Back in 2011, the Carolina Panthers had a chance to land Andrew Luck in the NFL Draft. He was the undoubted No. 1 overall pick, which the Panthers held, had he left Stanford. Luck opted to stay for another season, leaving Carolina with a much tougher decision to make at the top of the draft.
Cam Newton became the team’s best option, and he was obviously the right one, but he wasn’t the only player Carolina considered. According to Ron Rivera, the Panthers also thought long and hard about taking Blaine Gabbert, who went 10th to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Remember, we had the No. 1 pick, and we were talking quarterback," Rivera said of the 2011 draft, via the Mercury News. "And it came down to Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Those were the two guys we targeted and looked at, and looked at really, really hard."
Article continues below ...
So the Panthers nearly took Gabbert, a guy who has fewer career touchdowns than Newton had in 2015, with the first pick? They nearly set their franchise back a decade by making the same mistake the Jaguars did nine picks later? Yikes. The selection obviously looks clear-cut five years later, but it’s shocking to hear how seriously the Panthers considered Gabbert.
Rivera went on to explain why the decision was so tough.
"I got to interview both guys (Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick), and we really studied Blaine," Rivera said. "I can see where Blaine could really capture the (locker) room. He’s likable. He’s high energy. Big effort. Not satisfied.
"We spent a lot of time on him, we really did."
There has never been a question about Gabbert’s personality or character. It was always about his on-field performances, which have been lackluster, to say the least. He has, however, rebounded to continue playing in the NFL and now has a shot at winning the starting job in San Francisco.
Rivera wasn’t shy about praising Gabbert with regard to the 49ers’ quarterback competition this offseason. He did the same with Kaepernick, too.
"It’s going to be a heck of a competition," Rivera said. "At the end of the day, Chip, in my opinion, will choose the guy that fits him the best. And I really do think both guys will fit the system."