CHARLOTTE — We're inside three weeks until it's upon us. And those three weeks might kill us all.
As you might imagine, there's a lot of anticipation about what the Panthers are doing with the No. 1 overall pick. There should be, it's a really big deal.
But modern technology has changed the way we write and talk and think about football (and everything really, but I'm staying in my lane today). And while there's more quality football content available to fans than ever before in recorded history (though the cave paintings of Tom Brady at Lascaux are quite something), there's also more crap than ever before. The internet has created a low barrier of entry for publishing, and I hate to sound elitist, but that's a shame. Because there's some really bad stuff out there, and as explained by the Dunning-Kruger effect, the people with the least amount of actual expertise are the most confident (and loudest) in their opinions.
As such, it's sometimes impossible for fans to know what or whom to trust.
Already, we've seen reports that Panthers owner David Tepper prefers at least three different quarterbacks, that head coach Frank Reich would take at least as many if given his preference, and that general manager Scott Fitterer is leaning toward someone else, and that the staff loves ______ most of all (fill in the blank with the name of your choice, and copy and paste at your leisure). If you report every possibility, eventually you'll be right, and then when it happens, you can add "I've been hearing this" or #asexpected to your tweet.
What we know is that in 20 days (or maybe fewer), we'll know, and everyone can put away their crystal balls.
Speaking of which, I have a very important announcement — BEN McADOO WAS RIGHT.
Was on the road for 10 days recently and came home and haven't done laundry in a week, so I went to the back of the closet for the stuff I don't wear often, and my crystal ball was, in fact, in my other pants. Right where I left it.
But I promised I'd only use my powers for good, so we'll apply the lessons learned from the future to this present Mailbag. I do it for the people:
Hi Darin - love reading your work almost as much as I have enjoyed this off-season! I will also take credit for manifesting us trading up from #9 to #1 way back on Valentine's Day on this very website. That said, my question could be considered as if I didn't approve of the move.
Getting to it, would you be able to shed light on whether or not there was consideration on waiting until next year with the supposed "can't miss" prospects such as Caleb Williams or Drake Maye? The question came to mind when listening to one of the recent interviews, and advanced scouting was mentioned. To be clear, I'm 100,000 percent on board with the move made to go to number one because I am of the belief at least three of the QBs would be just fine with the coaching staff that has been assembled, PLUS having Andy Dalton as a bridge/backup. I'm also like many fans that are ready to return to our glory days ASAP and know a franchise QB is a key requisite. Thanks, and KEEP POUNDING! — Corey, Myrtle Beach, SC
Speaking of seers, you probably knew you were going to be this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and will be getting the appropriate honorarium soon.
It feels like we do this every year. When we know who the quarterbacks are, we spend a couple of months picking them apart, finding every flaw, and talking ourselves out of the current crop in favor of the perfect prospects in the future. And then next year, we spend a couple of months picking those guys apart, and we start imagining that next year's class is even better.
So here's the deal. Frank Reich was on the rental QB treadmill for five years in Indy after Andrew Luck's retirement. The Panthers have been on it for the last four. At a certain point, you can't keep talking about getting off it. Eventually, you have to do it (which I should apply to this pile of laundry, as well).
I am intrigued by Williams. I think Maye's going to be really good at this (I also think there's no reason for players like them to play another non-highly-compensated down of college football, so god bless NIL).
Corey's larger point is the valid one. The reason you feel good about drafting one of these guys this year is because of the coaching staff Frank Reich has assembled and having Dalton in the room to offer day-to-day help with the adjustment to the NFL as a rookie starter (since he did it in Cincinnati).
Hi Darin! The pre-draft consensus (if one can exist) seems to be that CJ Stroud and Bryce Young are the top QBs available - Will Levis and Anthony Richardson have more risks/red flags, in theory. If the team is deciding between Stroud (perceived red flags being playing in a good environment with good OL, great WRs, and being an 'Ohio State' QB) and Young (red flag being his size, more weight than height) I guess although most fans will have their own preferred one the team certainly will pick a good one. And also has a lot of help in coaching, OL, running game, and pass catchers (besides a good D and ST). So although it seems easy not to miss on the pick, it seems a lot tougher to decide which one is better to draft. How will they do it? Any guesses? — Fernando, São Paulo, Brazil
It's weird, I walked down the hall the other day, and Fitterer and Reich were playing rock, paper, scissors. They seemed busy, so I didn't interrupt. But that could be it.
