As training camp inches closer, fans of the San Francisco 49ers have begun to take sides as to who they believe will start for the team in Week 1 and beyond: Sam Darnold, Trey Lance or Brock Purdy. One of the fans who is firmly in the former’s camp is Mike Martz, who served as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator in 2008 and won the 2000 Super Bowl as the head coach of the then-St. Louis Rams.
Writing an article for 33rd team about which teams he expects will have the best offenses in 2023, Martz named the 49ers as his top pick and suggested that, in his opinion, Darnold will be the man running the show.
“I believe Sam Darnold will start,” Martz wrote. “He was a highly talented guy coming out of college. He was put in a couple of tough situations with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. Now, he’s with a solid offensive staff and a coach who is brilliant with quarterbacks. The 49ers are an extremely talented team, and Darnold being the starter would be a good thing. They are primed to have a great season.”
The architect of “The Greatest Show on Turf,” who fielded the top overall offense in the NFL from 1999-2001, Martz knows a thing or two about fielding a top-tier points-scoring machine, especially with an unlikely quarterback starting under center. If Martz believes Darnold can thrive in the 49ers’ offense, maybe Kyle Shanahan will too.
Sam Darnold Gets More Support as San Francisco 49ers QB1
Though Martz is a vocal supporter of Darnold, he isn’t the only one, as, in an appearance on “The Rich Eisen Show,” ESPN’s Lance Riddick noted that a source he “trusts explicitly” believes the USC quarterback could not only start in Week 1 but become one of the biggest surprises of the season.
“We don’t quite know what Brock Purdy is going to look like coming off of injury heading into training camp. We don’t quite know what’s even going on with Trey Lance,” Riddick said via NBC Sports Bay Area. “I’ll tell you what, I had someone tell me this just recently. They believe that Sam Darnold, in that match with [49ers coach] Kyle Shanahan and out there in San Francisco, that could finally be the spot that totally makes him become the out-of-nowhere surprise of the year.
“I had someone who I trust explicitly when it comes to quarterback play [tell me that]. I’m telling you, I said to him, I was like, ‘What?!’ They’re like, ‘Just trust me on this one.’ ”
Based on Riddick’s reaction, one can assume he doesn’t have the same expectations for Darnold this fall as his source, but still, if NFL professionals who speak with at least some regularity with an ESPN personality believe that the 25-year-old could turn heads around the league, it’s just another data point in an ever-expanding data set.
Kyle Shanahan Believes Sam Darnold Has the Tools to Succeed
Speaking with reporters at the Dwight Clark Legacy event in San Jose on Mach 17th, Shanahan was asked about Darnold and his addition to the 49ers’ quarterbacks room. In the opinion of the second-generation head coach, Darnold has all of the tools to be successful in the NFL, as he’s a “born thrower of the football.”
“I don’t think that’s a big controversial statement, Sam is an unbelievable thrower,” Shanahan said via NBC Sports Bay Area. “He was born to do that.”
“There are only a few people on this planet who can throw at the level that you need to throw at to succeed in this league. Sam is one of those guys who can throw like that. That’s why Jimmy (Garoppolo) was a second-round draft pick coming from Eastern Illinois, because he was such a gifted thrower. And then it’s how do you play after that.”
Though being an upper-echelon thrower of the football doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in the NFL, as JaMarcus Russell had one of the biggest NFL arms this century and only lasted three professional seasons after being selected first overall in the 2007 NFL draft, having all of the tools to run Shanahan’s offense does give Darnold a chance to slay in the game much like Garoppolo did from 2017-2022.