If the right quarterback falls to the Carolina Panthers at the right time in this year’s NFL draft, they’ll probably pick him.
But that’s been the norm for the past two years.
“I’ll say this. I don’t think we’ve spent any more time on quarterbacks than we have in the past,” said head coach Ron Rivera on Wednesday afternoon, alongside general manager Marty Hurney at the Panthers’ annual pre-draft press conference.
“I agree with Ron. I don’t think there’s any difference from this year to the past,” said Hurney. “I think the philosophy is that you have to develop young quarterbacks. You have to do your due diligence as far as going through the guys in the draft.
“It just depends. If you like a guy who you think can come in and develop over the years, maybe you draft him. It just all depends on how the draft goes.”
In 2018, the “right” quarterback — one of a couple the team considered drafting as a backup to Cam Newton — did not fall to the Panthers at the right time, Hurney and Rivera said earlier this spring.
So, wash, rinse, repeat ahead of next week’s draft.
But what feels normal to Rivera and Hurney feels more urgent this spring to outsiders, as Newton continues to recover from shoulder surgery.
Internally, the Panthers remain optimistic about Newton’s progress, which Rivera saw for himself after Newton reported to phase one of the team’s voluntary workouts this week.
“Cam’s been great, things have gone very well — as you guys have probably seen on some of his (social media) posts,” Rivera laughed. “He’s come in, he’s been attentive, he’s worked hard and done all the extra stuff he needs to do to put himself in good position.”
Rivera added that Newton has gotten much of his range of motion back, but has not begun throwing a football — though “that time will come.”
“When he’s ready to roll, he’s exactly where he needs to be,” said Rivera. “(Newton and team doctors) will continue to work, and like I said, there is no timetable.”
As they continue to evaluate this year’s draft class, Carolina’s staff likes the idea of a dual-threat guy playing behind Newton, Rivera indicated.
But, he added, they’re not married to that skill set. While the Panthers brought in mobile Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham for one of their 30 official visits, they’ve also spent ample time with West Virginia quarterback (and Charlotte native) Will Grier and Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson.
Rivera and Hurney also have been quick to mention backup quarterback Kyle Allen throughout the spring. Allen isn’t mobile, but the Panthers were impressed with how collected the former undrafted free agent was in his first-ever NFL start last year.
“If you look at the way things did go with both (backup Taylor Heinicke) and Kyle, you would feel pretty comfortable that they both could go in and run our system and run it to be efficient for us,” said Rivera.
But it’s hard for anyone — including Hurney and Rivera — to forget that both Allen and Heinicke were unable to finish their respective starts, because of the beating they took from opposing pass-rushers. Heinicke had to get offseason surgery to repair a torn tricep. So the biggest priority for Hurney and Rivera this spring has been to add quarterback protection, along with reviving the pass-rush.
In this particular draft class, the Panthers would fill both team need and “best player available” categories if they focused their early picks on offensive and defensive linemen.
“Pass-rushers, interior linemen, it’s a strong group. I know everybody’s expecting them to go early,” said Hurney.
“...I think the offensive line all the way across — tackles and guards in particular — are strong up top. There are several, four or five guys, who could go in the first round. And then second, third and fourth-rounders, there are some guys, tackles and guards that will come into teams and compete to start. It’s a fairly deep group.”