The Panthers got their quarterback — backup quarterback, at least.
Carolina drafted West Virginia’s Will Grier with the No. 100 overall pick Friday in the third round of the NFL Draft — the first signal-caller the franchise has drafted since taking Cam Newton No. 1 overall in 2011. The team stressed the importance of adding depth to the position throughout the offseason and made a move to do so after a nearly three-hour wait between its picks on the draft’s second day.
But even after two surgeries to Newton’s throwing shoulder in the past three years and the end of his contract in 2020 fast approaching, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney made it clear — Cam Newton is still “the man” in Carolina.
“This has nothing to do with Cam,” Hurney said Friday. “Cam Newton is our starting quarterback and our franchise quarterback. This is about depth and grooming young guys.
“I think this is a position when if you find a guy you like and have a chance to get him to help the depth at the most important position on the team, arguably, you have to do it.”
Projected by some as a first-round pick prior to the draft, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Grier became the fifth quarterback selected behind Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock.
His perceived lack of arm strength and success within a “system” offense at West Virginia may have contributed to his fall to the end of the third round. Hurney, though, said the concerns over Grier’s arm are overstated and far outweighed by the intangibles he brings to the field.
“I think he’s got plenty of arm strength, his arm strength is not an issue,” he said. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor ... he’s a very talented quarterback who we were fortunate to get with the 100th overall pick.
“I think sometimes we as evaluators overrate arm strength. As quarterbacks, I think getting the ball out of your hands quickly, timing and accuracy are much more important.”
Taylor Heinicke and undrafted rookie Kyle Allen started the Panthers’ final two games of the 2018 season in place of Newton, the first career starts for either player. But Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera recognized the importance of having reliable depth at the game’s most important position once the team parted ways with longtime backup Derek Anderson in 2017.
“I think the idea’s been cemented well over a year ago, and I bring that up because that’s what Marty talked about — finding that next guy when we realized that Derek decided he wasn’t coming back,” Rivera said. “We had to develop the next guy and that’s what the idea was having Taylor and Kyle, and now adding Will to that mix.
“I really like our offensive coordinator and our quarterback coach in both Norv (Turner) and Scott (Turner), guys that can really develop quarterbacks.”
But again, the Panthers made this decision to add competition to a position with a franchise player already entrenched.
“I think Cam understands, this is about depth at the position. This is about having competition and grooming young guys,” Hurney said. “If you look at even the backup quarterbacks in this league, the best way to solidify depth is to draft guys and groom guys.”
Grier, a Davidson native who starred at Davidson Day School, said he was elated when he received the call from the team as he watched the draft within walking distance of Bank of America Stadium.
Growing up in the area, Grier is Panthers to the core — his grandparents are PSL owners, his favorite player is Steve Smith, and he’s owned more memorabilia than he can remember. He was “shell-shocked” after his selection, while he came to terms with the reality of playing for his favorite team.
“It was overwhelming. I grew up a Panthers fan,” he said. “I don’t even have to move, I’m already here. This is what I’ve always wanted.”
A focal point of every offense he’s played in — from Davidson Day to Florida and eventually West Virginia, where he threw for 7,354 yards and 71 touchdowns against just 20 interceptions in two seasons — Grier will now start at the bottom of Carolina’s depth chart.
But it’s hard for him to complain when he’ll be sharing a quarterback room with Newton.
“I look so forward to just being in the same room as him and watching what he does,” Grier said. “Unbelievable player, I have so much respect for what he does ... he’s a baller. He’s one of the best to ever do it.”
Grier told local media Friday night he won’t do much celebrating — it’s not really his style. Once he tours the facilities Saturday, he can probably start the process of leaving his temporary housing and finding a more permanent home.
Luckily, he won’t have to move far.
Rounds 4-7: Noon, Saturday (ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFLN)
Panthers’ Remaining Picks: Round 4 - 115th; Round 5 - 154th; Round 6 - 187th.