The Carolina Panthers opted to hire former Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich to the same position on Thursday. Reich won out over interim head coach Steve Wilks, who guided the Panthers to the brink of the playoffs in 2022. It’s clear that the decision to go with Reich had to do with fixing the Panthers’ gaping hole at quarterback.
The 2023 NFL Draft class has a handful of intriguing quarterback options, but Reich shouldn’t just rely on a rookie to help the Panthers improve this season. Adding a veteran QB to keep this roster competitive while developing a rookie can help the team compete now and in the future.
We’re breaking down the best quarterbacks for Reich to add to the Panthers, including both rookies and veteran options. We’ve considered their available cap space and draft picks in our rankings. Let’s dive in.
Best Veteran QBs for the Carolina Panthers
1) Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
It seems unlikely Lamar Jackson will be playing anywhere other than Baltimore next year, but it bears saying that if he’s made available, Carolina must call and make a bid for the 26-year-old.
Jackson is a bonafide star who would transform the Panthers’ organization for the foreseeable future. He’d cost a bevy of picks and needs a new contract but is worth the cost.
2) Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
Jacoby Brissett isn’t a sexy name, but I think he’ll have the right blend of cost and production in order to give the Panthers an offensive boost. He’s always been on the border of being a low-end starter and high-end backup, proving to be a nice stopgap for the Browns in 2022 in a run-heavy offense with limited weapons.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
MORE: QB Power Rankings 2022
Brissett’s more consistent with his accuracy and decision-making than incumbent Sam Darnold and has taken a backseat role to a young QB. The 30-year-old completed 64% of his passes for 2,608 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only six interceptions in 11 starts last year.
Though Reich has relied on more shotgun looks than what Brissett thrived in last season, he’s not dissimilar to Carson Wentz. There’s a trade-off between value and perfect schematic fit that just isn’t available with this crop of quarterbacks.
3) Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
I was surprised the Colts acquired Matt Ryan instead of Jimmy Garoppolo last year. Garoppolo was coming off shoulder surgery and has a lengthy injury history, so it’s possible that the combination of durability concerns and draft pick compensation scared Reich away from pushing for him.
Nevertheless, Garoppolo will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and can’t be franchise tagged. Bringing a high baseline of competence could do wonders for the Panthers.
We know Garoppolo is effective when he’s in an effective scheme and has some playmaking around him. If Carolina can re-sign D’Onta Foreman, add a talented receiver, and reinforce the offensive line, Garoppolo can guide them to a playoff-caliber season.
However, Garoppolo has talent limitations and will be expensive. I think Carolina should opt to spend elsewhere and look for a long-term solution over the 31-year-old.
4) Sam Darnold, Panthers
Sam Darnold played in only six games in 2022 due to an ankle injury that limited his availability. He had a string of respectable performances, at least keeping the door open to the possibility of staying in Carolina.
Though he’s bad, it’s hard to imagine Carolina’s playmakers preferring a Baker Mayfield reunion to Darnold, even if the former is the better theoretical fit in Reich’s play-action attack.
Darnold can at least be a veteran in the room before the team fully transitions to a rookie. There’s clearly a drop in this option, but Darnold should be cheap and doesn’t cost the team any draft picks.
5) Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
There’s no doubt Derek Carr is a better player than Brissett and Darnold, but he’ll come with a much heftier cost. Trading for Carr could cost at least a second-round pick and a multi-year commitment with a new contract. It makes little sense for Reich to tie his final shot at being a head coach to a 32-year-old Carr, even if he could push the team into the playoff mix right away.
Carr simply doesn’t have the upside needed to be more than a good short-term upgrade. His strong arm and short accuracy would certainly fit Reich’s play style, though. If he were released and not traded, he’d vault up this list even if the financial commitment would be high. The option of developing a franchise quarterback is simply more attractive.
Best Rookie QBs for the Carolina Panthers
1) C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
C.J. Stroud has the highest floor of any prospect in this class, and he’s the best pure pocket passer. If he can prove to be the creative playmaker he showed against Georgia, Stroud could be a top-10 NFL QB in the coming years.
He’s also an easy projection into Reich’s offense thanks to his ability to hit tight passing windows on short and intermediate attempts.
If Stroud isn’t able to make plays under pressure and outside the pocket, he’s going to have to be fantastic within the structured pocket throws he gets off. That’s Stroud’s strength, but it’s a possible limiting factor for his future. Reich did well with a much less accurate and inferior pocket passer in Carson Wentz.
2) Anthony Richardson, Florida Gators
Regardless of whether the Panthers can get Stroud or their feelings on his upside, Anthony Richardson still might be the best pick for them to develop. If you look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL today, they all have the ability to create explosive plays.
Richardson fits the mold of Josh Allen, Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts, and Lamar Jackson as dynamic, mobile players with strong arms.
It’s fair to be concerned about his completion rate and lack of experience. However, like Allen, he has the traits to overcome those obstacles. That’s where a strong coach and organization are key, and the Panthers are banking on Reich to make a difference.
3) Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide
There’s a lot to like about Bryce Young‘s game and his attitude. He’s a true gamer who does what he can to win. Even if he’s been struggling, a team can be confident that Young can shake it off and perform better on his next play after seeing him do it countless times at Alabama.
That being said, I can’t shake that Young’s size makes him an aberration in NFL history, and he doesn’t have the elite traits to overcome it. Kyler Murray might be his best comparison, but Young isn’t nearly as fast as a runner or as explosive as a passer. He’s a prime candidate to be a good but not quite great quarterback in the NFL.
I don’t think Carolina gets Young without trading up, which isn’t ideal for the franchise.
4) Will Levis, Kentucky Wildcats
I’ve been told the Panthers really like Will Levis as an organization, and it seems as though he’ll be the next Daniel Jones this draft season. He has a strong arm and is a good athlete, but there’s not a lot else of true strengths to Levis’ game. He needs a mechanical overhaul in order to increase his efficiency.
Reich is theoretically the guy to get it out of Levis as he did with Wentz for a short time. Though Levis has a higher upside than Young, I’d also be afraid of his floor.
5) Hendon Hooker, Tennessee Volunteers
There are certainly some concerns that come with Hendon Hooker, who is older for a rookie and coming off a torn ACL. He broke out late in his career as well. But Hooker stood out with a great arm, marked improvement in accuracy, and showed real playmaking ability in 2022.
It’s possible that Hooker will be a massive Day 2 steal if his senior season translates at all. Reich could easily incorporate his mobility and willingness to attack defenses vertically. Like with Levis, pairing Hooker with a stronger veteran could buy Reich time to develop the passer.