Carolina Panthers NFL Draft: Justin Herbert a first-round possibility

Justin Herbert #QB07 of Oregon(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Justin Herbert #QB07 of Oregon(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

Many mock drafts project the Carolina Panthers will select a defensive player first but should they consider quarterback Justin Herbert?

Most mock drafts have the Carolina Panthers selecting a cornerstone piece for their defense with the No. 7 overall pick. Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons and Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown have been the two players most associated with the Panthers throughout the pre-draft process and both possess tremendous upside which would echo new head coach Matt Rhule’s philosophy of building up the defensive side of the football first.

Still, Carolina must at least consider addressing the most important position if it feels there is a chance it can grab a future franchise quarterback. The NFL has been trending toward a pass-heavy league more and more every year and those without great to elite-level quarterbacks are at a serious disadvantage against teams with those caliber players.

Unfortunately, the Panthers play in a division featuring Drew Brees (Saints), Matt Ryan (Falcons), and now, Tom Brady (Buccaneers) leading their respective teams. That’s at least two future Hall of Fame inductees and a former MVP all quarterbacking in the same division. No disrespect to the Panther’s free-agent addition, Teddy Bridgewater but he simply doesn’t have the pedigree of those mentioned above.

If the Panthers want to find themselves atop the NFC South in the near future, then they must find a way to acquire an elite signal caller. Bridgewater’s three-year, $63 million contract demonstrates Carolina views him only as a temporary placeholder in the position. Only $33 million is guaranteed money and the Panthers are able to part ways after two years, since the last year of his current contract would be the biggest hit against the salary cap.

If Bridgewater is viewed as temporary and not a true franchise quarterback, then why not look for one in the 2020 NFL Draft while the team still has a top-ten pick? Almost every draft analyst agrees Joe Burrow (LSU) and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) will be long gone before the Panthers are on the clock, leaving Oregon standout, Justin Herbert, as the next best available quarterback in this year’s draft.

Herbert has the same outstanding size and athleticism of many new age, dual-threat quarterbacks we see in the NFL today. He is a bigger, more athletic version of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones but Herbert rarely turns the football over. Throwing only six interceptions, compared to 32 touchdowns during his senior season at Oregon, he also scored four additional times on the ground while proving to use mobility for extend passing plays rather than take off with the ball himself.

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Herbert was highly regarded as the No. 1 quarterback prospect last year before he decided to return to Oregon playing his senior season. He may have been drafted first overall but likely falls outside of the top-five this year because of this competitive 2020 draft class.

The Panthers may actually be the best landing spot for Herbert because he wouldn’t be forced into a starting lineup right away. He could spend the first year or two learning offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s scheme and watching Bridgewater as the starter.

Carolina’s offseason moves have pointed toward a rebuild but drafting the franchise’s longterm quarterback could go a long way in accelerating the amount of time it takes for the team to reach the playoffs again.

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It will be difficult for the Panthers to pass on elite defensive talents that should be available when initially on the clock. However, the team must at least consider taking a quarterback with their first pick this year if one is available.