With much of free agency in the rearview, NFL clubs now turn to the draft as the best means of adding talent to the roster ahead of the new season.
For the Carolina Panthers, two big holes remain: quarterback and left tackle.
Selecting No. 6 overall in the first round of next month's 2022 NFL Draft, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer acknowledged this week that it would be a tough choice between grabbing one of the top blockers and filling the most important position in sports.
"This will be interesting because the tackles will be the best players on the board," he said, via the team's official website. "But we do need a quarterback, and at some point you have to take a shot, especially in the top 10. You hate to force it, because when you force it, you could make a mistake.
"It's a unique quarterback class, because there's not a clear No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. Like, who's the proven starter who can come in and play for you? That'll be the conversation we have for the next month -- quarterback or left tackle. And we could always go pass-rusher because Brian Burns is coming up (they're picking up his fifth-year option to extend his rookie deal until 2023). I mean, we'll do the option, but if that money gets out of hand, it's better to have somebody ready to go in the hopper."
The Panthers have done their due diligence on each quarterback expected to be drafted early this year. There will be options when Carolina's pick comes up from Malik Willis to Kenny Pickett to Matt Corral to Desmond Ridder.
This year there is no sure-fire, must-have QB prospect, which leaves teams projecting talent versus readiness to play. Fitterer was asked if the risks associated with each prospect give him pause in using a top-10 selection on a player who might not pan out.
"I hear that," he responded. "But in reverse, how many times have you seen guys like Joey Harrington labeled can't-miss, and they end up missing? Getting the right person with the right makeup with the right skill set for your offense, and having that blend together is key. So much of it is what's around them. You've got to be able to protect them."
The random sideswipe at Joey Harrington aside, Fitterer is spot on: Much of the success of this QB class will come down to what team and situation they're selected to join.
Carolina has been unable to answer the quarterback conundrum during the Matt Rhule-Scott Fitterer era. Currently, they sit with Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker as their top options. At some point, it's expected the Panthers will add a young signal-caller to the mix. The question is whether that's at No. 6 overall or in a later round.
As we press closer to the draft on April 28, expect the quarterback names to creep up the mocks. Every year QBs go higher than initially projected. For teams like Carolina, the question will be whether spending a top-10 pick on a non-polished QB is prudent or whether they risk none of their top options being available by the time they're on the clock again.