Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year, brings over 30 years of experience in the football business, including stints as the general manager of Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. With Heavy, Mueller breaks down the NFL from a front office perspective. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyMueller_
Which NFL team has the most at stake in the 2022 draft? For me, it’s the Carolina Panthers picking sixth overall in the first round.
They have a team in year three of a rebuilding plan by current decision-makers, including a coach on whom pressure is rising to win. They have swung and missed on three quarterback evaluations, to date, and now face a crossroads in my opinion. A crossroads that even their GM Scott Fitterer acknowledged in March while assessing his situation with the media.
Not only was he upfront about the team’s failed recruitment and acquisition of Deshaun Watson, he stated what he believes is the dilemma ahead.
“This will be interesting because the tackles will be the best players on the board. But we do need a quarterback, and at some point you have to take a shot, especially in the top 10,” Fitterer said, via the Panthers website. “You hate to force it, because when you force it, you could make a mistake.”
Sometimes the truth hurts. Their angst is real. Having first paid and acquired free agent QB Teddy Bridgewater before the 2020 season, then later having to agree to pay his salary when dumping him for a cup of coffee to Denver, before the 2021 season: STRIKE ONE.
Then, acquiring QB Sam Darnold in 2021, hoping to blame the chaos in New York for his lack of development: STRIKE TWO.
Firing the offensive coordinator mid-stream during the 2021 season carved into the credibility of head coach Matt Rhule as well. Then, signing street free agent Cam Newton during the 2021 season to be a stop-gap answer when Darnold was injured didn’t work either: STRIKE THREE.
It’s understandable why Panthers fans may be somewhat skeptical of what they are being told. It’s for these reasons I think the pressure is really on in Charlotte.
Saints Could Put Extra Pressure on Panthers Front Office
I actually think the most important thing that has to come out of this year’s draft for the Panthers’ brass is to get a really good player. Forget the position. Their actions and words over the last couple of weeks tell me that they are less than enamored with QB choices this year, but that they clearly understand the repercussions. In my opinion, there is only one QB who is worthy and it’s Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh that gives them hope.
But, as we know, hope is not a plan.
Some individual evaluators have made a case for Liberty QB Malik Willis but the leap of faith is enormous and his development or learning curve might just be too long to make this a good fit. The Panthers need results much faster than a project at QB and it must be apparent on the field early in the 2022 season.
Of course, if the Panthers have that quarterback valued in that top 10 on their draft boards, the decision is probably a little easier.
I know they have made calls around the league to gauge the interest of other teams to see if they can slide down the poll from six. Exploring options is smart. Every team does this as a fallback position, but what if it requires a draft day deal with a division rival? In this case, the New Orleans Saints, who own two picks in the top 20. And let’s just say that the Saints are confident in finding their QB of the future by making this move?
This would have career implications, for decision-makers on both sides of the fence. If the Panthers allow the Saints to out-evaluate and out-maneuver them to acquire their future QB or another great player for that matter, that no doubt would carry repercussions with Panthers owner David Tepper, who already seems to lack patience and is very invested and involved in the process.
And what if the Saints move into the New York Giants slot at No. 5 overall and beat the Panthers to the punch on a player?
Here lies the number one task for general managers around the league and why I always suggest the job description, when considering and hiring a GM, is not just sitting in a room and picking players. You have to have a doctorate-level degree in problem-solving and team-building. Education in this class is expensive. Another reason, I always liked to make sure that I was not the smartest guy in the room. None of us are smarter than all of us.
A Lesson From Brady Quinn & Ted Ginn Jr.
On the outside, we have no way of knowing how the Panthers will have their draft day board stacked. Every team will likely have those first 15 cards stacked differently. But the worst mistake they can make is to reach down to fill a need with a lesser valued player and bypass better players to fill a need.
If a QB is not in their top six, or even if we give them grace, to top 10, and they still pick one, then they have done their whole drafting process a disservice. Not to mention their fans.
I once had the same predicament when I was the GM of the Dolphins. We had a dire need for a QB in 2007 when we drafted WR Ted Ginn Jr. from Ohio State. We picked ninth that year. Brady Quinn from Notre Dame was our top-rated QB but he was stacked well below that on our board.
It was a choice that I had to make and have no regret, but it wasn’t easy. Fans and media screamed loud. It didn’t help solve our lack of a QB issue and it was clearly not popular with those who had drank the Kool-Aid of Quinn over Ginn. As it turned out, Ginn was a much better pro, played over 12 years and 200 plus games and by most people’s account (outside Miami) was the right choice.
Ranking the Top 5 QB Prospects of 2022
The Panthers are not a QB away from winning. They are not a single player at any position away from winning. They need to continue the build, show patience for the process and not force a pick to fill a need. It’s hard to not be tempted by the desperate need of the owner, the fans or any other outside pressure, but a swing and miss for a fourth time, at QB, would be catastrophic.
Remember this, just as many QBs come from outside the first round if you can evaluate properly.
Here’s how I see the 2022 rookie QBs:
- Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (6032)
- Checks the boxes for height, weight and speed
- Most accurate in and out of the pocket
- Very good anticipation and instincts
- Bailey Zappe, Western Carolina (6004)
- Processes information and manipulates coverage from the pocket
- Accurate with a quick release
- Has arm strength to make all the throws
- Lacks ideal height
- Malik Willis, Liberty (6004)
- Has the strongest arm of the group, from inside and out of the pocket
- Dynamic athlete for the position
- Inconsistent accuracy
- Will hold the ball and lacks NFL anticipation
- Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (6033)
- Checks size and experience (50 starts) boxes
- Can make “wow” throws but very inconsistent accuracy
- Has patience and can anticipate
- Will need refinement in fundamentals but has starter upside
- Matt Corral, Mississippi (6015)
- Has poise, anticipation and excels under pressure
- RPO-dink and dunk offense in college
- Can avoid rush but inconsistent accuracy on the run
- Deep throws are non-existent
READ NEXT: Former NFL GM Projects 4 Best Remaining Quarterback Fits