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History says the Panthers should be wary of investing the No. 8 pick on the fourth quarterback in the draft

There is no precedent in recent NFL history when a team has successfully invested a Top 25 pick on the fourth quarterback taken in a given draft.

Butler v North Dakota State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The good news for the Carolina Panthers is they have the No. 8 pick in a draft that has four quarterbacks pegged as early first round picks. The bad news for the Panthers is most mock drafts have Trevor Lawrence going first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, then Zach Wilson and Justin Fields each being drafted before Carolina is on the clock. In many mock drafts that leaves the Carolina Panthers deciding if they should take Trey Lance at No. 8 as the fourth quarterback coming off the board in 2021.

In order to project what the future could hold if the Panthers do draft Trey Lance at No. 8 as the fourth quarterback selected behind Lawrence, Wilson, and Fields, let’s look to the past and see when this type of scenario has played out before. There are four drafts in the last 10 years where the fourth quarterback selected was drafted somewhere in the early- to mid-first round. Here’s how these picks played out:

  • 2020 - Joe Burrow (No. 1), Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5), Justin Herbert (No. 7), Jordan Love (No. 21)
  • 2018 - Baker Mayfield (No. 1), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7), Josh Rosen (No. 10)
  • 2012 - Andrew Luck (No. 1), Robert Griffin III (No. 2), Ryan Tannehill (No. 8), Brandon Weeden (No. 22)
  • 2011 - Cam Newton (No. 1), Jake Locker (No. 8), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10), Christian Ponder (No. 12)

Using this as our frame of reference, the fourth quarterbacks taken in QB-heavy drafts were Jordan Love (No. 21), Josh Rosen (No. 10), Brandon Weeden (No. 22), and Christian Ponder (No. 12). Given that many draft boards have Trey Lance going somewhere between No. 8 and No. 15, the two most comparable players would be Rosen and Ponder based on where they were drafted.

That’s not encouraging.

It’s also important to acknowledge it’s very rare for four quarterbacks to be taken among the Top 25 picks. If we go back even further than the last 10 drafts listed above, the next time the fourth quarterback off the board was taken among the Top 25 picks was in 2004 when JP Losman went No. 22 overall. In 2003 Rex Grossman was the fourth quarterback selected and he also went No. 22. It’s not really useful to look earlier than 2000 as the value and responsibilities of quarterbacks have changed so much in the last 20 years.

So, throw Losman and Grossman into the mix with Josh Rosen, Brandon Weeden, and Christian Ponder (we can exclude Jordan Love who is too soon to evaluate) and there is literally no precedent in recent NFL history when a team has successfully invested a Top 25 pick on the fourth quarterback taken in a given draft. Teams are a combined 0-5 in these scenarios going back to 2003. Quarterback is arguably the most difficult position in professional sports, so it’s no surprise how rare it is for the fourth signal caller drafted in a given year to turn into a franchise savior.

Now, just because striking gold with the fourth quarterback taken in a given draft hasn’t happened this century doesn’t mean it can’t happen in 2021. The talent and abilities of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance are completely independent of each other and from those who were drafted in previous years. For all we know, all four of them could become Hall of Famers. Or, with as random as the draft can be with quarterbacks, all four of them could be colossal busts. We simply don’t know what the future holds for any of these guys.

But we do know what the past tells us and it’s this: Investing a first round pick in the fourth quarterback taken in a given draft usually results in a bust.

Panthers first year general manager Scott Fitterer and Coach Matt Rhule may have a difficult decision on their hands with the No. 8 pick. If they take the fourth quarterback in the draft and he becomes the next franchise quarterback, they could be setting Carolina up for success for the next decade-plus. But if they draft the next Josh Rosen or Christian Ponder, the Panthers could be set back for years to come.


If Lawrence, Wilson, and Fields are off the board, would you draft Trey Lance at No. 8?

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