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The Panthers pick a quarterback to build around in Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft

The Panthers take a shot at getting their quarterback of the future in Mel Kiper’s latest mock for ESPN.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Panthers want to move on from Teddy Bridgewater. The only question is when they want to make the move. Do they want to trade for an established name (Deshaun Watson), or do they want to draft a quarterback, sit him for a year, and then move on from Bridgewater after the 2021 season? That’s the question that we’re going to continue to ask ourselves (and debate the answer to) for the next several months.

In his latest mock draft for ESPN (ESPN+ subscription required), Mel Kiper believes the Panthers will attempt to upgrade the quarterback position by using the No. 8 overall pick on a potential quarterback of the future. For the first time in his mock drafts, Kiper decided to use trades since this year’s quarterback class is, as he called it, ‘too good’ to avoid predicting which teams will try to trade up and grab one of the top prospects.

The Panthers were not one of the teams that traded up in this mock, but two teams jumped ahead of them to take the top guys not named Trevor Lawrence (Zach Wilson and Justin Fields), which leads us to an interesting selection for the Panthers:

8. Carolina Panthers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

We know the Panthers offered this pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford, and it appears Matt Rhule & Co. are maneuvering to make a play for Deshaun Watson — if the Texans decide to honor his request and trade him. The team clearly isn’t satisfied with Teddy Bridgewater and wants to upgrade. So let’s assume Carolina can’t pry away Watson and instead looks to the draft. I have Jones just ahead of North Dakota State’s Trey Lance in my rankings, but a lot will depend on their interviews with teams leading up to the draft. Jones, who showed tremendous downfield accuracy last season, is more ready to play in 2021, though, and the Panthers have the talent on offense to help him succeed.

Kiper’s logic makes sense, and it’s not really a surprise that Jones is rising on draft boards after winning the National Championship at Alabama and having a good week of Senior Bowl practices before an ankle injury prevented him from playing in the game. Jones was a member of the American roster, which was coincidentally coached by Matt Rhule, so there is definitely a connection between the coach and player that could give Jones the edge over other prospects like Trey Lance.

Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports listed Jones as one of the prospects who boosted their draft stock at the Senior Bowl:

Jones is going to be picked in the first round. That’s my post-Senior Bowl not-exactly-bold prediction. Despite ridiculous efficiency in 2020 for the national champion Crimson Tide, there was still plenty of chatter about Jones’ physical limitations pushing him into the second round.

Now, after a stellar week of Senior Bowl practices — he didn’t play in the game — Jones’ stock has been boosted enough that I feel he’s essentially locked himself in the first round. In Mobile, Jones threw with pinpoint accuracy and fantastic anticipation to receivers he didn’t have any established rapport. A strong week of passing at the Senior Bowl always bodes very well for a quarterback’s stock because coaches love to see one thrive in a difficult environment.

Whether or not Jones will rise all the way into the top ten is yet to be seen, but at this point it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that he will be drafted somewhere in the first round.

My take

If the Panthers are unable to trade for Deshaun Watson, or if they are unable to move up in the draft to get Zach Wilson or Justin Fields, then I wouldn’t hate the idea of taking Mac Jones. I don’t know if I would want them to take him at No. 8, and my ideal scenario of drafting Jones in the first round involves trading down into the teens to pick up an additional second round pick (plus more, preferably) and getting Jones in the middle of the first round instead of No. 8 overall.

The one bright side to drafting Jones (or any of the ‘big four’ quarterbacks after Lawrence) is that the most valuable asset an NFL team can have is a good quarterback on a rookie contract. The cap savings from paying the most important player on the team (and the highest earner when it’s time to offer a second contract) a lower salary for five years allows a team to build around him with better talent across the board (e.g. - the Rams with Jared Goff). Drafting a quarterback instead of trading for one would also give the Panthers the cap flexibility to retain both Taylor Moton and Curtis Samuel, and it would also allow them to pursue other high quality free agents if they wanted to do so.

While having a 25-year-old franchise quarterback like Deshaun Watson on the roster would certainly be exciting (and is something that I have advocated for numerous times), there is some credibility to the idea of building around a rookie quarterback and improving other areas of the roster with the extra cap space. If the Panthers decided to draft a quarterback at No. 8 — regardless of which one it is — they could afford to bolster their offensive line, defensive line, receiver corps or secondary and have a more complete team.

The down side to this approach is obvious. What if Mac Jones — or whichever quarterback they choose at No. 8 — ends up being a bust? The somewhat good news is there are potential outs for the team if that ends up being the case. Because a rookie’s salary is so low, the Panthers could simply draft or trade for another one in a year or two and cut bait if this year’s pick ends up being a disaster. If the quarterback is bad enough to replace within two years, the chances are pretty likely that they would have another top 10 pick anyway, so it would be easier to try again. Of course this isn’t the preferred method of building a team, and there would be a never ending supply of ‘We should have just traded for Watson!’ comments, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if taking a quarterback in the top 10 this year doesn’t work out.

Going back to the Panthers taking Mac Jones at No. 8 overall in Kiper’s mock, I’m not going to make any bold claims regarding his worthiness of being a top ten pick. It’s a fool’s errand to try and determine whether or not a player will be good enough to justify his draft position until he actually steps onto an NFL field (which is why the term ‘draft bust’ really doesn’t apply until at least three years after a player is drafted), but if Rhule and Co. believe he’s worth the gamble then I’ll trust their judgment until I have more information to go on.

Is Mac Jones a good quarterback? Clearly he is, because if he wasn’t then he wouldn’t have been the starter for a National Championship winning college program, he wouldn’t have been invited to the Senior Bowl, and he wouldn’t be projected to be drafted in the first round. Is Mac Jones a future franchise quarterback? Is he the man who will lead the Panthers to the promised land? I don’t know, but there’s a decent chance we’ll find out.

What do you think, Panthers fans? Do you want the Panthers to draft Mac Jones? If so, when would you want them to take him? Do you want them to trade down first, or are you OK with taking him at No. 8? Share your thoughts with us!

Poll

How would you react to the Panthers drafting Mac Jones at No. 8 overall?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    I would rejoice in the streets
    (37 votes)
  • 31%
    I would be moderately happy
    (275 votes)
  • 34%
    I would shrug my shoulders and say meh
    (302 votes)
  • 13%
    I would be mad online
    (119 votes)
  • 15%
    I would get my pitchfork ready
    (134 votes)
867 votes total Vote Now