I think, more than anything else, they're going back to the tape. Watch the football, if you want to see who's good at the football. Sometimes it lies to you for a game or two, but mostly, if you have a couple of years of evidence on a guy, that's a pretty good barometer of who he is.
People say all kinds of stuff. When you can document their actions and what they do on a day-to-day basis, that's how you tell.
And this touches on Corey The Seer's point above; there are a lot of quarterbacks I'd feel good about if they got to be coached by Frank Reich and Jim Caldwell and Thomas Brown and Josh McCown (not to mention coaches such as Duce Staley and James Campen and Shawn Jefferson, who have important roles in this deal). The guy they pick might not work out for certain reasons, but it won't be because he's not well-taught.
If you're scared to death of Young's height, then you'd at least feel better knowing he's well-protected and has coaches who are smart enough to know where and where not to put him. If you're afraid Stroud is a product of his environment, you try to put him in an equivalent environment to make the most of him. Same for Levis and Richardson. These coaches have track records. That buys them a measure of trust.
Hi Darin! Happy Easter Weekend. I wanted to get my question in before my family and I hit vacation for a few weeks to enjoy the beaches of Mexico. Hopefully, this will help take my mind off all this Panthers QB draft talk. Actually, wait, I do have a QB question. Do you really think the Panthers won't know who they want until the actual day of the draft? I hope they know a week or few days prior and put it out there for us fans to be excited and have the atmosphere electric.
Also, if you had to guess, which two position groups will be addressed with the next two picks after QB? — Jeff, Henderson, NV
Quarterback talk in the weeks leading up to the draft has no respect for geographic borders. It's worldwide. So enjoy your vacation, even if you're sitting on the beach daydreaming about what a guy will look like in a Panthers uniform.
Not sure the league wants their TV show spoiled, but I also have done this long enough to know it could eventually get out before the show starts. There are a lot of good reporters working (and some bad ones, see above).
Your other question, well, we were talking about this just the other day on Panthers.com.
There are a number of ways they could go with the 39th and 93rd picks, and a pretty decent spread of alternatives. I think pass-rusher, pass-catcher, linebacker, or corner would probably be near the top of my list. You can't do it all in any particular year, and they're not going to fill every blank on the depth chart this month.
We're going to go into more depth in those areas in the coming weeks (stay tuned for more) because it's actually a pretty interesting balance they're trying to strike here. As much as No. 1 is important, No. 39 (or the vicinity, if they move up or down) is possible, if not likely, to end up in the starting lineup at some point this year.
They might add some dudes in the next couple of weeks in free agency, but that second-round pick is going to need to be a player, and soon.
Hello Darin. Do the Panthers have an interest in adding another wide receiver in the draft to help a young QB? If so, if Josh Downs falls to 39 is it possible Panthers can draft him? I heard the Saints are interested in him. They pick right after the Panthers at 40. Steve Smith Sr. gave Downs props on his Twitter page. — Chris, Fayetteville, NC
Well, if 89 is willing to endorse him, that's enough for me.
Even when he was playing, Smith had a knack for finding a young receiver to adopt. Oddly enough, they were never first-round picks, or five-star recruits out of high school. Now that I think about it, most of them tended to be on the shorter side. (Ryne Robinson was an early member of the Smitty Youth.) Hmmm, maybe he had a type. Or was projecting.
Downs is an interesting cat. He plays bigger than he is (5-foot-9) and has a certain je ne sais quoi about him that suggests he is confident in his ability to prove people wrong. That's might be what 89 was drawn to as well. (He was definitely projecting.)
But scouts have been tracking Downs for a while because he's a playmaker. I would think him or someone like him is absolutely in the mix at 39 if he's there.
As an avid reader of your work, I remember a particularly interesting story where you included a conversation you had with Scott Fitterer during the 2022 NFL annual meeting. I'm sure you remember - the one where he told you, in no uncertain terms, that Ickey was his No. 1 choice given the option? Now. I don't want to go all "A Beautiful Mind" here and start connecting dots that aren't really there... but the 2023 meetings concluded not so long ago.
