Carolina Panthers GM’s Latest Comments Hint at Franchise-Altering Gamble in 2022 NFL Draft

The Carolina Panthers have been looking for the next franchise quarterback since parting ways with Cam Newton after the 2019 NFL season. Unfortunately, none of the replacements have panned out. Most recently, general manager Scott Fitterer and the front office traded for Sam Darnold. However, that experiment failed pretty quickly. Could Carolina turn to the NFL draft?

Well, Fitterer and the front office have a difficult decision to make. The Panthers own the No. 6 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While this quarterback class doesn’t feature a consensus top prospect, nothing appears off the table for this desperate franchise.

The Panthers must decide whether or not they believe the reward is worth the risk.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer suggests team could draft a quarterback in the first round

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer addresses media at Scouting Combine; NFL Draft prospect Malik Willis reacts during combine
Scott Fitterer of the Carolina Panthers speaks during press conference at Scouting Combine | Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis looks on during on-field drills | Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers are at a bit of a crossroads right now. They continue to strike out at quarterback. Sam Darnold looked good through the first three weeks but quickly turned into fool’s gold. The team finished with a disappointing 5-12 record, landing them in fourth place in the NFC South.

Until general manager Scott Fitterer, owner David Tepper, and the front office adequately address the position, Carolina will continue to struggle.

Enough has to be enough at some point, though. According to an interview with Darin Gantt of Panthers.com, Fitterer isn’t ruling out the idea of taking a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

“This will be interesting because the tackles will be the best players on the board,” said Fitterer. “But we do need a quarterback, and at some point, you have to take a shot, especially in the top 10. You hate to force it because when you force it, you could make a mistake.”

Which quarterback could Carolina select?

Scott Fitterer understands that selecting a quarterback early in the 2022 NFL Draft could get tricky because so much is unknown.

“It’s a unique quarterback class because there’s not a clear number one, number two, number three,” Fitterer said. “Like, who’s the proven starter who can come in and play for you? That’ll be the conversation we have for the next month — quarterback or left tackle.”

Well, if the Panthers opt for a signal-caller, who could they realistically land at No. 6 overall?

Depending on who you ask, one of five quarterbacks could end up being the best of the entire class, but there’s no consensus. Most mock drafts only have two names going as high as sixth overall — Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett.

Willis is the most electric quarterback prospect in the NFL draft. He’s a dynamic athlete who’s dangerous as a dual threat. Willis racked up 5,107 passing yards, 1,822 rushing yards, and 74 total touchdowns in two seasons at Liberty.

Pickett was a Heisman Trophy finalist after a breakout super senior season at Pitt. He threw for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and seven interceptions while completing 67.2% of his passes.

Both players could have promising NFL futures ahead of them, but neither is the perfect prospect, which could make the Panthers think twice.

Is drafting at QB at No. 6 the best move for the franchise?

The 2021 season was Scott Fitterer’s first at the helm. However, the quarterback problems existed long before he arrived. Owner David Tepper has experimented, but none of the options have appeared to be anything more than a Band-Aid.

Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, the front office must decide if it’s ready to rip the Band-Aid off once and for all. The problem is that it will be a gamble whether the Panthers draft a quarterback or not.

Offensive tackle is an obvious pressing need for this football team. The upcoming draft class has some studs at the position including Alabama’s Evan Neal, NC State’s Ickey Ekwonu, and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. Pro Football Focus ranked Carolina’s offensive line as the second-worst in the league.

If the Panthers go left tackle, they’re saying they’d be OK entering the season with a major question mark at quarterback. If they don’t believe in any of these guys enough to reach at No. 6, that’s fine. They just better prepare for a long season ahead.

Carolina’s recent shaky track record could force the front office to pull the trigger on a move that could backfire. However, playing it safe won’t turn the franchise around.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and College Football Reference

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