CHARLOTTE — If you made the Panthers draft right now, they probably could.
But they don't have to draft right now, so they might as well continue to do all the preparation they can.
The Panthers have continued to have a bunch of top-30 visits with draft prospects this week, and more are coming next week. Players are meeting with coaches and the personnel department and getting on the board, and getting checked out in several departments. It's where the team gets a chance to dig a little deeper than the 18 minutes they get with these guys at the combine, a chance to test them in some new ways, a chance to measure the things you can't do in the controlled environment of Indianapolis.
And you can pick up a few things when you see them in person.
You see Georgia tight end Darnell Washington in the hallway, and it really hits you that he actually is doorframe-big. You see Bryce Young in the cafeteria, and you realize he's probably not nearly as small as you were conditioned to think (and JJ Jansen felt better when he realized they were both wearing New Balances, the shoes of gentlemen of a certain vintage). But the stuff they're doing on the boards with coaches is what helps shape one of the most important decisions in a decade for this franchise.
And next week, they'll add some more to the pile of data points in this evaluation, with CJ Stroud and Will Levis rolling in Tuesday.
So with a little less than two weeks until the decision is made, we can go through the mail and try to make as much of this make sense as possible.
When will the Panthers announce they are picking CJ Stroud? I know Bryce Young is in the news these days with "noise" about his recent top 30 visit, and it doesn't surprise me the Panthers had nice things to say about him, but all signs still point to Stroud. You don't trade up without someone in mind (Panthers traded up after the combine, where Stroud and Richardson put on a show while Young measured small and didn't even throw). You don't fake the clearly more positive interactions the Panthers cast had overall with Stroud at his pro day vs. a still positive but more subdued interaction with Young. You don't bring in a WR that you'll have no chance of drafting (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) unless maybe you are trying to mine some information about his interactions with his quarterback. Finally, who really believes that a room of NFL veterans making the decision will not take the best pocket passer in the draft with the prototypical build and all the skills required to be successful as an NFL quarterback? Especially given they themselves were all pocket passers, and they brought in someone like Andy Dalton as a backup/mentor who is himself a pocket passer. At the end of the day, the "magic" plays might make good highlights, but last I checked, the most important thing a quarterback does is still stand tall in the pocket and deliver accurate passes on target and on schedule. It worked out pretty well for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, at least. Surely they won't mess this up, right? Right? — Jon, Houston, TX
If there's anything the draft-industrial complex is better at creating than jobs for draft "experts," it's the ubiquitous sense of certainty about things we can't possibly know. The corollary to this is that once you decide your opinion is the correct one, all the other options aren't just slightly lesser; they're complete trash.
We are aware that Stroud has many of the qualities that will give him a chance to be a good NFL quarterback. We are aware that he's taller than Bryce Young. But my man Jon here is comparing him to two of the six-to-eight best quarterbacks in football history before he ever takes a snap in the league and also positioning himself as an expert body-language reader based on edited video clips he saw on the internet.
But the biggest leap of reasoning in this question is the notion that the decision is already made in any direction. After making a mess of some previous decisions out of an unnecessary sense of haste, the Panthers are going above and beyond to be deliberate now, to have an adult decision-making process.
Are they getting close? Of course. Are these final steps more of a fine-tuning, a chance for prospects to give closing arguments? That's a reasonable way to describe it.
Jon, you could be right. Unless you aren't.
Don't know if you can (or want to) answer those questions, but I'll give a try: How much weight does the team put on the S2 cognitive test? The last couple of days, there's been a lot of talk about it, and Young's great score on it and CJ's poor one. Also, there's been some talk about Stroud's being a difficult player to coach. Is that a thing a team discovered during the extensive process on those QBs, or is it more rumors on the lying season before the draft (some team wanting him to drop)? Thanks! — Fernando, São Paulo, Brazil
This is an example of what I was referring to above. The biggest takeaway about S2 testing is how good of a job the S2 testing people are doing of making sure the world is aware of S2 testing. You can't buy this kind of advertising.
