Why the Panthers Won't Draft a QB in the First Round of the 2022 NFL Draft
The Carolina Panthers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The worst team in the NFC South is one of two franchises (Seahawks) without a clear-cut starter at quarterback thanks to passing on highly-touted passers Justin Fields and Mac Jones in last year’s draft in favor of an ill-advised acquisition of Sam Darnold.
Those kinds of decisions can doom a franchise. It has also added a lot of pressure on coach Matt Rhule, who already fired his hand-picked offensive coordinator Joe Brady, to succeed in 2022.
While Rhule will undoubtedly want to save his job by drafting a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick, the Panthers — and owner David Tepper — need to be smart and patient and not force a signal-caller.
No clear-cut top QB prospects
Although last year’s QB class struggled mightily outside of Jones in their rookie campaign, it was still head and shoulders better than this year’s mediocre crop of passers.
At No. 6 overall, the Panthers could have their choice of the top QB in the draft, but with uncertainty surrounding the position, it could be a wasted pick.
The Panthers theoretically could target Kenny Pickett, who Rhule recruited to Temple, or the exciting dual-threat Malik Willis. At 24, Pickett could potentially start right away but he offers little-to-no upside and his floor as a prospect is a career backup. That’s not exactly someone worth spending such a high pick on, especially with talented players such as Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, Travon Walker, and Charles Cross, among others potentially still on the board.
The Panthers are without second- and third-rounders this year, so they could trade back and still draft a QB like Pickett, Willis, Desmond Ridder or Matt Corral but that would be a short-sighted decision that could have a lasting impact on Carolina’s future coaching search.
Coaching Staff Needs to Win Now
This is where ownership and the front office need to put their foot down.
Rhule and his coaching staff can theoretically pitch to ownership that if they draft a rookie QB that they should be the group to help develop signal-caller this year and beyond. But that could put the Panthers in a Chicago Bears-like situation.
Last year, the Bears traded away this year’s No. 7 pick to move up to draft Fields. While the former Ohio State QB is certainly talented, Chicago cleaned house after the season and it’s put Fields on thin ice in Year 2. That’s what the Panthers must avoid.
Tepper’s desperate for a franchise QB — they were in on Deshaun Watson — but he should be smart and have his front office focus on building up the roster instead of forcing a QB at pick No. 6 or later.
There are two options that could help the Panthers in the short term while not mortgaging their future.
Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo Are Upgrades
After the Panthers missed out on Watson, their options at QB became even more limited. They’re now forced to either start draft bust Sam Darnold, bring back Cam Newton, reach for a QB in the draft or trade for one of the available injured QBs in Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo.
There have already been reports that Mayfield and the Panthers have a “mutual disinterest,” and while that’s pretty hilarious, it’s a beggars-can’t-be-choosers scenario for both sides.
Mayfield struggled over the past couple of seasons in Cleveland, but he was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft for a reason. He’s clearly talented and would be a good upgrade under center for Carolina. He might give Panthers fans flashbacks to trading for Darnold as they’re both underwhelming top picks, but Mayfield is the superior passer and he’d be a solid stop-gap for at least a season.
That goes for 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, too.
When healthy, Jimmy G has proven to be a solid if unspectacular QB who could be a bridge QB for a year or two. The key caveat is “when healthy,” though.
Garoppolo has dealt with multiple injuries in his career — including an injured throwing shoulder that required surgery this offseason. That’s killed any trade market for the former second-rounder, but with just the Seahawks and Panthers having a “help wanted” sign at QB, he would be the only realistic option for the 49ers to get any value back for their former starting passer.
Both QBs could come in and start right away and give the Panthers a marked improvement under center. It might not make the Panthers a playoff contender, but it could make Carolina watchable and potentially save Rhule’s job.
If it ends in a disaster like this past season, then the Panthers can look toward next season’s crop of young QBs.
Next year’s Class is way better
Here’s where the Panthers’ patience must come into play.
Drafting a QB at No. 6 would essentially destroy any opportunity the Panthers would have to get one of the elite QBs in next year’s class unless the franchise pulled a Cardinals, where they traded Josh Rosen and selected Kyler Murray No. 1 overall.
The Panthers should set their sights on improving the roster this year, acquiring future draft capital and putting themselves in a position to grab either Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud in the 2023 NFL Draft.
If the Panthers can acquire either Mayfield or Garoppolo for a mid-round pick or two to salvage their upcoming season while eyeing potential franchise QBs next year, then they will have set themselves up for the present and future.
That’s way better than where they’re at now.
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