I couldn’t see a scenario where Andrew Luck didn’t declare for the draft.
It was common knowledge that the Stanford quarterback was open to staying in college and completing his degree. As only a two-year starter, he continues to improve with every game.
Even so – I fully expected him to enter the league. When it became obvious that Jim Harbaugh wasn’t going to stick around, you got the feeling it was a foregone conclusion.
The Carolina Panthers even appeared to admit they’d draft Luck with the #1 overall pick.
So it was a surprise that he’s not going to be part of an event in which he’d be the main headline.
A heavyweight quarterback class just became slightly lighter. So what happens now? Let’s start at the top with Carolina and the #1 pick.
You can look at this two ways:
1. Luck’s absence allows the team to concentrate on other areas of the team, possibly defense – or maybe by bringing in a talented offensive playmaker such as A.J. Green.
2. The team were prepared to move on from Jimmy Clausen after just one year to draft a vastly superior prospect at quarterback. If they rate one of the other quarterbacks highly – will that remain an option?
I can easily see the Panthers standing by their investment in Clausen. They took a chance with the 48th overall pick last April when many others passed. It was a difficult environment for the former Notre Dame quarterback – joining a team with a lame duck coach limping slowly to a 2-14 record.
However, Clausen wasn’t completely blameless for a quarterback rating of 58.4 and a touchdown/interception ratio of 3/9. In ten starts he never topped 200 yards passing and only had 61, 47 and 72 yards against Chicago, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
When two Carolina officials touted the drafting of Luck with the ‘#1 pick on Tuesday – it was mainly due to the Stanford QB’s talents, but also partly due to Clausen’s struggles in 2010.
Almost a year to the day I wrote this report (click here) on the limitations in Clausen’s game. I projected a second-round grade and talked about his lack of physical tools and the high percentage nature of the offense he worked.
A lot of that has proven true so far.
Even so – I did say a second round grade and not ‘undrafted free agent’. When you take a quarterback in round two, there’s a certain degree of faith that needs to be shown – although perhaps starting immediately isn’t the right plan. It wasn’t really until I watched Clausen against the Seahawks recently that I realised that maybe even that second round grade was ambitious and perhaps unjustified.
That’s not the issue now, though. This is the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record and the #1 pick.
The Panthers need to ask themselves – “How do we recover?”
They may decide that backing Clausen is the right way to go. Give him a talented receiver such as AJ Green or rebuild the defense with a Da’Quan Bowers or a Nick Fairley.
That would be a mistake in my opinion. Go and draft the prospect that can lift this franchise. Go and get the prospect that can define the future and be the face of the revival. If that means returning to the quarterback position – so be it. Andrew Luck was going to be that man anyway, so look at the alternatives.
For many, Andre Luck was a class above both Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton. I didn’t feel that way. I think all three have amazing potential in different ways. Luck and Newton in particular have that unquestioned ability to define a franchise.
If Luck was good enough to end the Jimmy Clausen project, then so should Cam Newton.
Homework needs to be completed on the Auburn star performer. Questions need to be answered – not least about whether this hugely talented quarterback also has the burning desire to be brilliant. There’s no doubt he finds it easy in college – he’s too good for most opponents. When life is harder in the NFL – will he respond, or lose interest?
That’s for the Panthers to find out over the next few weeks and months. If Newton checks out then he has to be the pick.
Yes – he needs to get over that rookie hurdle of adapting to a much bigger playbook, making complex reads and checking down to a third or fourth option instead of working in a two-read-and-run offense.
That’s not new for college quarterbacks and he can do that. He’s making difficult throws already. Newton’s shown he can look off a target and make an accurate pass into tight coverage. The athleticism is a bonus – but he is capable of adding a different dimension to the position.
I’ve no doubt that Newton has star-potential – the kind of ceiling that Clausen will never have.
It’s unfortunate for him that Carolina have regressed this much to be in position to own the #1 pick – but that’s life. Since Peyton Manning was drafted by Indianapolis in 1998, ten of the thirteen first overall picks have been spent on a quarterback.
Cam Newton can have the kind of impact for the Panthers that a Bowers, Fairley, Green – or a Clausen – simply cannot match.
For that reason, I maintain that Carolina should and possibly will draft a quarterback with the first overall pick – even with Luck out of the picture.