On the clock: Will Panthers bank on Clausen?

It’s the starting point for most discussions surrounding the 2011 NFL Draft: Who will the Carolina Panthers select No. 1 overall?

Before Panthers GM Marty Hurney and new head coach Ron Rivera and his staff answer that question, the first order of business over the next two months is to evaluate Jimmy Clausen, who struggled mightily as a rookie, as well as Matt Moore, who opened last year as the starter, and Tony Pike. The team must determine whether any of them can be a successful long-term starter, which will determine the team’s overall draft strategy and direction with the first overall pick.

NFL Network analyst Charles Davis doesn’t see the Panthers staying with the status quo.

“I don’t think [the Panthers] go into this next season just saying, ‘Clausen is the guy,'” Davis said. “He would have to prove it again, and I think they’ll bring in competition to challenge him. Plus, will Matt Moore’s arm be healthy enough to be a part of that competition?”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the current consensus of most draft experts is none of the quarterbacks available are worthy of the top overall selection. Our experts, Davis and Mike Mayock, both have Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert rated as the top quarterback available, but many consider him a “reach” there. In his first mock, Davis has the Panthers taking Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers. Other options include Auburn DT Nick Fairley and Alabama DT Marcell Dareus.

Looking for a wild card in the discussion? Davis believes Auburn QB Cam Newton will enter into the discussion as the first overall pick before all is said and done.

The Panthers have a little more than two months to figure it all out.

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