Houston Texans' quarterback Deshaun Watson is the ultimate prize of the 2021 offseason. The Panthers have been linked to the former Clemson signal-caller since his unhappiness with the organization became public. The Texans have yet to make Watson available for trade, however. The latest reports have indicated that Houston is unwilling to even pick up the phone at this point of the offseason. While this could all change within a day, Carolina would be wise to not put all of their eggs in the metaphorical Deshaun Watson basket.
Last year's starter Teddy Bridgewater seems to be on the hot seat and is looking more likely than not to find himself on another roster in 2021. This leaves the current roster, free agency, and the draft as possible options to upgrade the quarterback position.
We caught up with someone who is very familiar with offensive coordinator Joe Brady's offense at its highest point. Crissy Froyd of USA Today and The Draft Network covered the LSU Tigers throughout the 2019 season while they made their historic run winning the National Championship game. Oh yeah, she also knows a thing or two about evaluating quarterbacks as well.
Is there any QB on the roster that could develop into a franchise guy?
Froyd: "I worked extensively with Tommy Stevens ahead of the 2020 draft helping drive some publicity to his playmaking abilities. He's a hard worker, but his mechanics could use some work. It would take a team willing to go through a lengthy developmental process. He's a less athletic version of Taysom Hill."
Stevens was added to the Panthers' active roster prior to their Week 17 game against the team that drafted him, the New Orleans Saints. He didn't attempt a pass but was involved in the running game with 24 yards on the ground on four carries. This exemplifies Froyd's Taysom Hill comparison.
Froyd: "In my opinion, he's partially reliant on being personally connected to Joe Brady for his future in Carolina. However, the fact that Sean Payton fought so hard for him in the draft speaks volumes about his true talent."
While he is not under contract in 2021, Stevens could be invited to Carolina's training camp with a chance to make the 53-man roster.
Froyd also worked with PJ Walker when he was a member of the XFL's Houston Roughnecks. "Immensely accurate has the ability to move in a way that reminds me of Tua Tagovailoa. His ceiling is high and he could be a starter in the NFL despite his poor finish in the season finale."
How about if Carolina decides to draft a QB?
Froyd: "Trading up for Zach Wilson is hardly a bad idea. This is the best quarterback in the draft and would instantly boost a Panthers' offense that needs help. There's a lot of Patrick Mahomes in his game. BYU has many NFL concepts in their scheme and he does just about everything you want from a quarterback to do at the next level. He has a live arm, quick decision-making, throws accurately on the run, and displays mobility in and outside of the pocket. The list goes on and on."
There's just about no chance that Wilson will be available at No. 8 when the Panthers are scheduled to be on the clock in the 2021 NFL Draft. Trading up could be an option depending on if the New York Jets are willing to move the 2nd overall pick. If there is a player that comps to last season's No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, then it's Wilson. Like Burrow, Wilson had a modest college career before blowing up in his last season. Wilson has all the attributes to succeed in Brady's offense. He is mobile enough to extend plays behind a subpar offensive line. He can go into full attack mode with four wide receiver sets something that Brady ran to perfection with Burrow at LSU.
What if Carolina can't trade up?
Froyd: "If the Panthers can't move up, then Trey Lance is another smart option for Carolina. He's a player with a linebacker mentality who brings you physicality as a runner and is also a sufficient passer. At this point, you could scrap the Tommy Stevens project because Lance is an upgrade for sure. He's comparable to the likes of Dak Prescott and he would bring the Panthers an element that they haven't had since prime Cam Newton."
North Dakota State's Trey Lance will likely be the best option at quarterback if Carolina stays put with the No. 8 pick. The only real question is if he can perform against elite defensive talent. All the physical traits are there. He had 28 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his only full season as a collegiate starter. Those numbers are unreal even against FCS competition.
Best case scenario
If the Panthers fail to pry away Deshaun Watson from the Texans' grasp, then they should look to upgrade through the draft. Trey Lance probably makes the most sense because Carolina would likely not have to trade anything to secure him. The Panthers have a ton of holes on the roster, so trading draft picks is not a trap that they can fall into.
Pairing Lance with a serviceable free agent would be a smart idea to hedge their bet. Somebody like Mitch Trubisky could start the season as Carolina's starter to give Lance some time to learn the ropes.
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