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ESPN’s Mel Kiper caused quite the stir among Panthers fans when he released his latest mock draft on Thursday.
Kiper, a highly respected NFL draft expert, has the Panthers picking Mac Jones at No. 8. Jones is regarded by many draft experts as one of the top-five best quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft.
He helped lead Alabama to a national championship title this past January and was also a Heisman Trophy finalist. Jones was projected to be a mid- to late-first round draft pick, but in recent weeks, his stock has increased.
The Panthers could draft him at No. 8.
Here is the case for and against drafting Jones:
The case for Mac Jones
The case for Jones isn’t quite so simple.
Although he’s one of the five best quarterbacks in this draft, many people differ on where he should land. Some draft experts say picking him at No. 8 would be a reach. Others, like CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson, are high on Jones.
“I’ve talked to teams that think he’s a top-10 pick,” Wilson said. “And I’ve talked to folks close to the Alabama program that agree that he had a better final year at Alabama than Tua (Tagovailoa) before the hip injury.”
Tagovailoa was the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
“I don’t think it would be a reach to get him at eight, but that’s not conventional wisdom from media people,” Wilson said of Jones.
It’s hard to argue that there was a better quarterback in the country in 2020. Along with being a Heisman Trophy finalist, Jones led the country with 4,500 passing yards. He was also deadly accurate. He completed 77.4% of his passes, also No. 1 in the country, and was second in the country with 41 passing touchdowns with only four interceptions.
He did all of this in 13 games.
The Panthers will enter the draft already having some familiarity with Jones.
Jones, who is 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, was a participant in the Senior Bowl last month, and practiced under the Panthers’ coaching staff. The Panthers staff got a chance to talk to Jones and see him up close and, apparently, Panthers coach Matt Rhule liked what he saw.
“He processes information quickly, highly intelligent, he’s an alpha,” Rhule told reporters. “He’s the first guy on the practice field, he’s the first guy in the runnings, so he’s got a lot of really, really, really strong traits.”
The general consensus among draft experts and scouts is that there are five quarterbacks worthy of a first-round selection. Jones is one of them.
There’s a chance that by the time the Panthers are on the clock at No. 8, Jones could be the only projected first-round quarterback left on the board.
There are at least nine teams within the first 20 picks who could be in the market for a quarterback, including five who pick ahead of the Panthers.
There’s also the possibility that a team could trade up in the draft and get ahead of Carolina.
For that reason, picking Jones at No. 8 could be their only option if the Panthers are intent on selecting a quarterback.
The Panthers could also trade back to get Jones. But the likelihood he’ll get past New England, which also needs a quarterback and has the 15th pick, appears slim.
The case against Jones
Although there are a few who believe Jones is worthy of a top-10 selection, there are more who believe he is not, and that Carolina picking him at No. 8 would be a reach.
One of the knocks against Jones is his lack of mobility. The NFL seems to be trending more toward dual-threat quarterbacks. The top quarterbacks in the league currently are Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, all of whom can throw and extend plays with their legs, if needed.
Jones is not known for his mobility. He’s considered a pocket passer, and to be fair, there are pocket passers like Tom Brady still having success and winning Super Bowls.
But the best players can do both.
“He’s just not a plus athlete. He’s just going to be limited in that capacity,” Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports said. He also said Jones has “average to below-average arm strength,” but noted that his downfield touch and his precision are “really good.”
That doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater, who is also accurate but isn’t particularly mobile.
There’s also the argument that while Jones was one of the best quarterbacks in the country, he also had elite players around him, including arguably the best wide receiver group in the nation.
Jones lost the Heisman Trophy to his teammate, wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
Alabama’s offensive line also rarely gave up sacks, and Alabama running back Najee Harris led the nation in rushing touchdowns and was third in rushing yards.
“The question is: Is he just going to be a system guy who always has a glass ceiling over him or is he really going to be a difference- maker?” Edholm said of Jones.
If picking Jones at No. 8 is a reach, then it might be wise for the Panthers to trade back and try to get him. Then they could get their quarterback and an extra pick. There are plenty of teams that would love to be in that No. 8 spot.
Jones is obviously highly regarded. But if the Panthers believe he’ll be off the board earlier than they could grab him, then so be it. The Panthers have other needs almost equally important as a quarterback.
For instance, an offensive line.
Four of their five starting offensive linemen are free agents.
And until the Panthers have an offensive line to protect their quarterback, whoever is throwing the ball, whether that’s Jones, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Bridgewater or Deshaun Watson, that player likely won’t have success.