nick] Mullens," King said. "I think that any quarterback would want to be in the quarterback room with Kyle Shanahan. Now, Sam Darnold, it's clear that this is going to be the best quarterback room and the best quarterback coach that he's been with so far. So we'll see.

"But I kind of applaud Sam Darnold for taking the leap of faith when he did. I have to believe that there were other opportunities for Sam Darnold, not necessarily to start, but to go in there and be a competitive guy and maybe play a lot of football. In an ideal world for Kyle Shanahan, he won't play at all. But I do think that Kyle Shanahan wanted a veteran guy who he could trust and who still had some significant upside. And talking to Kyle here, you can tell he is legitimately excited about Sam Darnold."

With Purdy healthy and poised to be the starter for 2023, Darnold is competing with Lance for the backup job.

Darnold, the No. 3 overall draft pick by the New York Jets in 2018, struggled to a 13-25 record over his first three NFL seasons and was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2021. He entered his first 49ers training camp in Santa Clara this summer and continues to steadily strengthen his case for the QB2 role.

In his 49ers debut, Darnold (5-of-8 passing, 84 yards) played most of the third quarter of San Francisco's preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders before being replaced by fourth-string QB Brandon Allen.

Darnold's second preseason game didn't get off to the best start, but he finished the night completing 11 of his 14 attempts for 108 yards, a touchdown and one interception in the 49ers' 21-20 win over the Denver Broncos.

The quarterback competition is heating up as the start of the regular season quickly approaches, and despite what others might think, King has confidence that San Francisco is in good shape at QB depth.

"I would look at it this way if I were a 49ers fan: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have lorded over this team now," King said. "This is the seventh season. There is no question -- no question -- that the best quarterback depth chart that they've had in those seven years is right now. That's why I think they're in a great situation at quarterback, relatively speaking."

For the 49ers Faithful, they certainly hope King is right, and only time will tell.

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