NFL DraftToday’s focus: Quarterbacks, Running Backs

Draft's QB, RB deficiencies won't hurt Panthers

jjones@charlotteobserver.comApril 21, 2013 

It’s not a good draft for a team in need of a franchise quarterback or running back.

Fortunately for the Carolina Panthers, they’re set in both areas.

With $43.5 million in guaranteed money tied up in running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, along with quarterback Cam Newton entering his third season with Derek Anderson as his backup, the Panthers likely won’t be in the market for either position in this week’s draft.

Newton’s stance as the starter is unchallenged after winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2011 and posting similar numbers last season. In the past two years, Newton has evolved into a quarterback with greater pocket presence despite an offensive scheme that frequently had him outside the pocket.

The Panthers, under former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, relied heavily on zone-read packages that utilized Newton’s size and quickness. But neither Anderson nor third-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen have Newton’s unique skillset.

Across the NFL, from Washington to Seattle to Philadelphia and San Francisco, teams which have dual-threat quarterbacks starting have more traditional pocket passers as backups.

“The quarterback position has always been a difficult one to figure out,” said Steve Clarkson, a quarterback guru who has trained several big names. “For years the standard bearer has been the pocket passer and someone who can make plays with his arm, and certainly to a large degree that’s going to be the case. A Cam Newton, a Russell Wilson, those guys are not very easy to find.”

The Panthers had interest in drafting Wilson last year and wanted to take him on Day Three before Seattle selected him in the third round.

A glance at Anderson’s career statistics would seemingly eliminate any zone-read packages for him; In seven years, he’s gained 203 yards on 78 attempts.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera pointed out Anderson’s ability to sustain a drive – citing when Newton went out for a series with an injury against New Orleans in Week 17 last year as proof he can do what the Panthers need him to.

“The thing about Derek is Derek’s a very smart and cerebral player,” Rivera said last month at the owner’s meeting. “Derek doesn’t need to get a lot of reps. He has a tremendous amount of athletic (ability). He’s faster than we thought he was.”

Only once in their 18-year history have the Panthers drafted a quarterback who was almost assured to be a backup (Stefan LeFors in 2005). And re-signing Anderson this offseason after he flirted with Cleveland signaled it unnecessary to look for one this week.

“Fortunately for us we were able to keep him,” Rivera said. “ He’s been a very good part for us in terms of our team, leadership role for us and a mentoring role as well, being with Cam and Jimmy Clausen.

As far as the running backs in this year’s draft, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy could be taken on Day One while North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard could go anywhere between rounds 1-3.

But no matter Carolina’s position in not needing a running back to come in and start immediately, the Panthers – like all other teams – could still find a later-round diamond in the rough.

“I can guarantee you there’s going to be some fifth, sixth, seventh backs and some undrafted free agent backs that make a team and contribute,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a teleconference on April 10. “Happens every year.”

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