The S2 is one of the batteries of tests teams, including the Panthers, use this time of year. There's a temptation to boil every individual part down to a ridiculous extreme; to make each ingredient the entire meal. But here's the trick — it's knowing that it's part of an evaluation, not the whole thing.
The S2 is designed to measure processing (which is not the same as intelligence). The test, as you've likely read if you're the kind of person reading this Mailbag, does this by having players react to a series of images on a screen with a video game-like controller to determine how they are at eliminating distractions or seeing patterns. It's a useful tool. It's also one tool in the toolbox if you're doing this right.
The message being sent is that Young is a high-level processor of information, which appears to be true based on another highly technical battery of tests — game film. We saw him do this stuff on the field at Alabama many times. So the test kind of confirms what old-school scouting also tells us.
As to claims about Stroud's coachability, his coaches don't seem to share that opinion. (Such as what Ohio State offensive coordinator Brian Hartline said in March.) Granted, coaches generally are going to talk up their own guys, but as Fernando mentions, there are some people who put information into the universe with an agenda. This is also why I encourage readers and viewers to keep score and remember who said what, so they can gauge whether the information is trustworthy the next time that person says something.
Why should the Panthers pick CJ Stroud over Young? — Shedrick, Charlotte
If there's anything I'm a sucker for, it's economy of language (says the guy who never stops talking #selfawareness).
It's not complicated to make a case for Stroud. If you create a minimum threshold for players based on size (which many teams have and do), Young might not qualify for selection. If that's the case, and you don't want to develop a player such as Anthony Richardson, it's actually quite simple to convince yourself that Stroud is the guy. Some teams likely have done this already.
He's really accurate as a passer. That's a big part of this job description. He's probably more of a running threat than he ever showed at Ohio State since he never had to run all that much.
Stroud should be a very good quarterback in the league. You don't have to be very flexible to reach that conclusion, and if size is a hang-up for you (also a reasonable position), then he might be your guy.
The husband and I are long-time Panthers fans (at least 20 years), starting when we moved to Asheville in whatever year that was. But we have recently moved out of state (to Massachusetts, and, no, we will NEVER be Pats fans). Panthers.com is our lifeline, and your writing is the best of all time. But to my question: in all the hubbub surrounding the No. 1 pick, I haven't seen anyone giving us any clear information about what offensive coordinator Thomas Brown might be looking for in a QB. Everyone thinks Frank Reich has a favorite body type, but what kind of player does coach Brown lean toward? What kind of offense does he favor, and what kind of QB would be best for said offense?
By the way, I have read and really appreciated Augusta's article about coach Brown's coaching tree and the making of the playbook. (Okay, you are BOTH the best.) It just seems to me that when looking at the draft from the perspective of which player will best fit with the team and playbook/playing style that a good look at what type of QB coach Brown might lean toward would be interesting. And, no, I'm not looking for a clue or a hot take. No, really. Honest. Seriously. I mean it. Truth. — Laura, Cheshire, MA
Laura, thanks for the kind words and for staying true to your roots in hostile territory. And for kissing up to your host and the rest of the staff here. As such, we're making you this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and getting the appropriate honorarium on the way to you as a way of saying thanks. You'll stand out in a crowd up there.
Augusta Stone's recent look at the way Brown put together the new playbook also speaks to the way they're making this decision — collaboratively. No one person can truly make this decision alone. They'll be aligned by the time the draft gets here because they've done this thoroughly.
Brown has said that there are certain physical things a quarterback has to have, mentioning "natural throwing ability." But he also values what they call "football IQ" as well. If you have it, you can succeed in the league. If you're just an athlete who can't process (as measured by the S2 and game tape), you can definitely succeed in high school and probably in college. In the NFL, you can't be sloppy in that area and expect to win consistently.
The current regime makes me feel like the winning ways could soon return. Nobody knows for sure who the QB will be, but the rest of the holes are being deftly filled by our GM, He actually has a hand in it this year and looks like he has it down. My question is are we really ready for a playoff run this year? The division could be had, but there are some really good teams, I believe, in the NFC this year. It would be nice to be back this quickly, but I do not want to over-project and be disappointed. But it sure feels good where we are at and where it looks like we are going. — Stephen, Columbia, SC
Hope is an addictive drug. And it's probably also wise not to get high on your own supply.
