While last Friday may have been Scott Fitterer’s first pre-draft press conference, the Panthers new GM is clearly well-versed in the art of talking a lot and saying very little. At this point, much of the pre-draft process has devolved into non-stop Twitter prognostications in the hopes that some of it will turn out to be correct, all while agents and highly-placed team sources use reporters to run interference regarding their actual plans for the first round of the draft.
However, with that being said, there were at least some important takeaways from the Panthers’ pre-draft press conference regarding both the draft and the direction of the franchise moving forward.
Matt Rhule loves the Dave Matthews Band.
In a major turn: Rhule says he’s fired up for DMB’s tour to resume in Raleigh; says “You & Me” is his favorite song. Credit @joshkleinrules for the question.
— Christian Audi (@TheEpicAudi) April 23, 2021
And while this revelation – along with the fact that his favorite song is the popular-but-derided-by-hardcore-fans ‘You & Me’ – may not have raised as many eyebrows as the number of first-round grades the Panthers have given out (16), the number of teams they’ve discussed trading down with (five) or that the deepest positions in the draft are, purely coincidentally, three positions the Panthers have needs at (press corner, tackle and wide receiver), Rhule may have revealed the teams plans for the next week. It’s just up to us to translate it from the lyrics of his favorite band and dissect which way the Panthers might go on Thursday night with the eight pick in the draft.
And not only that – what direction they turn in with the eight pick will determine where they go with the 39th pick, which is just two picks ahead of pick #41. Don’t keep it locked up inside. Let it creep into your mind. Join me under the table. Let’s do some dreaming.
Wanna Pack Your Bags Something Small – Take What You Need And We Disappear: Say Goodbye, Teddy
In a move that’s been brewing since last December when owner David Tepper eschewed multiple chances to endorse Teddy Bridgewater and stick to the plan outlined by former GM Marty Hurney – have Teddy under contract for two or three years and find your franchise quarterback in the meantime – the Panthers shipped the 28-year old QB to Denver in exchange for the 191st pick in the draft, picking up some of his contract and gaining $6m in cap room in the process.
If you’re counting at home, that’s trading Bridgewater and two picks next season (second and fourth) for Sam Darnold and moving up 35 picks in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. Whether or not that’s an improvement depends on your view of Darnold and his chances of showing vast improvement with a better cadre of weapons and coaching than he’s had in his short career.
It didn’t take a lifetime to undo what Marty Hurney had done, it only took one offseason and a whole lot of dead cap, but the Panthers pressed reset on their quarterback situation for the second consecutive year. If it doesn’t work, throw Sam Darnold on the pyre again. The Panthers said goodbye to Teddy, but they may not go back to being friends.
I Need More. I’m Going Over My Borders: Trade Down For More Assets
Last season, with Hurney in the war room, the Panthers decided to stick in the top ten despite teams calling to move up – if those calls come again in 2021, that is a lot less likely to be the case.
Fitterer comes from a Seattle organization that loved the trade down and the Panthers have made no bones over the past few months about the growl in their tummies being for more draft picks – if they could recoup the picks they gave up to get Darnold and still get a player they value highly, that would be a preferred situation for them. With 16 first-round grades, there are plenty of teams below the Panthers that would be interested in coming up to the eighth pick – but the scenario that likely has many teams clamoring to give up the gold would be one where a player that the Panthers covet – like Penei Sewell or Justin Fields – is still on the board.
Barring someone like Kyle Pitts, who many teams view as the top non-quarterback in the draft, slipping to the Panthers, Carolina will almost certainly take calls for the entirety of their first-round allotment. The question will then be if the deal is good enough to get them to pass on the top player on their board and, if a QB is involved, expect that offer to include at least one first-round pick.
Is it worth gaining that extra pick, passing on a possible franchise QB or LT and picking up a player like Jaycee Horn or Christian Darrisaw – would that be ok, ok, ok?
You never know.
If You Hold On Tight To What You Think Is Your Thing You May Find You’re Missing All The Rest: Grab That QB And Figure It Out
The question of “To Fields Or Not To Fields” is the only question that matters. Should the QB who was thought to be the second-best player in the draft after the season but has slipped throughout the winter’s cold be available with the eighth pick in the draft.
