Who’s No. 1? Panthers say they’re still figuring it out week before NFL Draft

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Trading up for the No. 1 pick in the draft is as big an evaluation process as the NFL has ever done, and five weeks after moving to the top of this draft and a week before handing the pick to the commissioner, the brains of Carolina football is still deciding. .

It will be about head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer, but their process is thorough enough that they haven’t had that conversation yet.

“You know, I haven’t asked him yet,” Fitterer said Tuesday, speaking to reporters at a pre-draft news conference. “But the other day we laughed, because it’s becoming more and more clear to us. Maybe in some way we want to go or who it can be.”

The popular consensus has long held Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young as the best quarterbacks in the class, and Carolina sent a contingent of 12 coaches and front-office executives to the pro days of ‘these two, as well as Anthony Richardson from Florida. and Will Levis of Kentucky, with private tours to follow.

More recent momentum has shifted to Young, with concerns about his lack of size giving way to a higher score on the S2 Cognition test, a newer way of testing athletes with more relevance and practical application than the Wonderlic exam. It’s an interactive test that can measure reaction times to the nearest millisecond, giving NFL teams a better idea of ​​how quickly and accurately prospects can process everything they see. Young apparently passed the test, one more reason to like him as a possible match for the Panthers and the top overall pick.

“Obviously we use it, so we believe in it,” Fitterer said Tuesday of the S2 test. “But it’s a tool, just like there’s a lot of different tools that we look at, with analytics and everything. It all comes back to the tape as the biggest thing that we do as we look at them. It’s just another tool that we have to use, but it’s something we believe in.”

Carolina acquired the No. 1 pick on March 10 at a hefty cost, sending the Chicago Bears the No. 9 pick, next year’s first-round and second-round picks this year and 2025, along with the star wide receiver DJ Moore. As the Panthers looked at this year’s quarterback class with their original draft spot ninth overall, they saw a real possibility of being on the outside looking in, with three or four of the top quarterbacks coming off the board before being on the clock.

The past five weeks have validated his decision, although it has yet to crystallize into a player as a final answer.

“It feels great to go from nine to one,” Fitterer said. “I wish I was nine right now, trying to figure it out.”

Quarterbacks at the top of a draft are poked, prodded and measured, and every second of game tape is analyzed for strengths and weaknesses. The extensive time spent with the quarterbacks in this draft process has allowed them to evaluate the prospects as both people and players, see how well they prepare, study and retain information, what leadership qualities they display, knowing a pick general number 1. must be a team leader in a hurry.

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Recent top pick pass rushers have been able to lead their teams to postseason success in a short amount of time. The Jaguars won a division title in Trevor Lawrence’s second year, and the Bengals made a Super Bowl in Joe Burrow’s second season. Kyler Murray led Arizona to the playoffs in his third year, and Baker Mayfield helped Cleveland win the playoffs in his third year.

“Is this the person who can lead our franchise? Is he the one who really validates why we went up to one? Is he the one who’s going to make the difference?” Fitter said. “It’s not like we’re expecting this quarterback to come in and have everything happen instantly and everything change immediately. We’ve seen it with Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen, it takes time and you have to surround them with the right people,” the coach said. appropriate. But I think we’ve done that. We’re not going to force that quarterback on the field or ask him to do anything they can’t do.”

The Panthers have an entire draft to prepare and not just the first pick, so they’ve talked extensively with coaches and will have another round with their scouts this week, finalizing their draft board and priorities, including the top pick. greatest of all This decision has been a long time coming, but when Fitterer and Reich get together to pick either Young, or Stroud, or even a surprise at the top of the draft, it will be the result of a process of ‘exhaustive and complete draft.

“We’re consciously trying to keep all four in there so we can ask all the questions and look at it from all angles to make sure we’re making the right decision,” Fitterer said. “This is a big decision for the organization. We don’t want to settle on something early, just to decide this is our guy. We want to keep this process open until the end.”

Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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