2022 NFL DRAFT DEEP DIVE: CAROLINA PANTHERS
By Thomas Willoughby
The NFL Draft is over, and we cannot head into the three-month abyss that is the offseason without looking at what all 262 selections mean for each franchise. Whilst too early to judge just how successful a draft class each team’s was, we can look at how rookies fit within schemes, where they stand on depth charts, and who we can expect to make an impact in 2022. We continue our team by team series with the Carolina Panthers:
|1||6||Ikem Ekonwu||OT||NC State|
|3||94||Matt Corrall||QB||Ole Miss|
|4||120||Brandon Smith||LB||Penn State|
|6||189||Amaré Barno||LB||Virginia Tech|
The Carolina Panthers went into the 2022 NFL draft off the back of a 5-12 season. The Matt Rhule era has been scrutinized no end, but, clearly, the lack of certainty at the quarterback position has hindered his ability to create the sort of side he envisioned when he took on the role. Having spent the summer trying, and failing, to secure the services of DeShaun Watson. With that failed pursuit in mind, and their third top 10 pick in as many years, there was a growing consensus that the Panthers would look to add their quarterback of the future. Instead, they bolstered their offensive line
In Ikem Ekonwu, the Carolina Panthers are getting a versatile offensive lineman, capable of playing at guard, as well as at tackle. Make no mistake, the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line absolutely required bolstering. Having given up the 5th most sacks in 2021, the Panthers simply couldn’t risk the long-term future of their quarterback position with its protection playing at the level it was.
As our very own Si Carroll wrote in his scouting report, Ekonwu is a “high floor” tackle, with the scope to hit an even higher ceiling. His slights in pass protection, fixable as they are, would certainly work within the parameters the Panthers currently work. A high-end run blocker making holes for a (hopefully) fit again Christian McCaffrey? Improving as a run blocker alongside a young quarterback he’ll protect for, potentially, the remainder of his career? Arguably the most perfect of fits.
Having given up a small fortune for the services of Sam Darnold only a season ago, the Panthers had nothing to work with on Friday night. As colleges finest gunslingers began to slide, however, they saw an opportunity to address the aforementioned problem position late in the third. There, they moved a fourth-round pick, and a 2023 third-round pick, to New England, for the 94th selection. There, they took Matt Corral, from Ole Miss.
Matt Corral is an interesting specimen, because there’s a lot of like about his game. He’s an accurate passer, with a lightning release, and genuinely has the make-up in his game to make a dent at the professional level. I mean, there’s a reason why Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms ranked him as his number 1 QB prospect in 2022.
The concerns around Corral primarily surround his durability. Having suffered two very similar ankle injuries in the 2021 season, it’s not unreasonable to question how he is going to hold up long-term. Especially given how averse to the risk of contact while running he is. Then, there’s his arm strength. For PFN, Oli Hodgkinson highlighted his lack of ability to consistently make deep throws. That, and his seeming inability to help his receivers create yards after the catch, helps complete the picture of a polarising figure. At the end of the second day, however? As the Panthers have, you’re willing to take a bet on the pros in spite of the cons.
The Carolina Panthers wound up the third day with four additions to their roster, starting with Penn State linebacker, Brandon Smith. In Smith, the Panthers are getting speed, and a lot of it. He is rapid. A 4.52 40 yard dash isn’t to be sniffed at, but especially not when you’re playing linebacker. What’s interesting is how little that perception has changed over his time at Penn State, however. Smith feels like an upside prospect, with rotational blitz value early in his career. Without significant development in coverage, however, he might not hit some of the highs once envisioned of him. In the fourth round, though? Worth a punt.
In the sixth and seventh rounds, Carolina added Amaré Barno, linebacker from Virginia Tech, Cade Mays, offensive guard from Tennessee, and Kalon Barnes, cornerback from Baylor. I’m not going to pretend like I’ve much insight into any of the guys mentioned above, other than I will always find the Matt Rhule Panthers’ approach to defensive selections. The Panthers weren’t good in 2021, but you’d be hard-pressed to point the finger at the defense for their failings. Anyone coming into that group has something about them, at least. Kiss of death for Barno and Barnes? Apologies, lads.
One To Watch: Matt Corral
I’m not sure if it’s clear or not, but the QB position has been a bit of a problem for Carolina for a little while. Cam Newton was done when Rhule and company came in, Teddy Bridgewater didn’t kick on in the way they’d have liked, and Sam Darnold has proven to be a very expensive mistake. I’m firmly of the position that the Panthers wouldn’t have looked any worse installing PJ Walker as their number one a long time ago.
That’s what makes the Corral selection so interesting to me. I think Sam Darnold’s contract will be enough for him to start the season as QB1, but we’ve seen nothing to suggest he’s got what it takes to end the season in that role. For Corral, simply operating at an average level might be enough for him to beat Darnold before the year is done. Whether that translates into on-field success is another thing, but getting the starting gig and not letting it go is certainly achievable.
|Josh Babicz||TE||North Dakota State|
|Isaiah Graham-Mobley||LB||Boston College|
|Drew Hartlaub||S||Penn State|
|Talolo Limu-Jones||WR||Easter Kentucky|
|John Lovett||RB||Penn State|
|Aaron Mosby||LB||Fresno State|
|Andrew Parchment||WR||Florida State|
|Derek Wright||WR||Utah State|
I, again, won’t pretend to have the ability to offer any sort of insight with UDFA’s, but what stood out to me was the Panthers commitment to Penn State. Three players across the draft, and their undrafted haul suggests a heavy belief in the school’s ability to produce talent.
Also, Charlston Rambo. For the good of excellent name-lovers everywhere, let’s hope he cracks the final roster.
Despite their recent records, the Panthers have consistently fielded productive defenses under Matt Rhule. They simply haven’t managed to keep pace on offense, and it’s difficult to argue that this year’s draft haul will bridge the gap between positional groups.
They have added an excellent offensive line prospect in Ikem Ekonwu. And the addition of Matt Corral is really intriguing from a developmental perspective. If that offense can show something resembling competence, and if Rhule, and new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, can get anything resembling potential from the team’s younger players, that might be enough. Not enough to win more than 6 games, but enough to convince the higher-ups that the project is about to bear fruit.
No, I know that’s not what fans get excited about each season.