Carolina Panthers UDFAs: The death knell for Jimmy Clausen?

Bob Levey

After choosing to not use a draft pick on a backup quarterback, this UDFA could finally spell the end to Clausen's short-tenure.

There are a thousand ways you could critique the Panthers' draft, but for all the cries of 'they should have taken ____' it's impossible to argue that the team didn't do their homework . One of the most surprising pre-draft meetings was with eventual forth round quarterback Ryan Nassib, but it appears Carolina moved quickly to secure the services of the best quarterback you've probably never heard of, UDFA Colby Cameron.

Playing at Lousiana Tech and running the 'Air Raid' offense, it's a scheme that seems to swallow quarterbacks and brand them as average -- labeling than as 'made better by system'. It hurt Geno Smith this year, allowed former college star Graham Harrell to put up prolific numbers (but not help him on draft day), and with the most pro-ready perpetrator of the scheme being Brandon Weeden -- it's easy to see why there's not much buzz.

In each situation it's the wide receiver who's often given more credit that the passer. In West Virginia it was Tavon Austin, Michael Crabtree filled the role for Harrell, and Justin Blackmon was selected some 20 picks sooner than Weeden in 2012. When it comes to Colby Cameron he got very little recognition, while wide receiver Quinton Patton got effusive praise, even if he was taken a little later than expected (he was taken in the forth round).

What makes Cameron an odd duck is that he's no dissimilar to a lot of players the Panthers drafted in 2013. While there are some knocks on his arm strength, and a small hitch in his delivery, many seem to be overwrought. This isn't a Tony Pike situation, and his arm is no better or worse than Andy Dalton, who's proven to be successful in the NFL -- albeit needing an offense built to mask his arm.

SEASON CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA LNG TD INT SACK RAT
2012 359 522 4147 68.8 7.94 79 31 5 10 153.2
2011 118 215 1667 54.9 7.75 90 13 3 6 137.2
2010 54 91 461 59.3 5.07 32 1 5 5 94.5
2009 14 26 142 53.8 5.46 16 0 0 1 99.7

One thing stands out when watching film -- he proves to be naturally instinctive. Dave Gettleman harps on players like this. His reads are correct, he rarely makes the wrong throw, and shows a high degree of touch on his passes -- specifically in the short field. Cameron has some of the NFL's most difficult throws down pat, now it's about building the rest of his skill-set.

That's not a small mountain to climb, either. There's unquestionably a huge learning curve ahead of him from the Air Raid to an NFL pro-style system. Working under center, not having the buffer of three, and four-wide -- he'll need to show in the classroom that these principles aren't too big for him to grasp. It's also about accepting that Cameron will never be a vertical passer, he just doesn't have those tools.

This brings us back to Jimmy Clausen. A perpetual topic of conversation. There's not a week that passes where someone doesn't ask me when the Panthers will cut Clausen. Wounds still deep from 2010, he's the most talked-about third string quarterback by any fan base (that is, until Tim Tebow signs somewhere). Clausen has the NFL experience, and knows pro style offenses -- that's why he was seen as such a polished product out of Notre Dame. However, what we learned during that rookie season is that he's not a naturally instinctive player. His passes seem forced, as if learned by rote memorization rather than intuitive understanding. He doesn't have a good feeling for where pass rushers are, or when to throw to a receiver in his break. It's been two years since we've seen any regular playing time, and there's simply no way to know where he's at.

Will Colby Cameron come in and easily win the third string job, quickly challenging Derek Anderson for the backup role? No. However, if he's able to show on the board that he can grasp the offense, and prove on the field that knocks on his arm are overblown, there's a chance he could be a fascinating prospect at the next level. Knock the Air Raid all you want, it takes a special player to compete in ten-straight games without an interception. In 2012 he pushed Johnny Manziel to the limit, and now he moves from challenging Johnny Football to Jimmy Clausen -- en route to being one of the most interesting UDFAs to watch this pre-season.

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