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Evaluating best Carolina Panthers quarterback options in 2022

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers starting quarterback in 2022 won’t be Deshaun Watson. After pursuing the star passer for a year, Carolina learned it lost the NFL’s own strange version of “The Bachelor”. Because of it, owner David Tepper and head coach Matt Rhule are left standing awkwardly in the corner once again.

It’s a devastating blow for Tepper, who coveted Watson most of all. This is a familiar feeling for the Panthers’ organization as of late, experiencing despair and embarrassment regarding the state of the team’s quarterback situation.

History might repeat itself. When Carolina whiffed on a Matthew Stafford trade in 2021, rejected by another top quarterback, it settled for Sam Darnold. The deal with the New York Jets backfired, leaving the Panthers in an even worse spot this offseason.

Related: NFL QB Rankings – Check our top-20 quarterbacks, find out why Josh Allen is No. 1

Watson, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are off the table. So, let’s evaluate the best options remaining to become the Carolina Panthers quarterback in 2022.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns burned the bridge with Baker Mayfield. Whether it was done intentionally or out of pure hope for landing Watson, the former No. 1 overall pick now wants out of Cleveland. It’s only a matter of time before his wish is granted and the Panthers need to make a run at him.

There is a level of recklessness with Mayfield, it’s what led to the shoulder injury that hampered him in 2021. It’s also fair to question whether or not he should have played, given it hurt the Browns far more than it helped. With all that acknowledged, he’d still be an upgrade compared to Carolina’s recent QBs.

Take a look back at the 2020 season. Mayfield posted a 95.9 passer rating with a stellar 26-8 TD-INT ratio and completed 62.8% of his passes. The box score numbers are impressive, reflecting a top-15 quarterback who provides stability in the right offense. They also perfectly tie into some of his advanced stats.

QB rating on Play ActionQB rating on screensQB rating on deep throwsQB rating vs blitz
Baker Mayfield (2020)119.3 (5th)104.8 (3rd)108.8 (6th)99.8 (10th)
Stats via Pro Football Focus

Acquiring Mayfield won’t cost Carolina the 6th overall pick, which means it can be used on a left tackle. It puts him in an offense with an above-average offensive line, keeping him protected from constant pressure.

Keep in mind, Ben McAdoo is a quality offensive coordinator. He’ll draw up plays that feature All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, properly utilizes No. 1 receiver D.J. Moore and gets quality vertical shots thrown to Robby Anderson.

It certainly wouldn’t be an elite offense in 2022. However, Mayfield would fit nicely with the supporting cast around him. If he stays healthy, the Panthers might even have a quarterback worth a long-term extension.

Jameis Winston, free agent

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Jameis Winston isn’t popular among NFL fans. Everyone remembers the infamous 2019 season when he set an NFL record with seven pick-sixes. While he also led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) and tosses 33 touchdowns, the backbreaking turnovers always stick out.

Even if you don’t believe LASIK surgery to repair his blurry vision fixed anything, his time with the New Orleans Saints is about more than that. He spent a year alongside Drew Brees, learning from one of the smartest NFL quarterbacks of his era about reading defenses and decision-making. When Brees retired, Winston still got to spend another year being coached directly by Sean Payton.

  • Jameis Winston stats (2021): 5-2 record, 14-3 TD-INT ratio, 102.8 QB rating, 7.3 ypa

Winston performed well on play-action attempts in 202, completing 64.8% of his attempts with a 114.1 QB rating. While his completion rate dropped on non-PA throws (57.2%), he still posted a 99.4 QB rating with a 12-3 TD-INT ratio. He ranked 17th in QB rating under pressure (71.6), ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo and Mayfield.

The Carolina Panthers need to give Winston a call. Unlike Mayfield, acquiring him won’t cost a Day 2 pick. This is a proven NFL starter who played at a playoff-caliber level before tearing his ACL. If Winston is fully cleared to play, he’s undoubtedly better than recent Panthers’ quarterbacks.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati Bearcats

NFL: Scouting Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft who I believe the Carolina Panthers should spend a top-10 pick on, let alone the No. 6 selection. Moving down the board is a realistic outcome for a front office that needs to recoup some Day 2 picks. If that happens, Desmond Ridder should be on the radar towards the end of Round 1.

There aren’t any elite traits here, Ridder won’t ever be an elite quarterback. However, he does bring an NFL arm to the table with above-average athleticism for his position. Far more impressively is the young passer’s ability to diagnose what he is seeing and then react to it quickly. Give him a clean pocket with Moore and Anderson on the outside, he’ll find the openings and hit them with quick throws.

There is more to his game. If pressure comes, Ridder is more than capable of rolling out and making a throw on the move or he can keep the football and run for a chunk of yards. The Panthers can depend on a quarterback with a 60.9% accurate pass rate and this level of processing speed to handle an NFL offense, doing the right things.

There is also more room for him to improve. He steadily enhanced his touch on deep balls as he gained more experience in Cincinnati. He also served as the leader of one of the winning college football programs in the country during his tenure. He checks all the boxes the panthers need in an NFL-ready starter.

Stay tuned for two additional Carolina Panthers quarterback targets in the coming days