Clausen or Luck: Which Direction Will the Carolina Panthers Go in 2011?

Eric QuackenbushSenior Analyst IJanuary 4, 2011

After routing the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Orange Bowl on Monday night, Andrew Luck, quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal, has a decision to make: Go pro or stay in school.

While he mulls the decision over with his parents and family, let's have a look at what the Carolina Panthers may or may not want to do when they are announced as the team with the first overall pick in 2011.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, along with general manager Marty Hurney, also have a decision to make should Luck decide to go pro: Draft a fourth quarterback within one year or stick to their second-round draft pick in Jimmy Clausen, who will be starting his second year with the club.

I've been in favor of rolling with Clausen in 2011.

I didn't buy into the hype that the media tried to sell—successfully to some—in 2010, proclaiming Clausen to be "the most NFL ready quarterback." I had said in the past that, while he may be familiar with the offensive style, he had never faced an NFL-caliber defense.

There were many factors playing against Clausen in 2010: an entire coaching staff in the last year of its contract, a depleted, and in some cases overrated, offensive line and a rookie quarterback playing with mostly rookie receivers. Add to the mix a veteran 31-year-old receiver who has moped around the last two seasons since he turned 30.

I won't completely fault now former head coach John Fox for the team's shortcomings, as ownership and management may also share the blame, but Fox does get to have a little credit for a poor season thrown his way, as well.

Nobody is immune to Carolina's 2010 collapse.

Many folks believed the Panthers' season was over before it began. I hedged both ways early on and even remained optimistic going into the bye week, through the meeting of the San Francisco 49ers. By about the eighth or ninth week of the regular season, I was writing the Panthers off as a loss every week. Their efforts were meek and futile.

In the end, it was a shame to see Fox leave. At the same time, this may be the change that the team needs. Regardless, it's a done deal and within the next week or two we will see who Fox's successor will be in Charlotte.

As for the topic at hand, I am not completely sold on Stanford's Luck.

As a college quarterback, yes, he has me sold. However, there is a huge difference between college and the pros. And if there ever was a lesson to be learned, it's to not buy into everything the media sells. Let us not forget, that Clausen was touted "NFL ready."

Once again, the media and scouts are drooling all over another prospect. Until he suits up and hits an NFL field, how can we really be so sure that this guy is everything they say he is?

Then there's also another quandary faced by the Panthers: no second-round draft pick for 2011.

Thanks to another not-so-brilliant idea by Hurney, Carolina is without a second-round pick, as the team traded this year's pick to the New England Patriots in order to move back into the third-round of the 2010 draft to select quarterback Armanti Edwards, who, by the way, was going to become a wide receiver. I can probably count on both hands how many times Edwards saw the field in 2010. Not nearly enough to be worth what the Panthers paid to draft him.

As of right now, I find it hard to believe that Richardson is going to go with the fans' voice of Luck—provided Luck declares for the draft—when there is plenty of potential in Clausen and possibly in backup Tony Pike.

It also remains to be seen if Matt Moore will be re-signed. Currently, we only know that cornerback Richard Marshall will not be re-signed by Carolina.

My prediction: on April 28, 2011, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell approaches the podium, he will announce, "the Carolina Panthers have traded with...for a later first-round pick and a second-round selection." Provided, of course, Luck declares for the 2011 NFL Draft.