Smith, who played 13 seasons with the Panthers, said Darnold would "put you to sleep reading a book" during the team's preseason broadcast against the Patriots on Friday night. In the same breath, Smith said Mayfield would be best suited to start for Carolina.
Steve Smith, putting it as only he can on the Panthers' preseason telecast about QB battle:
On Baker Mayfield, who 89 believes should start: Charisma, swagger, John Wayne mentality.
On Sam Darnold: "He’s going to put you to sleep, reading a book. We don’t need any librarians."
— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) August 20, 2022
More Steve Smith on the Panthers’ quarterback battle: “Baker Mayfield has outplayed Sam Darnold.’’
— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) August 20, 2022
It's widely expected that head coach Matt Rhule will tap Mayfield to be the starter after trading for him from the Cleveland Browns in June, according to The Athletic. Neither Mayfield nor Darnold played in the Panthers' second preseason game against the Patriots.
This isn't the first time Smith has voiced his opinion on the Panthers' quarterback competition. He said on July 30 that Darnold didn't solidify his role as the starter after already playing in Carolina for a year and that Mayfield handles adversity better.
"So when it’s an open competition, the guy who can handle the most pressure I believe is Baker Mayfield. He will take that quarterback position because they’re also doing alternate reps with the first team," Smith said on NFL Network. "So that’s telling you they want to make the right decision with the right guys and go throw-for-throw. That’s very abnormal, but it’s exciting as a fan to watch.”
Smith critical of Mayfield, complimentary of Darnold in the past
Oddly enough, Smith sentiments toward both quarterbacks have switched in recent weeks.
He's called Mayfield "not very good" and effectively blamed Mayfield for Odell Beckham Jr.'s divorce from the Browns in 2021. Smith called out Mayfield in March for being too emotional while not doing enough on the field, as well, before the Panthers traded for him.
Steve Smith woke up and chose violence 👀pic.twitter.com/5E4zEAIbN2
— The Game Day NFL (@TheGameDayNFL) March 17, 2022
Darnold's poor play, meanwhile, has been excused by Smith since the quarterback joined the Panthers. Last year, Smith called Darnold "an underage driver in rush hour traffic" because of how badly the team's offensive line protected him.
“He’s under duress so much, how do you know Sam Darnold is this bad? They put him on the move and the brother’s running for his life,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen a dude running like that that much since I saw a dude snatch a dude’s purse in New York.”
Smith doubled down earlier this year before the Panthers traded for Mayfield and said the world hadn't seen the best of Darnold yet after Darnold's poor season in Carolina.
For now, the Panthers haven't officially named a starter. Rhule said after the Panthers' loss to the Patriots on Friday that he's "not prepared for anything right now" and would only announce the starter "when it's right."