QB-starved Carolina finds itself in tough spot with no picks on second day of draft

2022 NFL draft

When Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer recently said he felt good about where the Panthers are as a roster right now, it was tempting to do a bit of eye-rolling.

Feel good? The team limped to a 5-12 record last season and has thus far been unable to trade for one of the veteran quarterbacks to hit the market. And, oh yeah, it’s not a great year to draft a QB, either.

But Fitterer might be onto something.

Carolina filled holes along its offensive line with the recent free agent signings of guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman, then solidified weak spots along the defense with the signings of safety Xavier Woods and defensive lineman Matthew Ioannidis. The team also resigned cornerback Donte Jackson, who was one of the most-coveted CBs coming into free agency.

So while it’s not a roster that’s ready to contend for the Super Bowl, it’s also not that far off from competing for a playoff spot.

However, two glaring holes remain – and they’re big ones: quarterback and left tackle.

Sounds like a problem that can be solved through the draft, right?

Not exactly.

Thanks to last year’s trades that netted the Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback C.J. Henderson, Carolina doesn’t have another pick after the first round until the fourth round.

That means, the team only has one pick in the top 130.

Overall, Carolina has six picks, including one in the fourth, two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and seventh rounds.

In other words, the Panthers can draft a starting QB or a starting OT – but probably not both, unless the team trades the No. 8 pick and nets more draft picks.

Here’s a look at those options:

Option A: Draft a QB in Round 1, OT in Round 4

As of now, if Carolina were to draft a QB, it would seemingly come down to Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett or Liberty’s Malik Willis. The team has interviewed both players.

The problem? While it’s possible for Carolina to find a starting tackle on Day 3, that’s highly unlikely. The best the Panthers can do is hope they can develop one in the later rounds who could push for playing time in Year 2 and possibly start by Year 3.

This scenario is starting to pick up steam. From Jonathan M. Alexander of The Charlotte Observer: “… (T)he Panthers are also starting to get comfortable with the idea of sliding Brady Christensen to left tackle, signing a guard or two in free agency and drafting a quarterback at No. 6.”

Carolina has already taken care of two of those spots with the signings of interior linemen Bozeman at center and Corbett at guard.

Furthermore, Christensen didn’t have a bad rookie season. The 2021 third-round pick out of BYU received a Pro Football Focus grade of 61.6 while receiving 480 snaps on offense.

In terms of picking between the two QBs, it may come down to who’s available, as it’s possible that Houston or the New York Giants draft one. A QB-needy need could trade up and ahead of the Panthers, too.

Otherwise, Pickett has some history with Carolina coach Matt Rhule, as he originally committed to Temple back when Rhule was the head coach of the Owls. On the other hand, Willis is generally seen as the better athlete, with a source telling The Charlotte Observer that his arm compared to Russell Wilson’s.

Option B: Draft an OT in Round 1, QB on Day 3

This option could interest Carolina if the team can land Nevada QB Carson Strong, who otherwise would have been a higher draft pick had it not been for medical red flags.

However, the team’s first pick on Day 3 is near the bottom of Round 4. With so few draftable QBs, that makes it unlikely Strong lasts that long. Therefore, Carolina would have to take its chances on a quarterback like Aqeel Glass of Alabama A&M or Bailey Zappe of Western Kentucky, potentially as late as Round 5 or later, or skip the position altogether.

If that’s the case, then you can almost guarantee another full year of Darnold.

But that might not be such a bad idea, especially given the talent at OT among the top prospects at the position. Tackles Evan Neal of Alabama, Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State and Charles Cross of Mississippi State have all been mocked as the No. 1 overall pick by various publications in recent months. At least one of them should be available at pick No. 6 overall.

And it wouldn’t necessarily stunt the growth of Christensen. Many draft analysts last year thought a switch to guard was inevitable for Christensen due to his arm length. As a guard, he would compete with Pat Elflein for the starting left guard spot and/or serve as the team’s swing tackle.

Option 3: Trade down to acquire more picks

So, why not just trade down to acquire more draft capital, then take a QB in the first and an OT in the second?

That’s easier said than done.

Walter Football reported earlier this month that teams picking high in the first round may have a tough time finding trade partners due to the lack of top QB prospects.

Here’s what a director of player personnel told Walter Football: “It will be tough for teams high in the first to move down. … But I think moving down late in the first could have some big interest from teams wanting to move up. The Lions for example, will have a much easier time trading down from pick 32 than they will from pick 2.”

Case in point: QB-needy Pittsburgh currently owns the No. 20 overall selection in the first round. To trade all the way up to No. 6, the Steelers would need to give up this year’s first-, second- and third-round picks plus next year’s third-round selection, according to Calculator Soup. Pittsburgh might not have blinked at such a scenario in previous drafts, but this QB class makes a trade like that seem unlikely.

Therefore, Carolina might be forced to accept the best trade available, meaning, they might not get enough back to make such a trade plausible.

For what it’s worth, a source told The Observer that Strong could be an option late in the first round if the team traded down.

That would come as a surprise, given that Strong is generally seen by analysts as a Round 3 or later prospect. Then again, Carolina might feel like it doesn’t have a choice if all the top QBs are already gone by the time the Panthers are on the clock late in Round 1.

Tackle or QB – what direction will Carolina go in the first round? Find out in Fanspeak’s latest Panthers mock draft.

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