Updated Jan. 6, 2011 @ 5:20 p.m. ET
The Panthers better start coming up with their contingency plans for the No. 1 pick in April's draft. QB Andrew Luck has decided to return to Stanford.
"I'm committed to earning my degree in architectural design and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring of 2012," Luck said in a Stanford release.
The announcement came two days after Stanford won the Orange Bowl, in which Luck threw four touchdown passes. In just his second season of football, Luck threw 32 TD passes and eight interceptions while leading Stanford to a 12-1 record.
Reports surfaced Tuesday that the Panthers would take Luck with the No. 1 pick should he declare for the draft.
The 49ers and Dolphins are currently courting Luck's head coach, Jim Harbaugh, for each team's head-coaching position.
The way we see it
Luck's decision doesn't seem to have anything to do with the potential lockout or the prospects of playing in Carolina. During the Manning Camp this summer, he said he was 100 percent returning to school. He wanted to get his degree and was thinking beyond the NFL.
The Panthers could still go the quarterback route, and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is now the candidate to be the first QB taken. Gabbert declared for the draft earlier this week after throwing for 40 touchdowns in his two seasons starting at Mizzou. He also has decent mobility and good NFL size (6-5, 235). He wouldn't be ready in Year One, but the Panthers could take him and have him develop behind Jimmy Clausen.
But without the slam dunk that was Luck at No. 1, the Panthers likely will look to get the most value they can with the top pick. While they may be better-served to trade out of it, we don't expect them to, and they will now look to see who the best player in the draft is. Unfortunately for them, there is no player now who is a consensus choice as the top pick, as Luck was.
The top-rated player now may be Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers. PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki ranks Bowers first among a stacked DE class and says Bowers is "quick off the ball to crash the corner. Yet, he also is physical at the point of attack and uniquely can fit on either the right or left side. He can even create mismatches from the inside in sub packages." The Panthers are still looking to replace Julius Peppers on that D-line, and the best they had there this season, Charles Johnson, is set to become a free agent.
Another possibility as a prospect with the talent of a No. 1 overall pick is Georgia WR A.J. Green, who has qualities similar to Lions WR Calvin Johnson.
There are also questions as to how this affects the Harbaugh coaching search. Knowing his quarterback will return to school, Harbaugh may decide to remain at Stanford for another year and test the NFL head-coaching ranks in 2012.