Another Viking Gets the “Dark Horse” Treatment

A Minnesota Vikings fan greets other fans in front of the NFL Draft stage during the NFL Draft second and third rounds on Friday, April 26, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. © Mark Zaleski/ For The Tennessean.

If you haven’t adjusted to it yet, even after the club drafted J.J. McCarthy in April, newcomer quarterback Sam Darnold will probably start for the Minnesota Vikings in September.

Another Viking Gets the “Dark Horse” Treatment

Darnold entered the chat the day after Kirk Cousins left for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, and since, despite a clear assignment as a patchover quarterback, the journeyman has all but secured the Vikings’ QB1 job, at least to start the 2024 regular season.

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And according to Bleacher Report, Darnold should be classified as a “dark horse” contender for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. BR’s Brad Gagnon explained, “I’m not giving up on Darnold, who has had his moments despite few opportunities since the Jets gave up on the 2018 No. 3 overall pick. And neither are the Vikings, who may give J.J. McCarthy some serious time to develop.”

Minnesota has a long history of allowing once-promising veterans to take a stab at QB1. Darnold in 2024 feels no different.

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“In fact, with plenty of support in that offense, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 27-year-old Darnold excelled as a starter throughout the 2024 campaign,” Gagnon added.

Gagnon also assigned the dark horse label for Comeback Player of the Year to Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) and Justin Fields (Pittsburgh Steelers). Last year, Joe Flacco won the trophy for his performance with the Cleveland Browns, though he started just five games.

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Meanwhile, in direct contrast to the Bleacher Report theory, the Associated Press recently clarified the Comeback Player of the Year criteria. It told voters, “The spirit of the AP Comeback Player of the Year Award is to honor a player who has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity by overcoming illness, physical injury or other circumstances that led him to miss playing time the previous season.”

Yes, that’s the antithesis of Darnold in Minnesota, a man who did not battle injury in 2024 and is more in line with Flacco’s tale last year. Bleacher Report evidently believes voters will ignore the recommendation from the Associated Press. Stay tuned.

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Generally speaking, Darnold is a longshot to win the award because a) He must play well enough to garner attention in the first place — and he’s never played efficiently for more than a few games at a time b) He isn’t returning from a major injury.

Yet, BR believes Darnold can be a dark horse if Flacco won the hardware last year. In the same article, Gagnon also mentioned Justin Jefferson as a fringe MVP contender.

The Vikings kick off the regular season in 67 days at the New York Giants.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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