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Some provocative questions about drafting a quarterback at No. 6

Let’s project Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett against the careers of recent first round picks and ask ourselves if it would be worth it to draft them.

NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

As we draw nearer to the draft, speculation continues to swirl around what the Panthers will do with the No. 6 pick.

Will they draft a quarterback and try to find the long-term solution at the most important position in football? Will they take the apparent “safe” route and nab one of the three solid left tackles that might still be on the board? Will they trade down and try to recapture some of the draft capital general manager Scott Fitterer spent on Sam Darnold and CJ Henderson? Or will they do something that will cause me to throw the remote through my television by drafting a player at No. 6 who plays something other than quarterback or left tackle?

Today I wanted to ask some provocative questions to the CSR community about drafting a quarterback at No. 6.

Last week I wrote about the risk-reward dynamic of drafting a quarterback at No. 6. Recent draft history of quarterbacks drafted somewhere between No. 1 and No. 12 tells us there’s about a 27 percent chance of landing a “franchise” quarterback, a nine percent chance of an “above average starter”, a 23 percent chance of getting an “average” quarterback, 14 percent odds of a “below average starter”, and a 27 percent chance of selecting an eventual “backup”.

In other words, drafting quarterbacks, even early in the draft, is a complete roll of the dice.

The reality is NFL scouts can’t consistently predict which quarterbacks will succeed in the NFL and which ones will fail. On a similar note, we as fans have no idea, either. The draft is nothing but educated guesswork. When looking at the two apparent top quarterback prospects in the 2022 draft, nobody knows how good (or bad) Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis will be at the pro level.

So rather than asking the CSR faithful if you’d prefer Willis or Pickett since we have no way of knowing how their careers will play out, I’m going to look back at recent drafts and ask which quarterbacks selected in recent years would be “worth it” to you with the No. 6 overall pick.

Here are the quarterbacks selected among the Top 12 overall picks between 2009 and 2018 grouped into categories based on how their careers have played out:

  • Franchise: Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen
  • Above average: Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill
  • Average: Sam Bradford, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield
  • Below average: Marcus Mariota, Mitch Trubisky, Sam Darnold
  • Backup: Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Blake Bortles, Josh Rosen

I’m curious to see if the careers of Pickett or Willis play out like these recently drafted quarterbacks by group if the CSR community thinks it would be “worth it” to invest the No. 6 pick.

To make things easy, the answer is clearly “yes” to draft Willis or Pickett at No. 6 if their careers play out like the “franchise” quarterbacks. Conversely, the answer is clearly “no” if their careers go on to mirror those of the “below average” and “backup” quarterbacks. That leaves us with the two “above average” and six “average” quarterbacks.

An “above average” quarterback?

I’m going to use Ryan Tannehill as the proxy for an “above average” quarterback since it’s tough to speculate what Robert Griffin III’s career would have looked like had he stayed healthy.

Over the course of his nine-year career, Tannehill has a starting quarterback record of 72-59. On average he has thrown for 231 yards per game, completed 64.2 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 199 touchdowns and 102 interceptions (nearly a 2-to-1 ratio). He rushes on average for a decent 14.5 yards per game, which is pretty consistent with “mobile enough” quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers (15.8 YPG) and Patrick Mahomes (18.9 YPG).

Tannehill has one Pro Bowl season from 2019 when in 12 games he completed a career-high 70.3 percent of his passes, averaged 229 passing yards per game, and threw 22 touchdowns to six interceptions. He also led the league in quarterback rating (117.5) and yards per completion (13.6).

If the Panthers select Willis or Pickett this year and their careers eventually mirror Ryan Tannehill’s, would it be worth it?

An “average” quarterback?

Among the “average” quarterbacks, I’m choosing Jameis Winston to represent the group.

As Panthers fans, we’re well aware of Winston. Through seven NFL seasons he has proven to be quite average. When he’s surrounded by solid coaches and good teammates, he has enough skill to win games. When he’s surrounded by bad coaches and subpar teammates (which has been the case much of his career), he can be bad enough to lose games.

On the whole, Winston has averaged a healthy 253 passing yards per game, completed 61.2 percent of his passes, and has thrown 135 touchdowns to 91 interceptions (about a 1.5-to-1 ratio). He’s “mobile enough” and has rushed for 14.5 yards per game in his career. He made the Pro Bowl during his rookie season in 2015. In 2019 he led the league in total passing yards (5,109), passing yards per game (319.3) and interceptions (30).

If the Panthers select Willis or Pickett this year and their careers eventually mirror Jameis Winston’s, would it be worth it?

It’s time to take a quarterback

As for me, the answer is “yes” to a Tannehill-type “above average” quarterback and “no” to an “average” quarterback like Jameis Winston and the rest of that group.

Based on recent draft history, the Panthers have a 36 percent chance (8-of-22) of landing a “franchise” or “above average” quarterback. I’m not a gambling man, but I’ll take those odds.

The Panthers need to shore up the quarterback spot with long-term consistency as soon as humanly possible. Until the quarterback position is nailed down with capable play, the team’s rebuild process will continue to stall. Plus, getting a young quarterback on a rookie-scale contract unlocks a ton of salary cap flexibility to build around him versus going the more costly free agent or trade route.

If the Panthers don’t draft a quarterback this year, the question then becomes when and how will they finally fix this glaring roster gap?

As we learned this offseason, Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks have no desire to come to Carolina as free agents or via trade, and who can blame them? Trading for a franchise quarterback is also difficult because of the multiple first round picks Carolina would likely need to give up, which can be problematic for a rebuilding team that’s still a long way from competing for a Super Bowl.

The Panthers should draft a quarterback this year. I don’t know if it should be Pickett or Willis, but this may be the best shot the Panthers have to land a viable quarterback via the draft for the next couple of years. With a healthy Christian McCaffrey going into 2022, an improved offensive line, and a stable defense, who knows when the Panthers will draft as high as No. 6 again? The free agent and trade markets are unpredictable, and Carolina isn’t a priority destination for Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks.

If not now, then when?

If not Willis or Pickett, then who?

If there’s a 36 percent chance the Panthers can land a solid quarterback in the 2022 draft, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Poll

Which statement is true for you?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Franchise: I would draft Willis or Pickett only if their careers go on to mirror the "franchise" quarterbacks.
    (140 votes)
  • 49%
    Above average: I would draft Willis or Pickett if their careers go on to mirror an "above average" quarterback like Ryan Tannehill.
    (150 votes)
  • 5%
    Average: I would draft Willis or Pickett if their careers go on to mirror an "average" quarterback like Jameis Winston.
    (16 votes)
306 votes total Vote Now