Striking while the iron is hot: A look forward to 2012 QB prospects

For the Carolina Panthers organization this draft isn't 'just like any other'. Even in the strike shortened, labor embattled 1987 season only one team had a top 5 pick in both the 1987 and 1988 drafts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who went from the #1 pick to the #4 selection. Like the 2011 Panthers, the 1987 Buccaneers saw a new coaching staff with the appointment of Ray Perkins and no pre-season. In short, labor issues, new coach and they still found a way to improve from 2-14 to 4-11, with scabs playing two weeks of the season no less.

The moral of this story is that you have to strike while the iron is hot. Those 1987 Bucs did when they took Vinny Testaverde #1 overall and it ultimately paid dividends.

Fast forward twenty four years and we have what could be the strangest NFL draft in recent memory, especially at QB. A class that was slammed just two months ago for being weak is now being pegged with eight possible QB selections in the first three rounds by some analysts (Newton, Gabbert, Locker, Mallett, Ponder, Dalton, Kaepernick, Stanzi). Compare this to last year when the third round closed with only Bradford, Tebow, Clausen and McCoy off the board and you have the makings of a class that maybe isn't as weak as it first appeared.

What must be considered when weighing QB options in 2011 isn't what happened a year ago, but what will happen in 2012 for QB prospects. We'll look at that... after the jump

As it stands here are the top 8 prospects at QB for the 2012 draft based on a concensus of Scout.com, NFLDraftScout and Walter Football average rankings.

1. Andrew Luck, Stanford (Projected #1 overall)

2. Matt Barkley, USC (Projected top 5 pick)

3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Projected top 5 pick)

4. Nick Foles, Arizona (Projected late 1st/early 2nd round)

5. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (Projected early 2nd round)

6. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (Projected mid 3rd round)

7. Kellen Moore, Boise State (Projected early 4th round)

8. John Brantley, Florida (Projected mid 4th round)

What immediately jumps out is the top end talent in the 2012 draft, but the talent level falls off a cliff once you get past those top three QBs. There is much less stratification across the draft class. It would seem that in order for the Carolina Panthers to get Luck, Barkley or Jones they would need to be as bad in 2011 as they were in 2010.

On that point, here's some food for thought: There are at least two games the Panthers could have won this year, but left them on the table in the final plays (at New Orleans and at Cleveland). If the Panthers had done the sensible thing and kicked field goals in each of these occasions the team would have been 4-12 and could be holding the #4 pick right now, not the #1 pick.

Every year there are players that jump up and fall off draft boards, so it's fully possible Nick Foles could wow us and become a top 15 pick, but really, should the Panthers be gambling on the idea they'll be terrible again in 2012? If so, and they decide to wait on a QB then who do you like in 2012 better than the 2011 class? Andrew Luck obviously, and possibly Landry Jones... but is this a 'bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' situation? 

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