Prior to the Panthers acquiring Sam Darnold via trade from the New York Jets, nearly everyone in the NFL strongly believed that Carolina would take a quarterback with the 8th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Even after Darnold had been officially introduced as a Panther, head coach Matt Rhule and GM Scott Fitterer both reiterated that a quarterback could still be in play for them in the first round. The belief was that Ohio State's Justin Fields was the guy that they liked most.
Fast forward to the 1st round and with Fields still on the board at No. 8, it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the selection would reveal that Fields would be coming to Carolina. During Fitterer's time in Seattle, the Seahawks brought in multiple quarterbacks to generate competition before Russell Wilson finally emerged as the face of the franchise. So that being said, it was never completely far-fetched to believe that Carolina would strongly consider Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones.
When commissioner Roger Goodell announced "With the 8th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, cornerback, South Carolina," it shocked everyone.
The fact that they went with a corner wasn't a huge surprise but the fact that they did with Fields still on the board was, at least initially.
In a recent interview with Zach Gelb of CBS Sports, Matt Rhule discussed the reasoning for passing on Fields for Horn.
"Well, I think he's an unbelievable quarterback and I think he's going to have a ton of success. But I think we made a decision that we were going to have Sam be our quarterback. I look at it real simply, had we drafted a quarterback we have a quarterback where if we took another position player we would have Sam plus now Jaycee. To me, it was two for one. It's an opportunity to continue to build the team while also having a quarterback in Sam, that we believe can do it. That does not mean that I don't believe that Justin or Mac [Jones] or any of those other quarterbacks aren't going to be franchise quarterbacks. I think they're really special but this was a chance for us to get a corner and also move into the future with Sam."
When asked if an established, high-profile quarterback would become available via trade or free agency, Rhule seemed to be pretty content with what he has in that QB room as it stands and isn't focused on who or who may not be on the trading block.
"First of all, you know me well enough to know that I'm not going to answer hypotheticals," Rhule said jokingly. "Second of all, we feel really, really good about Sam and I'll say this - we feel really good about P.J. Walker and feel really good about Will Grier. We think we have three young quarterbacks you know, Will was drafted in the 3rd round and played a little bit two years ago and is waiting for his chance. P.J. went out there in his only start and won the game for us 20-0 against the Lions. So, we feel like we have a really healthy room and we should have great competition but we're excited about Sam and we're ready to go."
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