Carolina’s NFL Draft sent a clear message to Panthers fans. The rebuild of this team is going to require patience.
The Panthers selected a left offensive tackle with the No. 6 overall pick, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, who is a native of Charlotte and played high school football at Providence Day. Left tackle is among the most important positions on offense, along with quarterback and center, but a rookie offensive lineman rarely moves the needle immediately.
The Panthers were 5-12 last season in the NFC South and going into the offseason, the most obvious question to be resolved was quarterback. Former Jets QB Sam Darnold is the incumbent but he has consistently struggled. For a while, it appeared that Baker Mayfield, still a Cleveland Brown, would be traded to the Panthers but that deal fell through.
Ekwonu should be a popular choice among Panthers followers as a homegrown talent who played for the Wolfpack.
However, the third-round pick will get just as much attention because he happens to be a quarterback, Matt Corral, from Ole Miss.
A Decent Record of OT Picks
Looking for a Repeat Performance
The Panthers have taken three offensive tackles in the first round in their history but the only time they selected one in the Top 10 was in 2003 when they took Jordan Gross as the No. 8 overall.
That turned out great. Gross was a three-time Pro Bowler and as a rookie, he took over at right tackle and helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl where the Panthers lost to New England.
Gross is a member of the Panthers’ Hall of Honor and went on to have a broadcasting career.
The other tackles the Panthers took in the first round were Jeff Otah, 2008, 19th overall, and Blake Brockermeyer, 1995, 29th overall. Otah’s career was hampered by injuries and he played in just 29 games. Brockermeyer had nine NFL seasons playing in 136 games. He played four seasons with the Panthers.
Who the Panthers Picked in the 2022 NFL Draft
- Round 1 (6th overall): Ikem Ekwonu (North Carolina State OT)
- Round 3 (94th overall): Matt Corral (Ole Miss QB)
- Round 4 (120th overall): Brandon Smith (Penn State LB)
- Round 6 (189th overall): Amare Barno (Virginia Tech DE)
- Round 6 (199th overall): Cade Mays (Tennessee OL)
- Round 7 (242nd overall): Kalon Barnes (Baylor CB)
Developing a Quarterback
The most scrutinized player in the Carolina draft will be Corral. The Panthers traded up to get Corral, giving up a fourth-round pick this year and a third-round pick next year.
That could turn out to be a bargain considering he was considered a possible first-rounder.
So, once you get past the first two picks, the Carolina draft doesn’t exactly get anyone’s pulse racing. Smith, the Penn State linebacker, cost the Panthers a couple of later fourth-rounders to move up and select him. He has impressive size (6 feet 3, 250 pounds) and speed (4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash), and as coaches like to say, you can’t coach that.
Oddsmakers Cool on Panthers
Carolina is an even +10000 to win the Super Bowl. In the earliest DraftKings odds, the Panthers were +8000 and then narrowed to +5000 (perhaps, on the possibility of a Mayfield trade?) but the futures odds have widened.
North Carolina sports betting is legal at the two Cherokee retail casinos in the western part of the state. Mobile sports betting has not been legalized.
But with the legislature back in session this month, there is some hope that wagering on North Carolina sports betting apps will launch before next year’s NFL Draft, if not sooner.
Getting the Panthers into playoff contention is going to be a slog unless Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, can fulfill the promise he flashed briefly in 2019 as a Jet. If Darnold struggles as he did in 2021, the third-round QB, Corral, may get some on-the-job training, relying on first-round left tackle Ekwonu to protect his back.