In his introductory press conference, Scott Fitterer said that he believes in adding a quarterback every offseason, and this certainly matches with the approach that Seattle took that ultimately landed them Russell Wilson, as well as how they have used the back-up spot(s) behind Wilson since 2012. While the Panthers have already made one move this offseason by trading for Sam Darnold, a second roll of the dice should absolutely not be ruled out.
While there is a very real chance that the Panthers could make this addition with their first pick in the draft, depending on how the board falls this is also something they could come back to on day two, day three or even with a UDFA signing. To best understand how each of these paths may play out, we have taken a look at the 2021 QB class.
What Do We Look For In Quarterbacks?
A point that needs to be made from the start is that playing quarterback is about a lot more than how well you throw the ball, but that how well you throw the ball is an important factor.
In terms of arm talent, players need to have the ability to push the ball down the field, but the velocity they are able to generate on short and intermediate passes is possibly even more important. This doesn’t mean that every throw has to be rifled at the receiver, but that you don’t want to see passes that hang in the air as the windows in the NFL are going to be that much smaller and balls that arrive late are going to run the risk of getting picked-off.
Being accurate is also very important, and the better prospects will show not just to the ability to hit the receivers as and when they come open, but to also show the accuracy to throw receivers open at different levels of the field. This means putting the ball where on the receiver can catch it, or where it naturally leads the receiver into a chance to gain the maximum number of yards. Touch is also important, which is essentially the ability to judge vertical windows and drop the ball over defenders or time the arrival of the ball with the arrival of the receiver on vertical routes.
As important as those physical tools are, players who aren’t able to master the mental side of the game are going to struggle. While there is always a level of projection for college quarterbacks in this regard, prospects should show the ability to quickly and accurately work through reads and make good decisions with the ball. Ultimately, no player is going to be perfect in this regard, but the faster and more accurate the better. Players who are able to anticipate which routes will come open are especially valuable.
Players can also add value with their feet, both in terms of their ability to move and avoid pressure within the pocket, their ability to escape the pocket and either create time to throw or scramble for added yards or, in rare cases, be a proactive weapon in the running game.
There are different ways of being an effective NFL quarterback, Pat Mahomes and Drew Brees have both been excellent NFL quarterbacks but are very different players. Players need to be able to reach certain benchmarks in terms of arm talent and decision making, but elite arm talent can compensate for the lack of elite anticipation and elite anticipation can compensate for the lack of elite arm talent.
So, with all that said, what does the 2021 quarterback draft class look like?
|Name||College||Height||Weight||Arm Talent||Accuracy and Touch||Mental Traits||Mobility||Questions||Grade||Ranking|
|Trevor Lawrence||Clemson||6'6||220||Velocity is good but not exceptional but shows the ability to push the ball down the field even without a secure base||Shows really nice touch at all levels and accuracy is generally good though high level accuracy often wasn't probed due to big windows||Offensive scheme did make some decisions for him, but shows the ability to work through progressions, processing speed seems good and does a good job outside of structure, though he is prone to an occasional head-scratcher||Really pretty mobile and can offer a running threat but isn't genuinely dual-threat||Can he eliminate the occasional play where he seems to just not see defenders?||Mid 1st Round||1|
|Justin Fields||Ohio State||6'3||228||Really quite nice velocity and has the arm to push the ball deep even when not completely set||Really quite nice touch, and shows the ability to hit tight windows down the field, but there are also a few too many misses on short throws||Shows an ability to work through progressions, but can be far too slow to move off reads and can stare receivers down at times. Generally a handful of bad decisions in each game and processing speed is going to have to improve||Reasonably mobile and can run the ball at times but is more elusive than he is powerful||Can he make consistently good decisions inside and NFL offense?||Mid 2nd Round||2|
|Kellen Mond||Texas A&M||6'2||217||Really good velocity with the arm strength to push the ball down the field into tight windows||Good accuracy at all levels of the field and shows good touch though this wasn't a particularly consistent part of his game||Makes good decisions with the ball in general and shows good anticipation but does get locked into certain receivers at times and wasn't always asked to process super quickly in a downfield passing attack||Reasonably mobile and has the ability to carry the ball from time to time but isn't a major rushing threat||Can he up his processing speed in a quicker passing attack||Mid 2nd Round||3|
|Mac Jones||Alabama||6'3||214||Pretty good velocity with decent-to-good arm strength to push the ball down the field but there are throws he can't make||Good accuracy on short and intermediate throws, but does tend to underthrow at times working deeper down the field though touch is generally good||Shows pretty good anticipation and makes good decisions with the ball in a relatively complex offensive scheme, albeit often from a very clean pocket||Can move around the pocket fairly well and scramble at times but isn't a rushing threat||How limiting is his arm strength going to be at the next level?||Late 2nd Round||4|
|Zach Wilson||BYU||6'3||210||Good velocity when he can step into throws but there are too many passes which hang in the air though he can definitely push the ball deep even off-base||Generally pretty accurate but can struggle when not able to drive his shoulder into throws and there are some underthrows down the field at times though touch appears to be generally good||Shows flashes of anticipation and works through reads quickly, but is too content to throw contested balls and misses too many reads and ability to be both fast and accurate could be a problem when he doesn't have as much time to throw||Really pretty mobile and can be a real threat when play beaks down but isn't a primary rushing option||Can he consistently make the right play from the pocket?||Mid 3rd Round||5|