It's fair to think the Panthers have the possibility of being significantly better on offense, if the rookie quarterback comes in and performs the way you hope he will.
But it's probably also wise to temper expectations by remembering that no matter how good he becomes, he will remain a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
The Panthers have taken specific and tangible moves to insulate him this year. Having veteran pass-catchers like Adam Thielen and Hayden Hurst and Miles Sanders helps, and having the sheer volume of offensive coaching expertise also does. (I feel compelled to remind people at regular intervals that Jim Caldwell, Peyton Manning's old position coach, is just walking the halls in a less-than-specific role. Jim Caldwell is not a good coach. He is a great coach).
The NFC South is always a little bit of a grease fire, even when it's good. This division is always close, whether it's three teams winning 11 or 12, or three teams winning seven or eight. And the Saints attained a measure of competence by signing the utterly adult quarterback Derek Carr, so I guess you make them the favorites for now. But the Panthers are approaching stability, and in this division, that gives you a chance. They ought to be better. We'll see what that means in terms of wins and losses.
Hi Darin, hope you've stayed kicking. Do you have any stories from your half-a-century of experience of prospect visits gone wrong (without naming names, of course)? — Carter, Charlotte
I'm not that old, Carter. Words hurt.
But yes, I've heard some doozies.
Perhaps my favorite was from a defensive player who ended up going to multiple Pro Bowls with multiple teams but, shall we say, needed some time to learn the requisite professionalism required for a long career in the NFL.
When this player went on a pre-draft visit to a team, the position coach picked him up at the airport and took him out to dinner. At one point, upon arrival at the restaurant, the coach steps away to take a call. When he returned, the player had ordered a pitcher of beer. For himself. And did not offer to share. When the coach saw him at the team facility the following day, the player was taking a nap on a couch in the players' lounge. This wasn't necessarily connected to the pitcher of beer, but it was a curious way to make a first impression at a job interview.
Again, the player turned out to be pretty good. I would not recommend his style to everyone, however.
I'm totally bummed because I'll be working late on Days 1 and 2 of the draft. I may have to sneak a few peeks at my phone, though, because the anticipation will just be too much to bear, especially on the 27th. That all said and all small violins playing, is it too much for me to expect to be able to tune in to Kristen and some of our current/former players for the pre-draft show? Will you make an appearance this year? Possibly in shorts? — John, Matthews, NC
I'm sorry to say there's not a live show this year, primarily because we're having a big honking party at Bank of America Stadium instead. (The live shows were kind of an outgrowth of not being able to gather during COVID).
So it stinks that you can't join us here (and if you've ever partied with John, you know we're all poorer for the experience), but we will have lots of stuff for you to enjoy on the Panthers app and Panthers.com. You should absolutely keep checking it out instead of working.
But we also have lots of cool content planned for the entire big weekend, so keep it locked here for the latest stories, videos, interviews, and more for the next two weeks.
Love your column, Darin. I understand that Matt Corral was drafted under the last regime, so there is no bond between him and the current staff, but why try to just ship him off for nothing? I think of when Washington drafted RG3, then Kirk Cousins a couple of rounds later. Never hurts to have extra talent. Thanks, and Keep Pounding. — Eddie, Greensboro, NC
With all the QB hype this year, why are the team and the media totally silent concerning Matt Corral? Highly rated and sought-after last season; should he not be on the radar as well? — Jim, Timberlake, NC
Hey Darin! Hope you are well - So, with Stroud or Young becoming the QB of the future and with Dalton as our backup, where does this leave Matt Corral? Will he get any chance in training camp? Will he get traded? Is there any way he could be the starter this season, or did we just waste our third round pick from last year? — Zach, Charlotte
Such is the power of the Weekly Matt Corral question that we get three of them this week.
He is kind of getting lost in the shuffle, through no real fault of his own.
But as the guy who made the RG3-Kirk Cousins comparison in this space in a recent mailbag, I think Eddie is wise to point that out.
