What the Panthers’ Trade to No. 1 Means for the Rest of the NFL Draft

Every year, the first overall pick starts the NFL Draft—this year, the exchange of that pick has always heralded the draft season. And that day came on Friday when the Chicago Bears traded the first overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for a catch.

The deck has been shuffled into the Top 10 and this new order is reflected in Danny Kelly’s latest layout in Ringer’s NFL Draft Guide. But draft draft simulations alone can’t capture the full implications of trading hands for the top pick in the overall standings. To look at all the ripples, we’ll start with the rock that was thrown into the pond: The Panthers are trading.

The Panthers’ motive for getting the top pick is clear: they desperately need a viable quarterback. This is something owner David Tepper never had. Since buying the team in 2018, Tepper has watched his Panthers take out Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Newton again, Will Grier, Teddy Bridgewater, Newton again, Baker Mayfield, PJ Walker and Sam Darnold . Somewhere there were even pictures of Garrett Grayson and Jacob Eason. These are heartbreaking things. It hurts the man.

An injured owner has an injured head coach. Frank Reich, an extremely solid head coach, was only available because the Colts needed to step off the quarterback carousel, in which Reich coached five separate starting quarterbacks in five seasons at Indianapolis. Reich, like Tepper, is understandably desperate to land a cost-controlled young quarterback he could turn into a franchise cornerstone.

Why is it easy. Who is not so simple. It’s a fat class of quarterbacks at the top, including Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Lewis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. But within hours of the Panthers winning the top pick, a leader appeared at the club: C.J. Stroud of Ohio State.

When the markets for betting on the first general choice were opened in bookmakers after betting, Stroud was a slight favorite— in the following minutes, he became the favorite. To put it into perspective, a minus 320 probability gives Stroud an estimated probability of over 75 percent of being first overall.

It is worth remembering that the betting markets are often wrong and we should not assume that Stroud is locked as not. 1 choice so far. Mid-March last year Odds of overall first pick changed from Alabama OT favorite Evan Neal to… forward Aidan Hutchinson. None of them became the first in the overall standings. In 2018 Darnold was the favorite— and Josh Allen — a clean second overall — in NFL Draft Week. Mayfield, who finished third, finished first overall.

But Stroud matters a lot to the Panthers. Among the top four quarterbacks, he is perhaps the best – on Kelly’s Draft Guide, he’s the fourth overall prospectsecond only to Young (third) among quarterbacks. And unlike Young, who is one of the smallest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, Stroud doesn’t have a clear red flag in his scoring. In fact, for Reich, he fits as a prototype.

Stroud, who was 6ft 3cm in the NFL tournament in Indianapolis, not only has the height Reich prefers as a starting quarterback, but also his playing style. Stroud is a dominant pocket passer modeled after Jared Goff or Dak Prescott. He is accurate, handles well before and after the click, can hit every shot and knows how to buy time in his pocket. The fit makes sense, and the talent is worth the first overall pick. How Panthers reporter Joe Person shared Friday night: “The point of the league is they go for CJ Stroud.”

So we all agree that Stroud can and should go to the Panthers. It’s nice and neat.

It just never happens. Scott Fowler of Charlotte the Watcher also said this on Friday night:

And this message was also supported by Person.

Now, it’s rare to see a team make a huge jump in a draft without being completely sure who they plan to pick. But there are extenuating circumstances for this particular deal. The Panthers were in fierce competition to get the first overall pick from the Bears—Peter King’s report on Ryan Poles’ NFL Combine bidding singled out at least three top pick contenders. AND The Bears were interested in trading the first overall pick before they became free get clarity on what they need to do first when the new league year kicks off on March 15th.

Since the Bears’ pick might not be available later in the future, it’s intuitive that the Panthers could trade and get the first overall pick knowing they happy take Stroud there, but not now decided about taking Stroud there. A long time has passed between today and the first day of the NFL Draft – 47 days, actually.

It would be nice to know who QB1 is right now. And we are one step closer – we know the team that will choose the first in the overall standings. But we won’t know who is chosen. Not just yet.

These reports have a second half – a little less feasible. What the Panthers could trade retreat after exchanging for 1 in general.

Here’s the logic: The Panthers like more than one quarterback in this class. Let’s say they know that the 2-point Texans and the 4-point Colts don’t like one of their favorite quarterbacks. They can trade back, securely get a quarterback they’d be happy to take with the first pick, and get bonus draft equity for their shrewdness.

But this is an impossible dream. They would have to know who both the Texans and the Colts love – stone-cold, in fact, completely honest and so on. Draft manipulation isn’t easy, and once you have protective cover, which is the first overall pick, it’s hard to give it away.

Thus, there are still many dominoes left. Houston holds the second overall pick and must now wonder if the Panthers will take the quarterback in their place. However, the Texans always knew the Bears would give that pick to another team in need of a QB. They should have been prepared for this – if they only have one QB they like, they should have tried to make a deal to move up.

After Houston, things get fun. Cardinals who do not need a quarterback have a third overall pick; Colts that really, really Really need a quarterback, they’re behind them at four. The Colts are known to have been another team actively investigating the deal prior to the Bears’ first overall pick.— but now they are vulnerable.

Arizona is ready to give up its position in the draft. Another team looking to make the quarterback class: Lions 6, Raiders 7, Falcons 8. All fit the bill – could bypass the Colts and leave them with the last of four quarterbacks of their choice. The Colts could try to bargain with the Cardinals now to defend their position, but what incentive would the Cardinals have to make a small deal when they could get a lot more in return by taking a little more step back?

And this third choice is extremely valuable. In a class where the four quarterbacks are ranked close to each other, each team will have different ratings for the top four passers. Even if the expected picks come for first overall (Stroud) and second overall (Young), this leaves the combined phenomenon and Richardson’s high-ceiling project available to the team choosing third. This exchange made the position of the cardinals even more valuable.

The run on the quarterback solidifies almost every pick since the Colts, who unconditionally drew the straw when they missed the first-place trade with the Bears. With a fifth overall pick, the Seattle Seahawks could take one of the best defensemen in the class – Alabama’s Will Anderson or Georgia’s Jalen Carter – and put their offense into the able hands of new quarterback Jeno Smith for $100 million. The Lions could take the remaining blue chips and solve problems on the defensive line as well. If the Raiders and Falcons don’t move up, they can still choose from the draft’s many talented non-quarterbacks. Both teams certainly have something to fill.

This excitement brings us back to the Bears, who now hold the ninth overall pick that the Panthers originally had – a pick that is surprisingly strong. In addition to Anderson and Carter, Texas Tech forward Tyree Wilson and a pair of top-notch defensive prospects Christian Gonzalez of Oregon and Devon Witherspoon of Illinois. As long as four quarterbacks go before the Bears pick nine, one of those five quarterbacks is guaranteed to be available. This group doesn’t even consider top Texas running back Bijan Robinson, considered by many to be the best prospect in that position since Sakwon Barkley, or anyone…


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