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Is Kenny Pickett the Future of the Carolina Panthers?

It might be time for the Panthers to actually address the quarterback position.

It seems like it's been a long time since the Carolina Panthers have had good, solid, consistent play at the quarterback position. Cam Newton was lost for the season early in 2019, Teddy Bridgewater only made it through one year of a three-year deal, and Sam Darnold struggled mightily in 2021. 

Although the Panthers have the defense and elite talent at the skill positions on offense, this rebuild will not take the next step until they find a true answer at quarterback. Many differ on what Carolina should do first, address the quarterback spot or retool the offensive line. I get there are some really good quarterbacks who have really bad offensive lines and still have success such as Cincinnati's Joe Burrow. That said, Sam Darnold is no Joe Burrow, nor anything remotely close. Carolina has to place an emphasis on the offensive line first and foremost this offseason or the offense will be stuck in limbo once again. 

The Panthers hold the 6th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and offensive tackles Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), Evan Neal (Alabama), and Charles Cross (Mississippi State) could be of interest for Carolina, but there's also a chance that all three could be off the board prior to the Panthers pick. If one of them are still available, the Panthers will certainly take a good, long look at them. As intriguing as it may be to take an elite young tackle, I would imagine that they want to fix the offensive line with veteran players. Doing so would allow Carolina to potentially select their quarterback of the future.

General manager Scott Fitterer was asked about the quarterbacks in this year's draft class and in particular, Kenny Pickett.

"It's a little early for me. I've seen them all play on tape. The hard part especially at that position, it comes down to the person. The make up of the person, the competitor, and until I talk to him, until our staff talks to him, until Matt and our OC talks to him, I can't really say. It's still a long way until the draft. I don't want to commit too much without really talking to the guy.

"I went to the game here when they played [in the ACC Championship]," Fitterer said. "I was really impressed with the competitor just watching him play. Watched his arm strength in the pregame and all that checked the box. Everything we're hearing, the reports from our scouts, the visits they've had with him, people that have been around him, everything is kind of checking the box. This guy sounds like the makeup you want to have at the position."

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Oddly enough, Pickett is being compared to Joe Burrow after having the season he just had this fall. He went from an average quarterback in his first three years to rapidly developing into the top signal-caller in the country, much like Burrow. During those first three years, he tossed 38 touchdowns to 25 interceptions. In 2021, he cut down on the turnovers in a big way and was even more efficient as a passer. Pickett ended the season tossing for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and seven interceptions while completing 67% of his passes.

As far as his traits are concerned, he doesn't have the biggest arm in the world but does have the ability to connect on deep shots down the field. He likes to take chances at times, however, he doesn't take them at inopportune times. Although I wouldn't necessarily label him as a "dual-threat" quarterback, he does have good mobility and can make things happen with his feet if need be. 

Does he come right into the league and find success right away like Burrow and Justin Herbert? Or is he going to be a developmental type of guy that needs to sit for a few years, such as Jordan Love and Trey Lance? I think he's somewhere in between. If the Panthers do take Pickett at No. 6, he wouldn't necessarily be thrown to the wolves thanks to Sam Darnold's $18 million, fifth-year option keeping him in Carolina through the 2022 season. At some point during the season, Pickett would be handed the reins of the offense. I don't know if he's going to be the long-term answer for the Panthers but eventually they have to take a chance on a quarterback in the draft and for Matt Rhule in particular, it could cost him his job if that position doesn't get solved soon.

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