After a whirlwind week in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers felt like they got two of the best players they could’ve possibly drafted.
But all anyone wants to know about is the third.
After taking a pass-rushing prospect with their first pick and a prototype left tackle with the second, Panthers fans, talking heads, draft experts and social media trolls seemed to lose it when Carolina took Lake Norman quarterback Will Grier with the 100th pick in the draft.
It seemed most everyone with even a passing interest weighed in. Well, almost everyone. We’re still waiting for the reaction of another quarterback from Charlotte.
The selection of Grier, a brash and bold-talking enigma, sent a shockwave across Mecklenburg County. Carolina didn’t just draft a quarterback, a move that sends all sorts of messages, but it drafted a local legend.
This could get interesting in a hurry.
The pick is being scrutinized as much as Grier himself, a high school phenom whose personal life is social media fodder. More on that later.
The pick, on the surface, seems to be a safety net more than anything else. Carolina has been more hopeful than confident in the long-term plans with Newton, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and has stayed out of the public eye since the season ended four months ago.
By taking Grier, the Panthers now have a backup capable of playing in say, Week 11, when Newton’s shoulder weakens or when some 300-pound defensive tackle ends Newton’s season.
Then again, if Newton is healthy and good for the long run, Grier might never start a regular-season game for the Panthers.
Marty Hurney found himself defending the pick and his reasoning for it, making sure he sent Newton the message that “he’s our franchise quarterback.” But then Panthers coach Ron Rivera added “We have to develop the next guy.”
So there you have it. A quarterback controversy in April involving a hometown hero. They say the most popular person in any NFL city is the backup quarterback anyway. This is on a whole different level.
Grier’s life has been witnessed and trolled nationwide, not just in little Davidson, where he had an incredible high school career. In one game at Davidson Day School, where his father Chad coached, he threw for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns. One game. That’s a national record, by the way.
He went to Florida where he started as a red-shirt freshman, married his former NFL cheerleader girlfriend, fathered a child, got suspended for failing a drug test for performance enhancing drugs and then transferred to West Virginia.
Grier’s younger brothers are viral sensations with millennial social media followers in the millions. The family has fascinated Charlotte for years with their larger than life presence in mainstream media and YouTube, Instagram and Vine presence.
This is bigger than football in Charlotte. This is like Jim and Tammy Bakker’s son is suddenly the backup quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. You get the impression the football people inside Bank of America Stadium don’t realize this.
This might not end well.
Newton missed the last two games of the season last year when the team was in the midst of a 1-7 slide that shook the franchise to the core and sent the Panthers into the draft needing serious replacements.
The first two picks appeared to be obvious choices, a pass rusher to replace retired Julius Peppers and a starting left tackle to protect Newton. The third pick told us exactly how worried Carolina is about Newton, no matter how the team tried to spin it.
This is an insurance policy. And this isn’t a quarterback cut from the mold of Newton. If and when Grier comes in, the Panthers are no longer a team built around a big running option quarterback but a team with a drop-back, under center quarterback with an accurate arm built for timing patterns.
If and when Newton goes down, Carolina’s future offense is going off in a completely different direction.
That’s what this pick suggests, and don’t think Newton doesn’t know it.
So now we have two bigger-than-life figures in the same locker room, two hometown heroes with charismatic figures in a small market with one job available. Don’t think Grier is going to back down either.
He made it clear that he considered himself the best quarterback in the draft, and he was talking about last year. He’s a guy who called his college coach by his first name.
If and when Newton gives Grier a nickname (he gives all his teammates nicknames) we’ll get a clear signal of what the starting quarterback thinks of his heir apparent.
Apparently, the Panthers have already sent a signal of their own.
This should be fun to watch.