'Hell of a quarterback': Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey defends QB Teddy Bridgewater

The Carolina Panthers are set to pick eighth in the 2021 NFL draft, and numerous mock draft projections are already slotting a quarterback in that spot.

Star running back Christian McCaffrey, though, wants to make sure people don't sleep on the QB already on the roster, Teddy Bridgewater.

"No, not at all, definitely not something that I pay attention to," McCaffrey told USA TODAY Sports' Mackenzie Salmon when asked about the mock drafts. "Whoever is on our roster that's who we're rolling with. Right now Teddy is our quarterback and I think Teddy can play and he's a hell of a quarterback, so for us that's really what we're rolling with right now.

"We don't make those decisions. I'm not in charge of draft boards or free agency, or anything like that. For me it's focusing on one day at a time, doing the best I can to perform for my teammates and coaches." 

Bridgewater signed a three-year, $63 million contract last May to replace Cam Newton, whom the team had released earlier in 2020. Bridgewater played well in his first season in Carolina, reaching career highs in completion rate (69.1%), yards (3,733) and passing touchdowns (15), though he also threw a career-worst 11 interceptions.

SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey to get his perspective on the team's QB situation and how competitive he thinks the Panthers will be in the NFC South.

But there could be an unprecedented number of changes at the quarterback position in the NFL this offseason, with two trades for passers already completed, some stars like Deshaun Watson of the Texans reportedly wanting out and talented players available in the draft.

"I try not to focus on it," McCaffrey said of the expected quarterback shuffling. "But I know it's fun for the fans. It's cool to see different guys get different opportunities. For me it's about focusing on my lane and being ready for Sundays."

For Carolina, the task ahead may be more difficult than just the challenge of navigating through a rebuild. The Panthers play in the NFC South, the same division as the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who just toppled the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl 55. 

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McCaffrey, when weighing what it would take for Carolina to emerge as a contender in the NFC, said he felt good with coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer in charge.

"From top down we have the right people who are making the right decisions," McCaffrey said. "When you look at Coach Rhule and his past and his history of how he turns teams around, there's no shock why. It's less about 'we got this guy now' and more about everyone coming together as one and finding ways to win... The difference between winning and losing is just a little bit."

The Panthers are coming off a 5-11 season in which McCaffrey played in only three games as he dealt with various injury issues. McCaffrey said he's now fully healthy and expects Carolina to take the next step in 2021.

"I think ... we can be a threat in the (NFC) South," McCaffrey said.