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Let’s hope passing on Justin Fields doesn’t haunt the Panthers for the next 15 years

I hope Jaycee Horn has a Hall of Fame career, but selecting him over a potential franchise quarterback is a massive risk.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When the Miami Dolphins selected Jaylen Waddle at No. 6 I giddily chatted in the CSR Slack group “Yes! Justin Fields or Penei Sewell!”

I felt like my football Christmas had come early. No matter what, the Panthers were going to be able to shore up either quarterback or left tackle with a prospect who has the potential to transform one of the two most important positions in football.

When the Lions took Sewell at No. 7, visions of Justin Fields donning the Panthers electric blue with his passing accuracy, leadership, and 4.43 40-yard dash began dancing through my mind. I considered us fortunate Fields fell to Carolina at No. 8. I thought he would be gone well before Carolina was on the clock.

And then ... cornerback Jaycee Horn?

Look, now that Jaycee Horn is a Panther, he’s my guy. I hope he has a Hall of Fame career. I’ve got nothing but love for him. He’s a great prospect, but so is every Top 10 selection.

No position in professional sports is more important than quarterback. NFL teams that crack the formula for sustainable success start by building around a true franchise signal caller. Some teams are good enough in every facet of the game that they can be competitive for a couple of seasons with an average quarterback at the helm, but as the realities of the salary cap kick in and rosters turn over, they tend to regress to the mean. The key to long-term success in the NFL begins with drafting, developing, and retaining an elite quarterback.

I preach all the time that the draft is nothing more than educated guesswork. While the consensus from talent evaluators is both Horn and Fields are elite prospects, nobody knows how good (or bad) they will be. They could both be All-Pros or busts. Only time will tell.

But if both Fields and Horn develop into elite players at their respective positions, the Panthers botched this draft. The long-term impact of an elite quarterback dwarfs anything else. Elite corners don’t lead their teams to the Super Bowl. Elite quarterbacks do.

Yes, I know we just traded for Sam Darnold, but is anyone absolutely convinced he’s going to lead Carolina to the promised land? I hope he does, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ll give GM Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule the benefit of the doubt and genuinely hope Darnold’s Pro Bowl potential just never emerged because of the ineptitude of the New York Jets.

Having both Darnold and Fields wouldn’t have been a problem. It would’ve been an opportunity. If one of them develops into a difference-maker, then Carolina has a solid starter and what will likely be a quality backup. That’s a good thing! Injuries happen. When the starter of either Darnold or Fields eventually limps off the field (which will happen at some point), trotting out PJ Walker isn’t a viable Plan B. Now, perhaps Carolina invests a pick in Kellen Mond, Davis Mills, or Kyle Trask later in the draft as the backup plan, but I’d rather be gunning for the best Plan A.

During the ABC broadcast of the draft one of the commentators made what I thought was a great point when the Eagles were drafting No. 10. They were debating if the Eagles should draft Justin Fields while already having Jalen Hurts on the roster. One of the talking heads who was stumping for Fields said something to the effect of, “I’d rather have two quarterbacks competing instead of one quarterback I’m not certain about.” That perfectly summarizes how I view what would’ve been the Darnold-Fields competition in Carolina.

I genuinely hope both Jaycee Horn and Justin Fields go on to have great NFL careers.

And if they both do, the Panthers just made a huge mistake.


Should the Panthers have drafted Justin Fields?

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