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Carolina Roads and Will Grier’s Future with the Panthers

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(Photo via panthers.com)

Just after 11 PM on Friday night, a packed home just miles down the road from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, which had one second been blanketed by a nervous hum, erupted in long-awaited celebration.  After watching Daniel Jones being (shockingly) selected at no. 6 by the New York Giants and then the Broncos trading back-to-back picks to select Drew Lock at no. 42 and then potential suitor after potential suitor picking everyone not named Will Grier, it seemed as if the West Virginia gunslinger had somehow been lost in the fray.

Then the Panthers rang.

Between the Grier household and Mountaineer nation, several million people across the nation breathed a collective sigh of frustrated relief when Will Grier’s name was called in round 3 of the draft as the 100th overall pick.

Carolina.  Home.

While the moment might well have called for adult beverages and revelry into the wee hours of the night, Grier had other plans.  For him, work started right that second.

And why shouldn’t it? After all, Grier has been one of the most excitingly-productive quarterbacks in college football the last few years and to slip into the outer edges of the third round after more than one team (including the Panthers) had a first round grade on him, there’s no time like the present to start proving people wrong.

While the wait was prolonged, Carolina is something of a fairy tale destination for Will and his young family.  It’s home, first of all.  Under the eye of his father Chad, Grier smashed records as Charlotte’s Davidson Day en route to earning All-American honors and being named Mr. Football USA.

After what has now been a much publicized journey over the course of his collegiate career, Grier returned to Charlotte this past fall decked out in Mountaineer gold and blue and, in front of a hometown crowd, demolished the Tennessee Volunteers to the tune of 429 yards and five touchdowns.

It was a runaway success in the Panther’s house and, better yet, a bit of foreshadowing.

Leading up to the draft, most of the water cooler talk revolving around Grier shared at least one consistent thread: wherever he landed, the best case scenario would be for him to sit for a few years behind an established starter.  Few and far between is a ready-made, off-the-shelf player who can come into the NFL green and proficiently start at the quarterback position on day one.  There are far more instances of rookie quarterbacks being thrust into the QB1 role only to flame out and ruin the trajectory of their career than not.

With that in mind, Grier is in a good place.  Cam Newton has been the starter in Carolina for years now and, at 29, he still has plenty of tread left on his tires.  That said, he is just coming off of off-season shoulder surgery and has endured a battery of injuries since joining the league in 2011.  Beyond that, his current contract expires after 2020, which in today’s NFL means anything goes.  If the Panthers aren’t able to collect a Lombardi trophy by the time Newton is looking for a new deal, he might want to explore his options via free agency and, as they say, ring chase.

Regardless, Grier will get to understudy to an established star for at least two years, plenty of time to acclimate to the big, bad world that is the NFL.  In addition, there are only two other quarterbacks on the Panthers’ roster in Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen.  While both are young, their pedigree is not on the same level as Grier’s and neither has challenged Newton at any point during their time in Charlotte.

That is to say, Grier’s selection in the draft moves beyond just adding depth.  He’s there to be groomed for something bigger.

The Panthers, like many teams across the league are starting to do, run many of the same concepts that Grier excelled with in college.  RPO’s, for instance, are becoming more and more prevalent at the pro level and are a staple now for most spread-based systems.  While Grier is built a bit differently than Newton, you can see similarities in their ability to throw quick strikes to intermediate routes and deliver tight passes to edge players on quick screens and hitches.

Of course, there’s also the deep ball.  Grier was arguably the best deep ball thrower in college the past two seasons and with young receivers like DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel there to stretch the defense, Grier will have two formidable targets that he’ll be able to bond with over time.  The 40-50 yard bombs that became his trademark in Morgantown will likely remain a huge part of his game now in Charlotte.  No one down there is questioning his arm strength, anyway.

Ultimately, though, it’s about the opportunity.  Will Grier is already a man grown.  He and his wife Jeannie’s primary occupation is raising their rambunctious toddler, Ellie.  Even during his two years manning West Virginia’s air raid, Grier was having to juggle the responsibilities of a student, elite division-I athlete and married father.  The responsibilities remain the same, however the expectations have risen significantly.  Such is the nature of being paid millions of dollars to play the game.

However, while most young men being drafted are fresh into their 20’s and are just trying to get a handle on what it means to be an adult in-full, Grier’s been there and is already well-versed in the slings and arrows of accountability.  Beyond drafting an incredibly talented player, the Panthers drafted a legitimate professional.  I can only imagine the conversations had when Norv Turner took Grier out to dinner the night before West Virginia’s pro day.  I’m sure Turner knew then and there that the Charlotte native was built a bit differently.

Grier’s grounded in the best way possible.  He’ll be miles from his family, from the place he grew up smashing record after record.  The adjustment period that falls on so many NFL greenhorns will not be a worry for no. 7.  It’s simply a matter of getting to work.

While Cam Newton is the man under center for the Panthers, anything can happen.  Whether it’s an injury or a desire to shop other franchises once the 2020 expiration date takes hold, the shifting topography of the modern NFL could pull the former Heisman-winner any number of directions that don’t include Charlotte, NC.

While other destinations like New England or New Orleans might have provided Grier an equally good opportunity, none would have topped what is presented to him in Charlotte.  In a couple of years, assuming the work has been put in and the locker room has bought in to what he’s selling, Will Grier could be a starter in the NFL.

Who knows, the masterclass that Grier put on against Tennessee in September of 2018 could prove prophetic.  Perhaps that day on the very turf that the Panthers own will prove to be the initial groundwork laid towards Will Grier’s legacy as a pro quarterback.

After two years carrying the flying WV, Grier’s final chapter as a Mountaineer has been inked.  He’s now in the hands of the fine people of Charlotte, NC and what a beginning this is destined to be.  From gold and blue to silver and aqua marine, country roads truly do take you home.

 

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