As a certified friend of the Mailbag, I think it is fair to say we are pretty close - wouldn't you agree? So if you knew who the Panthers were going to pick, you'd tell me, right? You know what this kind of anticipation can do to a person. You wouldn't know who the team wants to pick and keep it to yourself while everyone is listening to Josh McCown talk to CJ Stroud on 0.25x speed trying to confirm what they said to each other after a pro day, would you? No, you wouldn't do that. — Eric, Toronto, Ontario
We're practically family, Eric. And sometimes, my actual family will overhear work stuff on the phone, and they know not to put it on social media. So since you beat it out of me, I'll tell you, but it will be in a secret code. And when the dog sled arrives at your igloo with the supplies (DoorDash is different north of the border), ask him to sniff the message and bark once if it's Young or twice if it's Stroud, and if he starts howling at the moon it's definitely Hendon Hooker.
I don't think this year's meeting provided the exact kind of clarity (since they went straight from Kentucky back to Charlotte, grabbed a new bag of clothes, and flew to Arizona immediately), but it's reasonable to think we have some stories to share when this one is over. It's been a fascinating process to watch unfold — primarily because this story has stakes.
Hi, Darin! It's been a busy offseason for you! I'm really excited about all of our new additions, especially the coaching staff, and I am truly one of the folks who will be fine with Young, Stroud, or Richardson! My question is about the playbook. Do the coaches really start from zero and formulate new sets of plays on both offense and defense? Do they use some basic plays from our old playbook, or each coach adds some plays that have worked for him in the past? How do they make a whole new playbook? Just curious. — Susan, Inman, SC
Susan is also like family. So instead of telling her who the pick will be (since she's not picky), I'll take requests.
We'll have more coming up soon on the process of building a playbook and the people who are building it. Augusta has been working on it all week and I'm excited to read it.
It's a pretty remarkable work of synthesizing a lot of information, actually. And yes, it's a whole new book. Coaches have been working on it a lot lately since the offseason program begins on Monday.
So stay tuned to Panthers.com (there's another plug) for more on this very topic.
I've seen some rumors floating around about new uniforms. Can you PLEASE ease my mind and tell me they're wrong? The current uniforms are THE Panthers uniforms. Classic, timeless, perfect. I'd love to see the stars of this new era wearing the same thing that all our franchise legends have. If there are plans to change - is it too late to change course? — Jarod, Indianapolis, IN
Who can ever forget the first time they saw Sam Mills come out in process blue? Wait, I'm told blue uniforms weren't always part of the palette? Scratch that.
As a guy who keeps old clothes way too long (that's how I found the crystal ball), I appreciate the notion of hanging onto the classics. Eventually, fashion trends evolve, but if you keep your old stuff long enough, it will come back into style. My sunglasses have been cool and uncool about 15 times each since I got my first pair in 1989.
I can't tell you that the uniforms will never change, never is a word you only say if you're in a hurry to be wrong. But this year's adjustment to the color of the jersey is a fine-tuning rather than a sign of something dramatic happening.
Darin, I watch the draft every year on TV and have never really considered making the trip to watch one live. My question is do you think it is worth making the trip to see the draft live? A bonus question is do you see Charlotte hosting a draft in the near future? — Craig, Statesville, NC
Kansas City is a pretty underrated destination, as long as you're not vegan. The trips I've taken there have always created pleasant memories. So if you were going to go to one in person, this would be it.
I've never actually been on site for one because I've always been here at the stadium, covering it from the receiving end.
And while I don't always advocate hordes of people invading our town (if the Super Bowl comes to Mayberry, I'm leaving, and you can rent my house that's a scooter ride from the stadium for a week for about 12 mortgage payments), a draft would be cool. We've seen what it looks like here for some of the big college games, and Romare Bearden Park creates a nice little backdrop for the world to see how pleasant our little city is.
I would heartily endorse a draft coming here in the future, especially if I got to go outside and see what it's like.
But if you didn't want to make a road trip, you could always hang out with the cool kids here.
Darin, my man, looking photogenic as ever in this week's "The Hurry-Up"! All this nostalgia has me thinking. What was the first Panthers-related segment or news story you can recall being involved with? — Kyle, Hendersonville, NC
The Hurry-Up is awesome because any time you get a chance to work with Kristen Balboni, that's a good day. She's a total boss. I dig her the most. And her professionalism makes up for my frankly alarming lack of posture. But I promise to sit up straight in the future if you promise to keep watching.