The Panthers have made it clear that they are willing to take a quarterback if the right deal doesn’t present itself, but that could also be mere posturing in the hopes of that trade-up offer climbing high as the sky over the course of the first seven picks should teams think the Panthers might take a quarterback with the eighth pick.
Fields will certainly have the Panthers turning to question themselves: They’ve said it wouldn’t – but when the rubber meets the road, would trading for Sam Darnold earlier this month preclude them from taking Fields? If they do pass on him at eight, would they have doen the same had Darnold not been in the building? If they do draft Fields, will they then not exercise the fifth-year option and have traded two picks for a one-year rental? Would drafting a QB at 8 affect the psyche of an already-battered young QB who has admitted to seeing ghosts who sometimes can’t see themselves? Is this slipping in of DMB lyrics annoying or clever?
Ultimately, when it comes to quarterbacks, it all comes down to nothing: If Fields ends up being the Panthers’ next franchise QB, no one will care about the two picks given up for Darnold or the dead cap that Bridgewater cost or how they got to this point, they’ll only care that Fields is the QB. Funny the way that is.
Everything Good Needs Replacing: Finding The Next Wide Receiver
While he almost certainly will not be available at the eighth pick, the Panthers – who coveted now Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb during last year’s draft – would be tempted to simply take the best player available should LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase slip to the Panthers.
Don’t be fooled by the Panthers already having a pair of terrific wideouts on the roster – Robby Anderson has likely already played himself into a huge next contract and if all that gold steals his soul away to another team just as Curtis Samuel made a break for it to Washington, the Panthers will be hurting for depth alongside DJ Moore, who will be aiming for a huge payday himself after his rookie contract runs up. Chase is thought of as a generational wide receiver prospect – think Julio Jones – and Matt Rhule will be licking his chops at the thoughts of being able to stretch the field vertically with Chase, Moore and Anderson – they’ll just have to figure out who’s going to block for Darnold in the meantime.
Either way, amassing more weapons and perhaps throwing another dart at a quarterback later in the draft – or even trying to entice a veteran QB next offseason – is a strategy that has paid off in other places. Imagine trying to match up out of the Shotgun with Moore, Anderson, Chase and an angry Christian McCaffrey coming off an injury-plagued 2020.
That’ll send defensive coordinators screaming down the hall.
What I Want Is What I’ve Not Got: Filling The Left Tackle Hole For The First Time In A Decade
The Panthers have been reaching and searching for a left tackle since Jordan Gross retired – there is a certain simplicity in the idea of just staying at the eighth pick and taking the 20-year old tackle from Oregon (Penei Sewell) who is thought to slot in immediately at left tackle and can protect the quarterback, whether that’s Sam Darnold in 2021 or another QB on the carousel the year after – Sewell seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a Strong Buddy who could anchor your offensive line for a decade as he grows into the natural skill he already possesses.
But if Sewell does fall to eight, that same logic that would cause the Panthers to trade out with Fields on the board might cause them to move down and pass on Sewell – while someone like Rashawn Slater’s arms may not be long enough to cup the sky, he would be an immediate top-tier guard if they chose to use him there and could grow into the left tackle the Panthers need.
Christian Darrisaw could also be an option should the Panthers trade down – whomever they choose, finding a big body to jump in the mud and get their hands dirty would be a wise investment into making the future in Carolina a place to place their better days.
I Got the Whole World here, Daddy, Between My Fingers and My Thumb: Investing In NFL Bloodlines At Corner
Should the Panthers decide to stick with Sam Darnold for the 2021 season (or should Fields not be available at 8), the Panthers may choose to fill the eighth slot – or any of the spots between eight & 15 – with a cornerback. There are three (including two sons of former NFL players) at the top of the list for most teams, including the Panthers’.
While many think Patrick Surtain II is the top corner available, I’m hearing that the Panthers would prefer Jaycee Horn from just down the road – Horn finished with 16 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions in seven games with the Gamecocks in 2020 and in 13 appearances with the Crimson Tide, Surtain posted 38 tackles, 12 pass breakups and one interception.
Caleb Farley, who may be the most talented CB in the draft, has a lot of injury questions but if the Panthers’ doctors find him feeling healthy and think his current issues are only temporary, he could be someone they target after trading down. If the Panthers don’t address corner in the first round, they’ll almost certainly address it later on, even after signing AJ Bouye in the offseason.
Some may say there are too many choices, but on Thursday, the Panthers will open up their head and let their draft plans out.