4 prospects the Panthers might regret not drafting in 2021

Dean Jones
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) Rashawn Slater
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) Rashawn Slater /
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Carolina Panthers
(Kyle Robertson/The Columbus Dispatch via IMAGN images) Justin Fields /

Justin Fields – QB

This is the most obvious one and something that will ultimately define the early tenures of general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule. Avoiding the temptation to select Justin Fields to give Sam Darnold the best possible chance of succeeding following his trade from the New York Jets was a hot topic of discussion on Day 1 and if things don’t work out, there will be some significant repercussions.

Fields was picked apart more than any other college player during the evaluation process. It’s easy to forget this was once the consensus No. 2 overall selection before the 2020 season and had he opted out, this would probably have still been the case.

The Ohio State product was eventually taken by the Chicago Bears, who made a daring move up to No. 11 to get what they’re hoping will be the franchise signal-caller they’ve been craving for years.

Jaycee Horn – who was picked by the Panthers at No. 8 – will not define this selection. It will come down to how Darnold performs with more talent around him and if Fields can emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber player and lead the Bears back into contention.

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Failure is not an option for Darnold, who won’t get another chance to start in the NFL again. Even if he does perform adequately and Fields goes on to be a star, Carolina’s fanbase will look at the decision to go in a different direction as a huge mistake.