The Panthers are drafting a quarterback. That much we know. The question is, which one? The Panthers have more than a month to decide but are reportedly leaning toward Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, who they see as the most complete quarterback in the draft.
“League insiders believe it will be Stroud,” confirms beat writer Joseph Person, who covers the Panthers for The Athletic. “[He’s] bigger than [Bryce] Young, more accurate than [Anthony] Richardson and more of a playmaker than [Will] Levis.”
The Panthers have long coveted a franchise quarterback, a void they’ve been looking to fill since Cam Newton’s departure years earlier. After falling short in their pursuits of Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and, more recently, Derek Carr, the Panthers went for broke with Friday night’s trade, acquiring the Bears’ No. 1 pick in exchange for two first-rounders (this year and next), two seconds (2023 and 2025) and D.J. Moore.
Though there’s a case to be made for both Young and Richardson going first overall (Levis, despite his elite size and arm strength, would be a reach at No. 1), Stroud’s career at Ohio State was nothing short of remarkable, throwing for 85 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions in his two years as the Buckeyes’ starter. Stroud seemed to play his best when the lights shined brightest, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia (the eventual National Champions) in last year’s Peach Bowl. He put on a similarly heroic display in a Rose Bowl win over Utah, contributing a school-record 573 yards and six touchdowns.
Young may have Heisman pedigree but he’s also five inches shorter, standing at just 5’10” compared to Stroud’s 6’3.” Richardson tested through the roof at last week’s NFL Combine, flashing traits comparable to Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson. However, he's viewed as a project, with scouts citing his lack of experience (13 collegiate starts) and anemic 54.7 completion percentage as potential drawbacks.
Stroud would seem to be the safest option, though the Panthers, even after giving up a king’s ransom for the No. 1 pick, remain open to trading back, according to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. That’s probably a negotiating ploy, though if the Texans—owners of the No. 2 pick—or another team made it worth their while, perhaps the Panthers, in an effort to recoup some of the picks they just lost, would consider it.
Regardless, Carolina holds all the cards, offsetting years of irrelevance with one franchise-altering move.