For the Carolina Panthers, they can’t get rolling until they replace Sam Darnold with a franchise quarterback. The 2022 NFL Draft offers said chance.
Remember when th Carolina Panthers were 3-0 this season? Tough to fathom.
At September’s end, many were loudly proclaiming Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold as a changed man after coming over in a trade from the New York Jets. Darnold, a former top pick who struggled with injuries and consistency, looked like an early MVP candidate.
Flash forward three months, and Darnold had been benched for Cam Newton, and the Panthers finished the season with 12 losses in their final 14 games.
Going into this offseason, there’s no solution to be had in the free-agent market. Carolina isn’t going to get lucky with a huge signing, but rather needs to pull off a trade for a veteran such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers … or draft its future.
While trading for any of the above is going to be incredibly expensive, general manager Marty Hurney can bypass giving up draft picks for years by taking a chance on a rookie. Picking No. 6 overall, Carolina can likely trade back and recoup more draft assets while still taking a signal-caller. Or, the Panthers can ensure they get their man by standing pat and selecting someone such as Liberty’s Malik Willis or Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
Although there aren’t top-tier quarterbacks like in past drafts, Willis, Pickett and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral all possess enough tools and traits to be intriguing. And, for third-year head coach and offensive guru Matt Rhule, the time has come to move off projects such as Darnold and stopgaps like Teddy Bridgewater.
While the avenue to acquire the future at quarterback isn’t clear for Carolina, the need couldn’t be more so. In 2021, Darnold started 11 games and completed 59.9 percent of his throws for 2,527 yards on 6.2 yards per attempt, with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Going with Darnold in 2022 is a non-starter, as is the notion of bringing back Newton, who looks ready for the next chapter in his life.
It’s always a risk drafting a quarterback in the first round, but it could be necessary for the Panthers if they can’t or don’t want to swing a trade. The time has come for Rhule to make his move, and if Carolina doesn’t significantly upgrade at the sport’s most important position, he and his team have no shot.