|Kyle Trask||Florida||6'4||239||Has enough of an arm to throw the deep ball while showing pretty good velocity||Good accuracy at all levels and shows nice touch at various depths.||Reasonably complex offense and showed good decision making on the whole with good anticipation but has a real tendency to get locked onto reads and force throws that aren't there||Decent mobility but certainly isn't going to be a regular ball carrier||Can he be more reactive in his progressions rather than getting locked onto reads?||Late 3rd Round||6|
|Trey Lance||North Dakota State||6'3||221||Good velocity and has the arm to push the ball down the field effectively||Somewhat arched throwing motion causes real issues with accuracy and touch down the field at times, decent short accuracy but needs to prove he can consistently hit targets more than 10 yards down the field||Offensive scheme did a lot of work, seems to be far too content to take 50:50 throws and processing speed is a real concern, with some missed reads when he tries to go quickly. Eyes seem to go down quickly under pressure.||Legitimately dual threat||Can he actually operate an NFL offense and make passes down the field?||High 4th Round||7|
|Shane Buechele||SMU||6'1||207||Good arm strength with really good velocity on underneath throws||Really nice accuracy over all levels with good touch at all levels, but seems very dependent on getting his feet set||Moderately complex offense and makes generally good decisions with good improvisation outside of structure, but some forced throws||Reasonably mobile but isn't going to be a regular ball carrier||Can he be as effective in a scheme that isn't as spread'em and shread'em?||Mid 4th Round||8|
|Davis Mills||Stanford||6'4||198||Decent-to-good velocity with some ability to push the ball down the field but does struggle for arm strength at times||Shows some nice accuracy down the field at times, and flashes nice touch but there are too many throws that he just plan misses at all levels of the field||Flashes really encouraging anticipation at times and shows the ability to work through progressions quickly but there are too many head-scratchers||Somewhat mobile, but isn't going to be a part of the rushing game in any significant way||Can he improve his consistency as both a thrower and a decision maker?||Mid 5th Round||9|
|Feleipe Franks||Arkansas||6'6||228||Pretty good velocity with reasonable arm strength though ball does float in the air somewhat on deeper throws||Good short and intermediate accuracy but deep ball is pretty hit and miss and touch doesn't appear to be especially good||Offensive scheme was fairly simplistic and a lot of decisions were pre-determined and ability to work through reads quickly and accurately is a concern with a number of missed reads even at low speed||Reasonably mobile with the frame to take hits but not super elusive||Can he execute an offense at a level to earn a role as a back-up?||Mid 6th Round||10|
|Jamie Newman||Georgia||6'3||230||Has a pretty good ability to push the ball down the field but velocity isn't amazing||Some flashes of deep touch but a lot of balls overthrown and inconsistent hitting receivers in stride down the field. Short accuracy is pretty good but rarely asked to work into intermediate windows||Relatively simplistic offense and decision making is questionable at times with some really concerning decisions in read-option.||Relatively mobile and has some ability to contribute as a ball carrier||Can he actually consistently execute an NFL offense?||Late 6th Round||11|
|Brady White||Memphis||6'2||215||Decent-to-good velocity with some ability to push the ball down the field but does struggle for arm strength at times||Generally pretty good accuracy with nice touch, but there are a fair number of underthrows throughout||Relatively simplistic offense, and generally executes well, but there are some questionable decisions here and there||Has some mobility but isn't a rushing threat||Does he have the arm to compensate for his lack of elite anticipation?||High 7th Round||12|
|Zac Thomas||App State||6'0||200||Pretty good arm strength and velocity, but does lose some velocity down the field||Generally decent short accuracy with some nice passes down the field and flashes of nice touch, but a fair number of really ugly misses mixed in as well||Somewhat simplistic offense and does make some really questionable decisions at times, but generally executes the offense well||Really pretty mobile with the ability to be a part of the running game, but can be a little bit deer in the headlights under pressure||Can he operate an NFL offense to a high enough level to be a useful back-up?||High 7th Round||13|
|Sam Ehlinger||Texas||6'2||235||Reasonable arm strength in terms of pushing the ball down the field with decent velocity||Accuracy is decent underneath, and does flash some nice touch from time to time, but there are also a reasonable number of really ugly misses as well with far too many deep balls just hung out there||Relatively simplistic offense, and does make generally solid decisions, but also is a bit hesitant and doesn't show a huge amount of anticipation with a few too many contested jump balls down the field||Has the ability to take hits but isn't super dangerous as a runner.||Does he have enough talent to become more than just a back-up?||Mid 7th Round||14|
|Ian Book||Notre Dame||6'0||210||Pretty good velocity but arm strength is fairly unremarkable and doesn't seem to trust his ability to push the ball down the field at times||Good accuracy on short and intermediate throws but accuracy down the field isn't amazing and touch is fairly questionable||Seems to struggle working through reads and tends to drop eyes and look to run far too early in plays with some really poor decisions thrown in here and there||Reasonably mobile and can add some value scrambling but isn't an NFL rushing threat||Can he actually operate an NFL offense to be a back-up?||Late 7th Round||15|
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Trevor Lawrence is very good. He has as good an arm as any player in the class, and while Clemson’s scheme did a lot of work for him in terms of decision making, he executed at a consistently high level. There are occasional plays where he appears to miss defenders when working through reads, but these are occasional. Lawrence might not end up being the best quarterback from this class, but his floor is far higher than those with similar upside.