The '90s were a long time ago, Kyle. Somebody sent me a photograph recently from the locker room after the first win in franchise history in 1995. I looked younger, fresher of face and softer of spirit, at that point unbroken by life's inevitable heartaches. And also kind of lost, to be honest with you. Sue me, I was young. Maybe if I find that picture someday, I'll send you a copy.
I did find this one from training camp in 2000, walking out with Panthers legend Reggie White after an interview.
And yeah, I know, I'm wearing jeans and boots in Spartanburg. Maybe it rained that morning. Or I just came in from a hike. Or maybe I'm just an idiot. (But I still have that Selwyn Pub T-shirt, and the glasses, and probably the rest of the ensemble.)
With Cam Newton's size and strength, shouldn't the Panthers discuss the option of a task-fitting lowball incentive-based contract to use him as a scrum QB? I really believe that's going to be the differentiating play this year. The Eagles used that play to get into the title game last year, and until the play is outlawed, the Panthers should get on board to use it to their advantage. — Thomas, Lexington, SC
Cam still wants to play, and I think he has something to offer a team. Maybe not 17 games of something, but something for sure. I think offering to make him a one-trick pony and only having him around for the sneak is kind of beneath him, honestly.
Newton's career dictates that he deserves to be considered for the Hall of Fame five years after he's done playing. But he gets to decide when that is, not us.
Let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.
What do you believe is the minimum size for QBs to be able to run a QB sneak effectively? — AustrianPanther on Twitter
I watched enough Tom and Jerry cartoons when I was a kid to know that being really tiny can be helpful when it comes to sneaking past others or into small spaces. It also helps if you put a garden rake on the field for the defense to step on.
Also, Ant-Man would be unstoppable, though he might wear out before his short little legs covered the yard needed (that would be like 100 steps for him).
Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. I was sitting here eating a NC BBQ sammich and was wondering, how many invitations and what positions are coming to the Bank for interviews? Final question: What's your favorite BBQ restaurant in NC? Keep Pounding. — David, Farmington, MO
They get to bring 30 guys in for visits before the draft. As you might realize from reading Panthers.com, they do not have 30 picks. It'll be a broad range of positions, but all the top QBs are expected to be here.
I always enjoy Bridges in Shelby, but I'm a fan of anything authentic, and bonus points if it has a woodpile or a plywood sign in the shape of a pig out by the road.
Hoppy Easter, Darin! I was sitting at work, avoiding going out and doing my job, and saw your call for mailbag questions, so here we are! What would you say is the general vibe around the Bank (or whatever the actual nickname is for the office) right now? In other years, I imagined it being hectic and chaotic, but for some reason, this year's got me imagining it's calm, and everyone is looking to go 6-0 on picks in three weeks. — Nate, Grand Prairie, TX
I usually just call it "the office," and as soon as we finish this yoga class and meditation retreat, I'll let you know. It's pretty zen right now.
Why does it take so long for the Panthers to update their roster information on the official website? The kicker position on the 2023 team was settled more than a week ago and yet is not reflected on the official roster. Eddy Piñeiro is the lone kicker now that Zane Gonzalez has been traded to San Francisco. There is no kicker listed on the official site. — Randy, Goose Creek, SC
THERE'S A LOT GOING ON AROUND HERE, RANDY. (The zen is generally temporary.)
Yeah, sorry, that's on me. Fixed now.
It's Masters week. So what's your pick? — Will, Rock Hill, SC
I like pimento cheese. A lot, actually. But a good egg salad sandwich can move you. I hope you weren't asking me about golf or golfers. I'm way too young for that.
Who is the Panthers' passing leader of all time? — John, Charlotte
Ooh, stats. Will will be full of zen. Yards, touchdowns, and interceptions, it's all Cam Newton (29,725, 186, 113). That's what happens when you play the most games. Completion percentage is a tie between Panthers legends Legedu Naanee and Joseph Charlton at 100.0 percent (1-for-1).
The article on the color correction to the jerseys didn't specifically mention the helmet. Is anything going on there? — Shawn, Charlotte
I committed a journalism to find out. And I have confirmed that they will indeed be wearing helmets again this year.
I saw this question coming and prepared my joke in advance. The benefit of having that crystal ball. Thanks to all of you for hanging around to hear me tell it, and again to Ben McAdoo for his eternal contribution to the Panthers lexicon.