2021 NFL mock draft: Panthers trade up with Dolphins for Justin Fields

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Tim Weaver
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At this point, all of the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft class have been mocked to the Panthers at some point. In the last couple of weeks alone, Mel Kiper at ESPN had Mac Jones going to them at No. 8 overall, Doug Farrar at Touchdown Wire picked Trey Lance for Carolina at the same spot and Pro Football Focus predicted a trade up to No. 2 for Zach Wilson.

The next stop on the QB-mock train is Ohio State. In Todd McShay’s new mock at ESPN, he has the Panthers trading up with the Dolphins to No. 3 overall and selecting Justin Fields.

“Carolina is closer to competing than its 5-11 record suggested, and a real game-breaker under center would go a long way toward getting the Panthers there. Teddy Bridgewater was more of a game manager last season, especially down the stretch, throwing only four more touchdowns than interceptions. Fields can make off-schedule throws or tuck it and run, but he has shown poise when he hangs in the pocket too. Accuracy pops on his deep balls.”

McShay hits the nail on the head in regards to Carolina’s potential. Yes, you’re technically only as good as your record, but the Panthers lost several close games and a more dynamic quarterback easily could have gotten them to an 8-8 finish at the very least.

Fields is our favorite realistic QB prospect for Carolina this year – assuming that a trade up to No. 1 for Trevor Lawrence is out of the quesiton. As McShay mentioned, his ability to make off-schedule throws is valuable, especially compared to Bridgewater.

More than anything else, Teddy’s discomfort with operating outside of structure is what limited his ceiling (and his team) during the 2020 season. He occasionally made some slick plays out of the pocket – one throw to Curtis Samuel against the Saints comes to mind – but those highlights were far too rare for a QB leading an offense as talented as this one.

When Bridgewater was pressured or his receivers couldn’t get separation he frequently panicked and ran himself into sacks or wound up committing a turnover. For the year, he had 11 interceptions and six fumbles. Throw in his rushing numbers and Bridgewater finished the season with 20 total touchdowns and 17 turnovers. That’s solid enough for a backup but not good enough to justify a long-term starter status.

Like most 22-year old quarterbacks, Fields’ game is a bit raw and there’s no guarantee he’ll work out in the NFL. That said, his athleticism, arm strength, creativity and aggressive instincts should him a higher ceiling than Bridgewater.

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