The NFL Draft is a week away and the Carolina Panthers are currently on the clock. The Panthers gave up multiple draft picks and their best Wide Receiver, DJ Moore, for the opportunity to draft the future face of their franchise QB first overall. Unfortunately for the Panthers, there is no slam dunk generational QB prospect at the top of this draft like a Trevor Lawrence or Caleb Williams. Instead there are 4 QB prospects that are viewed as first rounders all with varying skill sets. In my opinion however, their is only one player that the Panthers can select first overall. Anthony Richardson.
I have held this stance on the first overall pick for some time now and have been met by pushback, mostly in the form of "Why would you take a bad college football player first overall over the Heisman winner?" Well the answer to this question is quite simple. In the NFL teams are elevated by Quarterbacks with high ceilings and buried by ones with limited potential but high floors.
When drafting a Quarterback first overall, especially after trading up for that pick, a team must be convinced this is going to be their signal caller for the next decade, decade and a half. That means at the very least you are expecting, and hoping, that you will be resigning this Quarterback to one, if not two, lucrative contract extensions. We have seen with teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, when you sign these Quarterbacks to these extensions you must sacrifice other parts of your roster (see Hill, Tyreke & Adams, DeVonte). That makes it adamant that said Quarterback who has been signed to said extension must be able to elevate a less talented roster around him once other pieces must be sacrificed.
This is essentially the Jared Goff conundrum. While Goff was on his rookie contract, Less Snead was able to leverage the extra cap flexibility to build a supremely talented roster around Goff that was able to get to the Super Bowl without needing Goff to be an elite level playmaker. Then Goff got the big extension and the rest of the talent on the roster could not be kept at that previous high level. The Rams fell back to a wildcard level team until Snead and McVay realized that they had maxed out their potential with a Goff lead offense. They flipped Goff along with 2 first round picks for an elite level play maker at the position in Matthew Stafford and less than 12 months later they were Super Bowl Champions.
This is where the case for Richardson comes. When drafting a QB you have to think as if you are drafting not only the rookie version of that player, but more importantly you are drafting the 6th year and beyond when they are no longer on an affordable contract. You need a signal caller that can develop into the type of player that can go head to head with the Mahomes, Allen, Burrow, Lawrence, and Herbert's of the world by year 6 without their roster being superior. Anthony Richardson is the only player in this draft that fits this bill. He has the size, speed, arm strength and creativity necessary that if he hits he could be one of the 3 best QB's in the league by year 5.
Now obviously there is risk involved, we have seen it in the past with guys like Zach Wilson, projects with extremely high ceilings that prove they do not have the ability to reach that potential and all but wash out of the league. The thing is with these types of players, is they give you answers. The Jets did not have to worry about giving Wilson a large extension because by year 2 it was obvious he would not be the answer. Now you could look at this as if it set the franchise back missing on the top 2 pick, and you would not be wrong. However, the Jets now have the ability to pivot to a new answer (Aaron Rodgers) before they got too far along and pay the wrong guy. If they had drafted let's say Mac Jones and been 9-8 both years they would be getting ready to go all in on him right now, similar to the Dolphins with Tua, in hopes he shows he can grow past his limitations and potentially end up in a Goff like scenario where they pay someone who will never be that guy and deteriorate their roster in the process.
That Goff like trajectory, solid enough to play well on a loaded roster only to get overpaid, is how I see things going for guys like CJ Stroud and Bryce Young. Young is such a size outlier that he may not be healthy by year 6 and even if he is, he does not have the necessary traits at his size to make that type of investment worth it. Stroud on the other hand has already played with arguably the 4 best receivers, best running back, and best o-line he will ever play with in his career and he looked great doing it. I think he would be a great target for a team who may be a QB away like for example if the Niners made the move up to 3 in this draft instead of the Lance draft, or if the Jets had a few more pieces and could plug in a system type QB. This way the team could plug him in at a low salary and use the flexibility to go stack the roster to a point where he could execute the same way he did at OSU. The issue is mobility and creativity wise he seems to be already at his ceiling which as is relies heavily on the talent around him, some come year 5/6 he could have a Goff/ Jimmy G like plateau.
This is why the pick has to be Richardson if you are going QB. He is the only one available that has the type of ceiling that could one day elevate a roster to a championship level on a second contract. If you want to go safe and not run the risk of a Zach Wilson like bust, then just avoid QB all together and draft high level players at premium positions with lower bust potential until your roster is in a scenario where a guy like Stroud could walk right in and have the necessary talent to compete. If you go safe on QB in the first 5 picks, you will end up looking for a new one, or even a new job in the next few years.