Through the first six games of the season, the Carolina Panthers have already collected three wins, which is close to the amount many expected at the end of the season. Once perceived as a team destined to be in the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick, head coach Matt Rhule has found wins on the field much quicker than most anticipated. Even in the Panthers’ three losses, the team had its chances late in the game in two of those (Raiders and Bears) and haven’t dropped a game yet to a team with a losing record.
Carolina has proved they are no pushover and part of the reason why is because of the play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Signing a three-year, $63 million contract this offseason, Bridgewater is averaging 300 passing yards per game, completing 71% of his passes, and has a passer rating of 94.6. Simply put, he’s not playing at a level that should find Carolina in a position where they HAVE to be in the search for his replacement.
With that said, NFL teams should always be looking to upgrade their roster at every position. Bridgewater is undoubtedly a serviceable starting quarterback, but is he ever going to be a difference-maker that can take Carolina on deep postseason runs and compete for championships? That’s unlikely, and if the right prospect is available for Carolina, taking an opportunity to upgrade and secure a game-changing passer is not one they should overlook. Let’s get specific with the potential options in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Trevor Lawrence
The only way Carolina is in a position to draft Lawrence is if they hold the top pick in the draft, which is highly improbable considering the Panthers are 3-3 and 10 NFL teams have one win or fewer at this point in the season. But if the Panthers somehow pick No. 1 overall, picking Lawrence would be the easiest decision the organization ever makes. In fact, Carolina should tell him as soon as he declares for the draft that he is going to be the pick and that he’s wasting his time to go on pre-draft visits, throw at the combine, or do anything else but getting ready to be the Panthers’ starting quarterback. There should never even be speculation.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Justin Fields
While it’s more likely that Carolina has a top-3 pick than the No. 1 overall pick, meaning it’s more likely Fields will be a Panther than Lawrence, it’s still very unlikely Carolina is in position to land Fields, who I expect to be off the board no later than No. 3 overall. If disaster strikes and Carolina has a chance to draft Fields, the Panthers should pick him. From arm strength and accuracy to size and mobility, Fields has a dynamic skill set that gives him a chance to be a high-level quarterback in the NFL. His long-term upside is superior to that of Bridgewater. That said, I don’t think Fields is in play for Carolina.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Trey Lance
This is the most realistic quarterback to be in play for Carolina in the coming draft. Lance, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, is coming off a redshirt sophomore season where he completed 67% of his passes for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, resulting in 3,886 yards of total offense with 42 touchdowns and no turnovers as he led North Dakota State to an FCS Title and was the MVP of the championship game. He features a dynamic skill set but the level of competition and experience are major question marks that could push him down the board in the range Carolina is likely to be picking. With Bridgwater in the mix for the next two seasons, it’s an ideal opportunity for Lance to come in and sit behind a veteran as he prepares to eventually be the guy.
Given the trajectory of this Panthers team, picking high in the order in future years seems unlikely. Carolina is on the right track to be competitive and not a bottom feeder of the league. With that in mind, a toolsy project like Lance would be a smart pick for Carolina. He can develop behind Bridgewater with no urgency to play him before he’s ready.
Should Carolina end up picking in the middle of the first round and Lance is on the board, it’s a chance Carolina should take. The Panthers would be in a scenario where it has a reasonable starting quarterback now, an exciting developmental option for the future, and time to build up the rest of the roster as Lance develops, providing him with his best chance to succeed. It’s a win all the way around.