Panthers 2021 mock draft: Most see them choosing a QB, but will they trade up or stay at No. 8?

By Richard Walker
Ever since the Carolina Panthers knew they were choosing No. 8 in the April 29 NFL Draft to be held in Cleveland, speculation has run rampant among the so-called NFL draft experts about what the franchise might do.

Less than a week after the end of the season, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II was a favored pick, along with Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.

Now that the Panthers have hired Scott Fitterer as the team’s new general manager, Matt Rhule and his staff have coached at the Senior Bowl and reports have come out that the Panthers had interest in new Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford before he was traded by Detroit, most mock drafts have Carolina pursuing a quarterback.

That’s even as 2020 starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is coming off a season in which he passed for 3,733 yards and 15 touchdowns while setting a franchise record for completion percentage (67.1). And that’s with Panthers’ star running back Christian McCaffrey missing 13 of 16 games with various injuries.

Bridgewater just won the 2020 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award last Saturday night that recognizes the NFL player who best demonstrates the qualities of outstanding sportsmanship on the field, including fair play, respect for opponents and integrity in competition. Founded in 2014 in honor of the late founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Art Rooney, Sr., joined recent winners like the Panthers’ Luke Kuechly (2017), the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees (2018) and the Detroit Lions’ Adrian Peterson (2019).

But Rhule was reluctant at season’s end to declare Bridgewater his starting quarterback moving forward, perhaps due to Bridgewater’s 4-11 record as a starter that included 3-8 in one-score contests.

NFL.com and Pro Football Focus now have the Panthers trading up to choose quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Justin Fields, respectively. Wilson is from BYU and Fields from Ohio State.

The Draft Network has the Panthers staying at No. 8 but choosing Surtain.

And ESPN and The Sporting News have the Panthers choosing Lance with CBS Sports projecting the Panthers to choose Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.

In addition to what Ruhle and Fitterer are planning for the draft, the roster will be reshaped based on the large number of free agents.

There are 17 unrestricted free agents (fullback Alex Armah, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, running back Mike Davis, cornerback Rasul Douglas, cornerback Corn Elder, long snapper J.J. Jansen, center Tyler Larsen, tight end Chris Manhertz, guard John Miller, tackle Taylor Moton, tackle Russell Okung, guard Chris Reed, wide receiver Curtis Samuel, offensive lineman Michael Schofield, linebacker Julian Stanford, linebacker Adarius Taylor and linebacker Tahir Whitehead) and four restricted free agents (wide receiver Keith Kirkwood, defensive end Efe Obada, tackle Trent Scott and wide receiver Brandon Zylstra).