The Carolina Panthers have put their faith in Sam Darnold under center, having exercised his fifth-year option for 2023 after trading to acquire him from the New York Jets.
But one NFL general manager thinks the team should have considered another option—namely drafting Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 8 overall.
Fields ended up going to the Chicago Bears at No. 11 overall.
"We will see if Chicago does what it needs to do with Fields, but I would have taken Fields even if I had Darnold," one general manager told Mike Sando of The Athletic.
The team confirmed that Darnold was their quarterback soon after the trade, moving incumbent Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule responded to potential criticism about Darnold in an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show (h/t Grant Gordon of NFL.com).
"We're just trying to build the whole team and I just believe in Sam, I believe that he deserves the opportunity to go out and play with us," Rhule said.
Rhule also noted that Darnold is still young. The USC product, who was the No. 3 overall pick by the Jets in 2018, will turn 24 in June. While his career didn't start as expected with the Jets, he has also lacked stability. Rhule will be his third head coach in his fourth season in the NFL.
He posted a career-worst season in 2020, with lows in touchdown passes (nine), yards (2,208) and passer rating (72.7).
Fields, on the other hand, is headed to Chicago, where the team has maintained that offseason pickup Andy Dalton will take the starting job. Still, the newcomer is more than capable, entering the league off of a 2,100-yard, 22-touchdown campaign through eight games in 2020.