As soon as Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for his junior season, it became a foregone conclusion that the Carolina Panthers, with the first overall pick in the draft, would not select any of this year's remaining quarterback prospects. According to somebody who would know, that conclusion may be a bit premature.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney indicated that his team would come into the Combine and draft process with an open mind, according to the Charlotte Observer, and the fact that they took a quarterback with their first pick in 2010 (Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick overall) would not preclude them from taking a passer with their first pick in 2011. Thus begins the season of blowing smoke. It's tough to say whether Hurney was serious about taking a quarterback first overall and is actually keeping an open mind going into the Combine where he'll watch some of the top quarterbacks in this year's class throw the ball.
On the one hand, if a player like Cam Newton wows him on the field and in the interview, the Panthers could very well look at him with the first selection. On the other hand, though, saying you're interested in taking a quarterback with the first pick is a good way to get another team that is interested in taking a quarterback a little nervous and more inclined to trade up.
You won't see a team give away their draft to take Newton or Blaine Gabbert, but a team like the Buffalo Bills moving up from third isn't out of the question if they like Newton, Gabbert or any of this year's other top quarterbacks enough and believe the Panthers would actually choose him. Keep in mind the Cincinnati Bengals (4th pick) could be without Carson Palmer next season and the Arizona Cardinals (5th pick) are in need of a quarterback, too.
Should the Panthers, in reality, take a quarterback with the top pick? No. To start, they drafted Clausen last season and while he struggled as a rookie, he didn't have much around him to help him out. With a premier quarterback like Luck not available, Clausen deserves the chance to show his new coaches what he can do. Is he the answer? Maybe not. Carolina is rebuilding, though, and even a superb quarterback under center does not guarantee a playoff berth, which actually seems like quite the distant dream no matter who's taking snaps. There really isn't much to lose by allowing Clausen another chance.
If Clausen fails to impress next season, then the Panthers could look to the first round of the 2012 draft to take a quarterback. Luck is expected to come out next year, and Nick Foles of Arizona will also be available, as well as Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, so it's not like the quarterback cupboards will be bare. Florida's John Brantley is expected to show improvement on the field in 2011, so he could emerge as a legitimate first rounder as well.
If Carolina is hell-bent on selecting a quarterback this year, they could easily find a formidable passer to compete with Clausen for the starting job in a later round. Newton's stock is pretty high and many expect Gabbert to be taken in the first round, but after that it's hard to say which, if any, other quarterbacks will be taken in the first.
In our latest mock draft, NFL Scout Jayson Braddock and I still like Colin Kaepernick as a mid-first rounder, but that is in no way guaranteed. That leaves several quarterback possibilities for teams in the second round, where the Panthers do not currently have a pick, or third round, where the Panthers own the first pick in the round. Christian Ponder, Ricky Stanzi, Ryan Mallett and Pat Devlin, among others, could be available when the Panthers make their second pick this April (65th overall).
With a quarterback class that is deep in its second tier and a 2012 quarterback class that appears promising, there's no reason to reach on a quarterback like Newton or Gabbert with the first pick.
- 2011 NFL Mock Draft Series & NFL Prospect Player Profiles
Danny Hobrock, a sports journalist covering NCAA Football and MLB is the editor of our college football content. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock
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