Fri, 14 May 2021

Make the Case: Draft a quarterback, yes, another one

Carolina Panthers
23 Apr 2021, 05:44 GMT+10

Darin Gantt

(Editor's note: With the 2021 NFL Draft coming up next week, we're taking a daily look at the different paths the Panthers could choose with the eighth overall pick. Think of this as an argument for a particular position, rather than a prediction.)

CHARLOTTE - The Panthers have plenty of quarterbacks at the moment. Too many, honestly.

But that's no reason not to draft another one - as long as he's the right one - and no one knows that better than Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer.

Fitterer was with the Seahawks in 2012, when they invested good money in former Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn. The three-year, $26 million contract sent a clear signal that they planned for him to be their starter, even though they said he'd compete with Tarvaris Jackson.

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Then a funny thing happened on draft weekend. The right guy happened to be in front of them, so they took another quarterback anyway.

Using a third-round pick on an undersized project who switched sports and schools before he got there was considered a waste of a choice by some critics at the time.

But when Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl win the following year, it looked like a wise investment.

That isn't just a success story for Fitterer; it's a parable. But you have to be careful to interpret it correctly.

Too often, fan bases will commodify "young quarterbacks," because as a subset of the population "quarterbacks," they're the best kind to have. Since they're cheap, you can put lots of other players around them, and that can help them succeed.

The problem comes in when people confuse "young quarterbacks" with "good quarterbacks."

To make the strategy work, your evaluation has to be correct, and you have to be convinced of it. If the Seahawks had followed the signing of Flynn by drafting Brock Osweiler (the fifth quarterback chosen that year) or Nick Foles (the seventh), it wouldn't have been nearly as smart. But Wilson was the right fit at the right time for the right team.

That makes the exhaustive work that Fitterer and the scouting staff have done this offseason critical for the Panthers.

Obviously, they won't have a shot at Trevor Lawrence, but the GM has hit all the other pro days for the top quarterbacks, personally watching Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields, in addition to the week the team spent with Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl. If they're wrong in their evaluations of those five quarterbacks, it won't be for lack of effort.

So if the right one - one they're convinced they can win with - happens to be there when the eighth overall pick comes up, there's no compelling reason not to take him.

The Panthers dealt three draft picks (including next year's second and fourth) to the Jets for Sam Darnold a few weeks ago. If they drafted a quarterback they loved, that would make Darnold a short-term rental, and an expensive one. But what if the 2012 Seahawks, on the clock at 75, said: "We like this Wilson kid, but man, we just spent a lot of money on Flynn, let's take a running back instead."

Granted, it's much easier to roll the dice on a third-round pick than a first (the Russell Wilson analogy only stretches so far), but that's the pressure Fitterer inherited when he went from being a college scouting director in Seattle to a GM here.

Of course, what we don't know at the moment is whether the Panthers consider any of the quarterbacks who might be available to them (Lawrence and Wilson definitely will not) good enough to build a team around. It's entirely possible that they do not, and that played a part in the decision to trade for Darnold.

But if they do, and if they're convinced one of them can be the answer - and most importantly, if they're right - then using the eighth overall pick on a quarterback is a small price to pay.

And Fitterer has a ring to prove it.

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