The season is all but over for the Carolina Panthers and the only thing that will be affected by this Sunday's outcome will be the Panthers' draft position.
Currently, the Panthers would have the No. 9 overall pick but a win could bump them outside of the top 10. Everyone expected Carolina to win 2-3 games max and be in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. That all came to an end following week five when the Panthers won their third straight game to improve to 3-2. Three wins with ten games left meant Carolina had virtually no shot of the No. 1 overall pick. Depending on who you ask, the Panthers exceeded expectations this year. I felt that this would be a 6-10 team at best and a 4-12 team at worst and that's exactly right where the Panthers find themselves heading into the final week of the regular season.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been a bit inconsistent in his first year as the team's signal-caller, but he hasn't had much help up front. Pass protection has been a major issue for the offensive line all season long and has hindered the passing game in a big way. Although the line has been troubling, Bridgewater has also had his fair share of struggles that make you wonder if he is the guy to get the Panthers back on track.
Many thought that if Carolina would have landed inside the top five of the draft that they would most certainly select a quarterback to learn and develop under Bridgewater. With the Panthers' current draft positioning, it may not be the best option.
Let's take a look at the top available quarterbacks in this year's draft.
No. 1 Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
Lawrence is a once-in-a-generation type of quarterback. He's as pro-ready as one can be at the position and is going to have a lot of success in the NFL. Only thing is, he will be long gone by the time the Panthers are on the clock.
Pick Projection: 1st
No. 2 Justin Fields (Ohio State)
Fields would be an intriguing player for the Panthers to take. I think of the four realistic possibilities, he has the highest upside. But once again, will he be on the board by the 9th pick? Probably not. Carolina will need to lose this week to New Orleans and have a few teams in front of them win to have a better chance at selecting him.
Pick Projection: 2nd-4th
No. 3 Zach Wilson (BYU)
I like Wilson, but I have a lot of questions about him. Is he just a one year wonder or is he the real deal? Prior to this season, Wilson threw 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the two previous years. He made a huge jump in 2020, but I am a bit skeptical. The way teams are about selecting quarterbacks early in the draft, I'm willing to bet someone will take him in the top five, maybe higher. However, there is an outside chance that he could slip to the Panthers. Even then, I'm still not sure he is the guy. I'll have a better grasp on his NFL future once we get into the offseason.
Pick Projection: 3rd-7th
No. 4 Trey Lance (North Dakota State)
Like Wilson, Lance has not had sustained success over an extended period of time. Lance has only played in 18 games which is a really small sample size. With that said, he has played extremely well throwing for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He takes really good care of the football, makes good decisions, and can make plays with his feet. I see the potential in him but I don't think I would use my first-round pick on a quarterback on a guy that has a lot of question marks.
Pick Projection: Top 10/Mid 1st Round
No. 5 Kyle Trask (Florida)
Trask has had a phenomenal 2020 season and has earned the right to be named a Heisman finalist alongside the first guy on this list, Trevor Lawrence. He has a cannon for an arm and is not easy to bring down to the ground. He's not a mobile quarterback by any means but is one that can do just enough to evade pressure if needed. I like Trask a lot, but I don't think he is the type of quarterback this coaching staff is looking for. They want a dual-threat guy that has the ability to run the football.
Pick Projection: 2nd round
Is the Panthers' future QB in this class?
Maybe, but I don't believe it is unless Fields falls into the Panthers' hands. Lawrence is way out of reach and two of the top four guys have not shown long-term success. If the Panthers don't see a guy that can lead this franchise for the next 10-15 years when they're on the clock, they will happily pass on the position and go add talent where they have major holes on the roster.
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