The football world has been all-in on the remarkable journey of rookie San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. You know the story: “Mr. Irrelevant” was the last player drafted in 2022 and was then unexpectedly thrust into the starting lineup late in his rookie season. He began 7-0 as a starter, including two playoff wins, before getting injured in a 49ers loss in the NFC Championship.
Along with Mr. Irrelevant’s ascension has come a plethora of articles asking who will be the next Brock Purdy.
So in that spirit, I’ll ask this: “What if Matt Corral is the next Brock Purdy?”
One of the biggest disappointments the Panthers encountered this year was not getting a look at rookie third-round rookie quarterback Matt Corral.
While Carolina continued to play meaningful football until the second to last game of the season by virtue of being members of the woeful NFC South, this was a rebuilding year for the franchise. Rebuilding years usually provide the perfect opportunity for teams to kick the tires on rookie quarterbacks and give them some meaningful on-the-job experience. This past season would’ve been a perfect opportunity to let us get an initial evaluation of Matt Corral.
It appears the 49ers didn’t realize they had a gem in Brock Purdy until they actually put him under center. Carolina didn’t get that chance with Corral.
The Panthers rookie quarterback suffered a season ending injury before the regular season even began. As the Panthers played musical chairs at quarterback shuffling between Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and P.J. Walker, Corral stood on the sidelines taking notes instead of taking snaps. While he now has a full year of experience in the quarterbacks’ room under his belt, we still have no idea about his pocket presence or ability to fit the ball into tight windows.
There are a lot of unknowns about Matt Corral at this point, and unknowns give us free license to speculate. It’s fair for us to ask ourselves if Corral could be the next Brock Purdy. Or, if not a miracle story like Purdy, what if Matt Corral is at least the Panthers answer at quarterback going forward?
And by “answer” I don’t mean an immediate Pro Bowler who will single-handedly strap the offense to his back and lug it into the playoffs next year. By “answer” I mean being capable enough in the short term to do his part in getting the Panthers to the playoffs with a reasonable amount of talent around him and strong coaching behind him. As he matures he then shows Pro Bowl potential in the future. Comparisons to guys like Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012) and Derek Carr (second round, 2014) come to mind.
To be clear, it’s a longshot that Corral will be the franchise solution at quarterback. The odds are clearly stacked against him. For every mid-round success story like Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, far more quarterbacks turn out to be mid-round disappointments like Will Grier and Jimmy Clausen (sorry!).
While Matt Corral wasn’t a Top10 pick like most franchise quarterbacks are, nearly every talent evaluator had him rated above Brock Purdy coming out of college. The degree of difficulty succeeding in Carolina’s offense is magnitudes higher than it is excelling in San Francisco given their elite offensive weapons and coaching, but if Brock Purdy can figure things out so quickly, why couldn’t Matt Corral?
The draft evaluators at NFL.com predicted Corral “will become a good starter within two years.” The Draft Network’s summary was that Corral’s ideal role is “eventual starting quarterback.” Pro Football Network’s conclusion was that he “possesses a lot of next-level ability” but will need time to learn the pro game. Given these evaluations coming out of college, it’s not impossible that Matt Corral could become a capable NFL starter sooner than later.
Due to Corral’s injury the Panthers didn’t get the same opportunity to give him a look this year as other teams did with their rookie quarterbacks. The Atlanta Falcons were able to give third round pick Desmond Ridder 115 pass attempts this season. Bailey Zappe, the Patriots fourth round pick, threw 92 passes in his rookie campaign. Malik Willis, a third round pick last year, played in eight games for the Titans. The Panthers missed out on these important baby steps with Matt Corral.
At this point the Panthers really don’t know much about Corral’s short-term effectiveness or long-term potential. To quote Lisa Simpson, “He’s like a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a vest.”
Carolina holds the number nine pick in the 2023 draft which may put them just out of range for one of the top-tier quarterbacks coming out of college. If a potential franchise quarterback is available at number nine, of course the Panthers will take him. But it would be very helpful going into the draft knowing just what they have - or don’t have - in their injured rookie quarterback.
Right now Matt Corral is just a question mark.
We’ll have to wait until next year to see if he’s also the answer.