For the bulk of the pre-draft process, the Carolina Panthers were pegged as one of the possible landing spots for one of the five quarterback prospects projected to come off the board in the first round. That view of the organization's need changed a bit, however, when they pulled off a trade for former Jets No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold. That said, the Panthers brass did relay that they'd still look at possibly picking a QB if the right one was still available to them when they were on the clock at No. 8.
Well, when draft night arrived and it was Carolina's turn to pick, two quarterbacks were available to them: Ohio State's Justin Fields and Mac Jones out of Alabama. Instead of plucking either one of those signal-callers and throwing them into the mix with Darnold, they addressed the secondary by adding cornerback Jaycee Horn.
"I love those guys and I think they're gonna be great NFL players. I just think for us, when we got Sam and knowing he's 23-years-old, just turned 24, we just felt like Sam plus another player would be better for the team overall," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told the Rich Eisen Show on why his team opted to not bring in another QB, as transcribed by NFL.com. "We're just trying to build the whole team and I just believe in Sam, I believe that he deserves the opportunity to go out and play with us. I think those other young quarterbacks are gonna be fantastic players, but the hit rate on first-round quarterbacks isn't real, real high, and to have a chance to get Jaycee Horn and have Sam Darnold, we just kind of felt like, 'Hey this is two for one.' Now, we just have to make sure Sam's a great player for us."
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Not only did the Panthers solidify their faith in Darnold by passing on two first-round caliber quarterbacks, but they followed that up by picking up his fifth-year option, ensuring he'll be with the team through the 2022 season.
"After getting him here, talking to Robby Anderson who played with him, talking to other guys who played with him, there's not many guys who've been his teammates who's saying anything bad about him," Rhule said. "Like, they all have believed in him and believe that he can be good. Hearing some of his former coaches talk about him, they believe that he can be good and so I've always been kind of a nurture vs. nature guy, I think people have to be in the right situations and, you know, hopefully a change of scenery is what he needs."
One of the big criticisms surrounding Darnold's tenure with the New York Jets was the club's inability to surround him with talent to develop and live up to that No. 3 overall billing. With Carolina, they took a strong step towards making sure Darnold will have every opportunity to turn into a top-tier quarterback with their picks at the draft, as Rhule noted. Over the three-day stretch, the club added to it's secondary with Horn, while also giving Darnold some key offensive players like LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., BYU tackle Brady Christensen, Notre Dame tight end Tommy Tremble, and Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard.
When you add those players to the collection of talent the Panthers already have in Carolina, Darnold should be set up for a strong second act.