Matt is here, working out with his teammates, with a smile on his face. (Matt always has a smile on his face).
He's also back to throwing the ball, which isn't a bad sign in his recovery from a really serious foot injury.
The Panthers have already drafted him and paid the price in picks to acquire him. There's no real reason to think he's going anywhere. Teams typically need more than one quarterback in a given year, so he'll likely remain around and get to experience all the same benefits as the rookie in having a Dalton and this coaching staff to learn from, and be the third quarterback. No reason to do anything else.
Also, GET BACK TO CLASS, ZACH.
Love reading Ask The Old Guy. Thanks for taking the question. Been noticing a lot of hubbub about the Panthers drafting a QB. Why not let the pride of Lake Stevens, WA, Mr. Jacob Eason, cook? JK, know he's a depth/practice arm. My real question is how do new coaching regimes evaluate previous regimes' players, especially the younger ones? Feel like the league has a deep history of new coaches kicking the young previous-regime guys aside and drafting new ones.
I have a habit of dreaming big for Panther 2nd/3rd round WRs that don't ever pop. First it was Keary Colbert (still my favorite jersey when the Panthers come out to run all over the Hawks), then Brandon LaFell, followed by Devin Funchess. Now I have bought all the Terrace Marshall Jr. stock I can find. Kind of worried about my portfolio with a new coach, especially after Matt Rhule left and Marshall popped a bit once he got some playing time. — Jake, Seattle, WA
Ahh, now this is a wrinkle. If this turns into the Weekly Jacob Eason question, I will dig it the most.
Actually, Eason was a part of a previous Frank Reich regime, as he was a fourth-round pick of the Colts when Reich was the coach there. As fourth quarterbacks on a depth chart go, he's not bad. He's got a big arm and the kind of size people like in their QBs. As we saw last year, you never know what can happen, so he's here and will get a chance to work with people who can help him.
As for the receivers, do you have an Armanti Edwards jersey, Jake? That's the real test.
Marshall's still got a real chance to splash here. He certainly has the talent to do so, and even with the addition of Thielen, DJ Chark, and Damiere Byrd (just this afternoon), they still think he can be a major contributor. They need it. He's a rare size-speed guy and capable of making plays downfield. That's never bad.
Oh. My. Gosh. It's 1995, and the newly minted Carolina Panthers are trying to put a team together. What a TERRIFIC story.!! It reads like a 'cold war' espionage novel. Or maybe a gangster mob scene in Chicago during prohibition. Spy vs. Spy; Espionage & Counter Espionage; Misappropriation of information; Spreading rumors under false pretenses; Unlicensed runaway vehicles; Missing or disappearing jerseys; Maybe even a little dabbling in the occult? The only thing missing was 007 or another equally capable Double "0" agent.
Terrific story, Darin. Absolutely terrific. For a few moments, I was transported back to my youth on Saturday mornings, listening to radio programs like Boston Blackie, Mystery Theater, War of the Worlds, and Richard Diamond. (We had no television or telephone when I was growing up). It seems strange that this amount of subterfuge could occur amongst 32 NFL teams in 1995. Great story. Most excellent. Maybe we can get you an award or something. Have to think on that. Dadgummit, forgot my question. Hmmm, maybe it'll come to me. (That's what happens when you get OLD). — Howard, Star, NC
Howard, you're too kind. Readers like you are all the award I've ever needed.
Reporting the backstory of the 1995 draft was cool and fun. And the fact that we have a Ki-Jana Carter jersey here in our archives is amazing to me at a number of levels.
And yes, Bill Polian could have been a spy. He was great at keeping secrets and had little patience for anyone who worked for him who might have spilled the beans. Lord knows we tried.
Good day to you, Darin! I just had to write in and say how thoroughly impressed I was when you very calmly and unexpectedly laid down "je ne sais quoi" on us in your April 7th Mailbag! Dude, my question is not football-related, but this. Did you already know how to spell that, or did you have to go to some other source to get it? Like I said, either way, I'm greatly impressed. How many times in your long and storied career have you used that phrase or something equally impressive? BTW, please consider my submission here as an absolute and unabashed attempt on my part to win the Friend Of The Mailbag award! (How'd I do?) — Jeff, Concord, NC
Merci beaucoup, Jeff. Trying to raise the level of discourse over here.
