In the Spring of 2010 the Carolina Panthers were almost universally listed as 'winners' of the draft. Most outlets acknowledged that the organization overpaid for QB Armanti Edwards, but were quick to note this cost was more than offset by getting the 'steal' of the draft in Jimmy Clausen, who lasted until the 48th pick. Graded anywhere from the 5th overall pick, to the 27th, nobody predicted Clausen would be available in the second round. As night one closed the NFL world was abuzz about who would offer the St. Louis Rams the moon to get the 1st pick of the second round, and subsequently land Clausen– it never happened.
Football fans, more than any, are gifted in the way we obfuscate the simple, and over-simplify the complex. The latter is the case with Clausen, who has come to represent everything that went wrong with the 2010 season. The fact he only started ten games- forgotten. The injuries the Panthers were dealing with- forgotten. The lame duck status of John Fox and Jeff Davidson- forgotten. The complete lack of consistency at the QB position due to Fox's floundering- forgotten.
In the annals of NFL history we may very well look back on Clausen's rookie campaign as one of the worst situations a young QB has ever been thrust into; and yes, I include David Carr's sack-fest in this discussion. The Panthers needed to move on, had to move on. Their new coaching staff had a completely different vision for the offense, and one that left Clausen in the cold. To his credit, Jimmy has handled the last 18 months with as much class as a player can. He didn't complain to the media about his situation, didn't chide the Panthers for looking at replacement QBs, and has kept his mouth shut as his status on the depth chart fell, now firmly entrenched at 3rd.
Based on what I saw of Clausen in Spartanburg, coupled with reports of how he's looked in practices I haven't been able to attend, I'm comfortable saying that I believe Jimmy Clausen has a future in the NFL, just not with the Carolina Panthers. We'll be exploring his future more...
After the jump
If someone wants to debate it, that's fine, but on paper there's very little different between Jimmy Clausen and Bengals' QB Andy Dalton. Both are similar sized, similar build players, both of whom have less than ideal arm strength, and struggle with the deep ball. However, while Dalton fell into an assured situation with a good group of receivers, and a solid defense, the Panthers had neither. Steve Smith is elite, of course, but Brandon LaFell and David Gettis were still trying to find their way in the NFL, and after that? Dwayne Jarrett... yeah, it was that bad.
Clausen's weakness (and where Dalton excelled) was pocket presence, which isn't wholly unexpected from a rookie QB. It takes time for the game to slow down, and not everyone can handle pressure early like Peyton Manning or Cam Newton. During the 2011 preseason we saw the game slow down for Clausen, and he looked more comfortable in league. If this can continue then he'll be an effective QB.
Note that I said 'effective'. It's unlikely Clausen will magically become Aaron Rodgers, but there's no reason he can't become a Jeff Garcia/Billy Volek type QB who is a reliable backup, and good enough to win a few games when needed. Know what neither Garcia nor Volek possessed? Elite arm strength.
Herein lies the issue with Clausen on the Panthers, and why he doesn't have a future here. In Spartanburg you can see Jimmy has put in a lot of work on his short to intermediate routes, and he's very accurate on them. Start asking him to throw over 40 yards and it starts to get a little shaky. Ron Rivera likes deep passes, and picking yards up en masse, and that's not Clausen's game. The best scenario he could find himself in is an offense that utilizes a short passing game, and one with strong RBs who can move the chains– reducing the need for large third down gains.
As far as I'm concerned the scapegoating should end now. If you still truly believe 2010 was a failure because of Jimmy Clausen (or any one of the QBs for that matter) then you're beyond help. That season was the perfect storm that lead to a terrible outcome. The upside is that it was a necessary evil that led to Cam Newton, and the source of Panthers optimism moving forward. Full credit to Clausen for handling the situation how he has, and I hope he truly lights it up this preseason. The best situation for all parties is to entice a QB needy team to make a deal for him, allowing Clausen to get the new start he needs, as the Panthers take their next step.