Back in 2010, the Panthers were in desperate need of a quarterback, and like most desperate teams are wont to do, they drafted a quarterback way too early. Specifically, Carolina drafted Jimmy Clausen with the 48th pick. He was the third passer off the board after Sam Bradford (first overall) and Tim Tebow (25th overall).
The Panthers were coming off an 8-8 season but 34-year-old Jake Delhomme wasn’t re-signed, and Clausen, who was considered a top-10 pick at various points in the lead up to the draft, filled an obvious, immediate need. Unfortunately, he struggled as a rookie. In 13 games (10 starts), he completed just 52.5 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Clausen managed just one win in those 10 starts and finished the season as the NFL’s worst quarterback, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics.
We mention this not because it’s uncommon for rookie quarterbacks to struggle, but because of what former Panthers coach John Fox said recently. Franchise quarterbacks are the cornerstone of any successful organization and a lot goes into the decision to draft one. At least it should be. Here’s Fox, now the Bears coach, talking from the NFL combine this week.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Fox told reporters on Wednesday about drafting a quarterback. “You have to do a lot of research.”
So far, so good. So how did things unfold in Carolina, when the team drafted Clausen?
“That situation was a little bit unique, because I think people projected him maybe even into the top 10,” Fox said. “On draft day, that’s not how it materialized. I can’t give you all the exacts. He was dropping.”
Fair enough. But clearly Fox felt comfortable enough -- based on what he’d seen of Clausen during the pre-draft evaluation phase -- to draft the quarterback, right?
“Personally, I never even watched him, because he wasn’t a targeted guy for me in our pre-draft assignments,” said Fox.
OK, that’s ... weird. That said, Fox is a defensive coach, and given that Clausen was expected to go high in the draft, it’s reasonable to assume that Fox decided to focus his energies on other needs, featuring players more likely to be on the board when the Panthers were on the clock. Either way, it’s an odd thing to admit, especially for a coach currently in charge of a team that is looking for -- you guessed it -- its next franchise quarterback.
Silver lining: It sounds like Fox has learned his lesson.
He added: “But I can say now I would hope we draft someone that I’ve actually gotten a chance to watch.”