Justin Fields is one of those players who have the upside to challenge that of Lawrence, but while some concerns about his processing are overblown, they are not completely false. He does take too long to move on from reads at times, and there are more mistakes than you’d like to see, especially when working at speed, but his decision making on the whole is good and some of his issues can be explained by what he is being asked to do rather than what is a fundamental limitation. Teams will need to be confident in his ability to continue to develop, but he has as the best shot to be a franchise QB of those not called Lawrence.
Kellen Mond is higher here than in some other rankings, and that is in part because his arm talent appears to be somewhat underrated league-wide (possibly in part due to his somewhat strained posture) and in part because there are more questions surrounding some of the other ‘top’ quarterbacks. Mond needs to show that he has the touch to hit vertical windows down the field more consistently, and does occasionally appear to get locked onto reads, but he has as high a floor as any quarterback in this class and enough upside to make him a potential franchise QB.
Mac Jones definitely has some limitations, and he is likely going to need a good team around him at the next level to win Super Bowls, but his arm talent is better than some seem to think, and he makes good decisions with the ball. For him to reach the upper tier of quarterbacks he will need to develop a mental mastery of the game that few have reached (think Manning, Brees, Brady) and while this isn’t completely impossible, his likely ceiling is more in the mid-tier range of starting quarterbacks.
Zach Wilson is much lower here than elsewhere, and while he has some really flashy throws on tape, there are also more misses than you’d like to see, especially when unable to drive through his shoulder, and his ball velocity and deep ball touch are far less consistent than his flash plays would suggest. On the mental side of the game, he shows some nice anticipation at points but also is too content to throw contested passes and misses open receivers more often than he should. There is certainly a lot of talent to get excited about, but the floor is much lower than some seem to think.
Kyle Trask has fallen out of the top prospect conversation after some poor game late in the season, and while he likely won’t be a high-quality starter at the next level, he has the potential to be a long-term piece if surrounded by talent. His arm isn’t in the top tier but it’s still strong enough to make all the throws and he is accurate. He does pre-determine too many of his reads, however, and while his processing speed is good that does seem to come at the cost of more poor decisions than is ideal.
Trey Lance is another who is much lower here than elsewhere, and that really comes back to the fact that there are an awful lot of unanswered questions about his game. He has the arm talent to rival anybody in terms of velocity and arm strength, but he is not as accurate as those above him on the list. While he didn’t make many outright bad decisions, he is too content to throw contested passes, misses too many open receivers and needs to work through reads more quickly. He is still very young, and the upside is definitely there, but his value is all tied to what he can become. Interviews will be key for a full evaluation.
While all of those top seven quarterbacks are likely to be gone at least by the middle rounds, the Panthers do also have some options on day three. The best of these is Shane Buechele, who has a pretty good arm and makes good decisions on the whole, but who lacks the absolute upside of some of the top quarterbacks and will be more reliant on being able to transfer his decision making to a more pro-style scheme in order to see the field.
Outside of him, there are some more pure developmental options such as Jamie Newman, but he is another whose tape is more error-filled than you would like to see and will likely take at least a year before he is ready to see the field.
For the Panthers, there are more options who have franchise QB in this class than any in recent memory, and they would likely hope that the board falls in such a way that they will be able to take one of the top seven quarterbacks at some point where they are happy with the value. That being said, what this draft class has in strength of depth it lacks in terms of very top-tier prospects outside of Trevor Lawrence. The odds are that one or maybe two of Fields, Lance, Wilson, Trask, Jones and Mond turns into a top-10 quarterback in the NFL, but which one it is is hard to say for sure.
Interviews are always a crucial part of evaluating quarterbacks, as how they decision making process works cannot be fully probed on tape, but in a class with as much upside and as little floor as this, that is going to be more important than ever.
(Top photo via Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)