Garcon, get this man a free T-shirt. Kissing up always works.
Hi Darin, love the mailbag. I have two questions. First, do you regularly follow any other sports writers? My three favorites are you, Luke DeCock (Raleigh News and Observer), and Trent Crimm (The Independent). Second, regarding Kristen Balboni's comments in The Hurry Up this week — which sports writer do you think has the best hair? — Kate, Charlotte
Writers love nothing more than other writers. It's life-affirming, and makes us feel better about ourselves because we're all smart and handsome and have great hair (in our own minds).
I pay full fare for The Athletic (and not their bargain rates) solely to read C. Trent Rosecrans on the Reds and baseball in general. Growing up a Cincinnati fan makes you oddly loyal (and even if it's accidental, literate). And Rosecrans is like a modern Hal McCoy if Hal McCoy went to Georgia and had an amazing beard. I've never met him in person, though we've exchanged some messages, but I love reading him because he's clearly as fascinated by Joey Votto (the most interesting player in baseball) as I am.
You obviously have good taste in sports writers. Luke is a friend, despite the fact he's smarter than me and faster than me (ask him to show you his marathon times sometime). Usually, people like that I hate. Luke is not from us, but he is of us, and he is the columnist this area needs, whether we deserve him or not.
Trent Crimm, Independent (all newspaper writers eventually become former newspaper writers), is an amazing talent. I wish I had hair like that. Maybe someday. Would love to know what kind of product he uses.
As for non-fictional writers, I will always admire Ed Hardin, formerly of the Greensboro News and Record. Ed also had a certain je ne sais quoi, fantastic hair, a way with words, and administers justice to carp with neither favor nor mercy. Ed is one of my role models. When newspapers decide they no longer need Ed Hardins, they deserve to sleep with the carp in Ed's pond.
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.
Darin, I love how I've become a permanent fixture of the Mailbag. It makes me smile every time I read it. I don't know how long you will continue the bit, but I'm genuinely honored to be a part of mailbag history. Thank you — Jeff, Fuquay Varina, NC
WHOA. THAT'S META.
Jeff yelled at me a long time ago about letting the lightning round go on and on. Thus inspired, he became a fixture.
I've had quite a busy week this week, so let see if I can sneak a lightning round question in for you. With notable human refrigerator and tight end Darnell Washington taking a visit with the team, I must ask: Can you think of anything more frightening than the prospect of facing a combo block from Ickey Ekwonu and Mr. Washington? I'd almost rather face an actual bulldozer if given the option. — Eric, Toronto, Ontario
Darnell Washington is massive for a tight end, or for any position. He's big in the same way Jeff Otah was big, which is to say, bigger than all the other kids who do what he does. It's startling, really, and he's going to make a team looking for a run-blocker very happy.
How many more trades does Fitt make during draft weekend? Would gaining the fifth-year option on a first-round pick be worth trading back into round one for 39 and more picks to get his WR or DL? — Taylor, Conover, NC
Hey, in on every deal means in on every deal. I could see them moving up as Taylor suggests. Honestly, I could also see them moving back into the 40s and getting something else too. Scott has developed a reputation.
Hope this finds you well young man, but we have an extremely important issue to discuss that I am sure is near and dear to all your readers. This is regarding the preferences of the team, coaching staff, and pretty much all the employees of the Carolina Panthers. Wait for it...and... has anyone done a poll in the organization as to which type of BBQ sauce is the favorite of the Carolina Panthers? Is it the western NC tomato base, eastern NC vinegar base, or the SC mustard base. Same theme, but why is there only one BBQ vendor at BOFA and not at least four locations in the stadium, one at each gate? The Carolinas are the BBQ capital of the world, you know! Two states, all BBQ. I'm asking for a friend. — Rick, York SC
This might be too long of a question. Jeff could yell at you. But I like the way you're thinking. It's also quite a slogan.