Matt Rhule saw enough of Teddy Bridgewater for a season to make a change at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. Carolina struck fast to find a young quarterback this offseason, trading a 2021 sixth-round pick along with second- and fourth-round selections in 2022 in exchange for Sam Darnold. For 2021 at least, Darnold will be Carolina's starting quarterback.
The Panthers were competitive in Rhule's first season as head coach, bringing an exciting offense to the table under offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Fourth-quarter struggles at the quarterback position forced Carolina to make a change, leaving the Panthers with a lot of questions heading into 2021. Having Christian McCaffrey back healthy will answer a lot of them.
Can the Panthers compete in a talented NFC South and build on the improvements in Rhule's first year. Or will they still have quarterback issues past this season? Those answers will come in a few months, but we're going to take a look at Carolina's draft. Where did the Panthers drop the ball and what pick did they hammer?
2021 Panthers draft picks
- Round 1 (No. 8 overall) -- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
- Round 2 (No. 59 overall) -- Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
- Round 3 (No. 70 overall) -- Brady Christensen, T, BYU
- Round 3 (No. 83 overall) -- Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
- Round 4 (No. 126 overall) -- Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
- Round 5 (No. 158 overall) -- Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
- Round 5 (No. 166 overall) -- Keith Taylor, CB, Washington
- Round 6 (No. 193 overall) -- Deonte Brown, G, Alabama
- Round 6 (No. 204 overall) -- Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
- Round 6 (No. 222 overall) -- Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama
- Round 7 (No. 228 overall) -- Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky
Why pass on Justin Fields?
The Panthers had a golden opportunity to select Fields, who fell to them at No. 8 overall -- something that didn't seem possible when Carolina made the trade for Darnold. All the Panthers traded were three draft picks for Darnold -- none of which were a Day 1 draft pick -- for a quarterback that ranked last among 24 quarterbacks in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating over the past three seasons (minimum 1,000 attempts). Carolina may have exercised Darnold's fifth-year option and are tied to Darnold for two more seasons, but the Panthers didn't have an issue giving Bridgewater a three-year deal and trading him after Year 1.
Was passing on a franchise quarterback worth it? Rhule should know the importance of having one after Bridgewater's struggles late in games last season. In a division with Tom Brady reigning supreme, the Panthers can't compete with the Buccaneers unless they have a top-tier quarterback. Maybe Darnold can be that signal-caller with better pass-catchers, a healthy McCaffrey, and a better offensive line -- but why couldn't Carolina just select Fields as insurance in case Darnold isn't the guy? If anything, the Panthers have a quarterback that can thrive in Brady's system while adding another dimension to the run game thanks to Fields' ability when he rolls outside the pocket.
Cornerback Jaycee Horn will be a good player in Carolina, but the Panthers missed out on a great one in Fields. This decision could come back to haunt them.
Receiver was home run selection
If the Panthers are committed to Darnold -- and they are for 2021 -- they are doing whatever they can to give the former top-five pick an opportunity to succeed. A healthy McCaffrey will be huge for Carolina's offense, but losing Curtis Samuel was a blow in free agency. Carolina received a gift when Terrace Marshall Jr. was on the board at No. 59 overall -- and the Panthers didn't pass.
Marshall was third in the SEC in receiving yards per game last season (behind Elijah Moore and DeVonta Smith) and was tied for third with 10 receiving touchdowns -- despite missing the final three games of last season. He'll be a playmaker in the Panthers offense, especially since he knows Brady's system after playing for him in 2019 at LSU -- when he had 13 receiving touchdowns that season (five in the College Football Playoff). Marshall doesn't have the pressure of being a No. 1 receiver with DJ Moore and Robby Anderson as the top two receivers, and can find his own niche in Brady's system.
This was a luxury pick for Carolina because Marshall fell to them and the Panthers took the best player on the board. The Panthers will be very happy with Marshall over the next several years.