Panthers could take a long look at Charlotte native Will Grier

Will Grier balancing Heisman hopes with family life (4:13)

West Virginia QB Will Grier opens up about balancing his Heisman candidacy, globally recognized siblings and young family. (4:13)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In Will Grier's home in Morgantown, West Virginia, there's a photo of him as an 11-year-old wearing a Lake Norman Giants uniform, preparing for the 2006 Christmas Town Bowl.

A few weeks ago, Chad Grier noticed the picture as he and his son discussed the upcoming NFL draft.

"I said, 'If somebody told you that little boy is going to get picked in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills, how happy would that kid be?'" Chad recalled. "I told him, 'Man, you’re going to get picked before the seventh round and it's not going to be by Buffalo.'"

Most draft analysts see Grier being selected in the second or third round, behind fellow quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock, who are considered likely first-round picks. The Carolina Panthers could be one of the teams that could target Grier on Day 2.

Born just five months before the Panthers played their first NFL game, Grier grew up in Davidson, North Carolina, a stone's throw from Carolina's Bank of America Stadium. From the time he was 3, Grier sat in the stands and cheered for his hometown NFL team.

During the April 25-27 draft, Grier will be with his father and famous brothers -- social media stars Nash and Hayes -- at his uncle's house, only 4 miles away from the stadium.

"If the Panthers draft him, I will drive him there," Chad Grier told ESPN.com. "That would be incredible. From Day 1, we've been Panthers people."

There's interest from Carolina. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner recently attended West Virginia's pro day, and they reportedly had a steak dinner with Will Grier the previous night.

The Panthers don't plan to spend their first-round pick (No. 16) on a quarterback, as Cam Newton's prognosis is good as he rehabs after shoulder surgery. But as the Carolina starter approaches 30, looking for a long-term replacement in this draft might be in the Panthers' plans.

Not that Grier believes he should fall that far. He told reporters at the NFL combine, "I'm the best quarterback in the draft." Chad Grier, who coached his son in high school at Davidson Day School before moving to Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, agrees.

"I admire Will's confidence and willingness to say that," the elder Grier said. "He's a guy, from a total quarterback perspective, he is the best quarterback in the draft.

"He's not going to be a risk off the field. He's just going to be an all-in guy that wins. Strictly from a football perspective, he's the lowest-risk and highest-return quarterback in the draft."

Chad admittedly has a father's bias. Texas State head coach Jake Spavital, Will Grier's offensive coordinator the past two seasons at West Virginia, is a bit more objective, but agrees.

"When you look at the guys I have coached in the past and where they're currently at, there's no doubt in my mind Will could be one of the better kids taken in this draft at quarterback," he said.

Spavital recruited Murray at Texas A&M and worked with him before the reigning Heisman Trophy winner transferred to Oklahoma. He also coached Heisman winner and 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State, 2013 second-round pick Geno Smith at West Virginia and new Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum at Houston.

"Will's one of the better ones I've ever coached," Spavital said.

All the talk about Grier's lack of arm strength and accuracy during the draft-evaluation process baffles Spavital as much as it does Grier and his dad. Grier was clocked with better pass velocity than Haskins or Lock at the combine; Murray did not throw.

Grier completed 67 percent of his passes last season and 65.7 percent in his college career -- two seasons at West Virginia and one at Florida.

Lock completed 62.9 percent of his passes last season and 56.9 for his career. Haskins was at 70 percent and Murray 69 percent this past season, their only full seasons as college starters.

Because of his experience, Spavital said Grier might be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's draft class.

"His ability to stay in the pocket and extend plays, his poise -- it's probably the best I've ever had in terms of his poise," he said.

Spavital credits Grier's father for training his son to be mechanically sound. Grier also has more responsibilities than most college seniors; he's married, with a 2-year-old daughter.

"When you get him in those one-on-one meetings, those interviews, he's a sharp kid," Spavital said.

A strong pro day might have helped Grier's stock. If the Panthers get the chance to select him, there would be some irony in that he followed a path similar to Newton's.

Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft, transferred from Florida following his freshman season after being arrested for stealing a laptop. Grier transferred to West Virginia following his redshirt freshman season at Florida after he was suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Newton went on to win the Heisman at Auburn in 2010. Grier finished fourth in 2018, fading in the voters' eyes after West Virginia's late-season losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

"Win one of those games and they're in the Big 12 title game," Chad Grier said. "Win that and they have a chance at the national title. That's how close they were, how close he was."

Will Grier said he wasn't dejected at not winning the Heisman. He won't be dejected if he's not drafted in the first round. He's mentally prepared to accept whatever role he earns, whether that means competing for a starting job or playing behind a veteran and learning.

"I wake up every day with great appreciation for life and appreciation to play this game," Grier said at the combine. "I've been through some adversity where I didn't have football. Having it back gives you an appreciation for every snap you can take."

Appreciating the moment was the message Grier's father was going for as they studied the photo of him and his son 12 years ago.

"I told him, 'You're getting to have a job doing what you love more than anything in the world,'" Chad said. "What I want for him is to be happy. If it means to have his family roots in Charlotte, that sounds pretty good.

"I hope he's not there [on Day 2] from a financial perspective. But as I told him, whatever happens, you're going to be great."