Carolina Panthers 2022 NFL Draft Review

Panthers Draft Review
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The Carolina Panthers 2022 NFL Draft is in the books, which means it’s time to review the actual picks. The team took a shot at the quarterback position without mortgaging the future and, with a strong defense already in place, should be more competitive in 2022 than they were in 2021.

In all, they obtained the following players:

  • First round, 6th overall: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
  • Third Round, 94th overall: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
  • Fourth Round, 120th overall: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
  • Sixth Round 189th overall: Amare Barno, LB, Virginia Tech
  • Sixth Round, 199th overall: Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
  • Seventh Round, 242nd overall: Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor

Carolina Panthers 2022 NFL Draft Review Grade: 9/10

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The Best Player: Ikem Ekwonu

When you only have one pick in the first 90 selections, he better be the best guy you draft. Fortunately, the Panthers knocked it out of the park here, drafting a guy that could easily be a top-10 tackle in the league once fully developed. Ekwonu is a freak of nature from an athletic standpoint and is already capable of demolishing NFL defensive ends in the run game. While he’s only an average pass protector, he has plenty of room to grow and should be a fixture on the offensive line for the next decade.

The Head-Scratcher: Not Trading Back

Ikem Ekwonu is great, but it is surprising that the Panthers decided to select anyone with the sixth-overall pick. As mentioned in a previous article, the Panthers should have tried to do everything in their power to trade back and close the massive gap between their first and second pick. Maybe the market just never developed, but it was surprising to see Carolina not try to accumulate selections when there are so many holes on the roster.

The Suprise: Matt Corral

Drafting Matt Corral is not a surprise on its own – the Carolina Panthers need a quarterback, and Corral was one of the better prospects in the class. The real surprise is that they were able to get him with the 94th overall pick.

This was a bad class for quarterbacks, but the NFL overreacted to the perceived lack of talent. Even if he doesn’t work out, getting a guy with Corral’s pedigree in the back of the third is highway robbery. Quarterback is by far the most important position in the game, and the Corral pick represents a best-case scenario for the franchise. If Corral pans out, then the Panthers have a cost-controlled quarterback for the next few years. If he doesn’t, then you try again next year – a third-round investment is not going to stop Carolina from drafting a quarterback in 2023 if Corral doesn’t show signs of life.

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The Steal: Cade Mays

Because it would be boring to use Matt Corral again, let’s give this category to Cade Mays. Mays is not going to be a superstar in this league, and he might not ever be a full-time starter. He is, however, a great find in the sixth round that should provide plenty of value as a high-end backup and emergency starter.

The most important thing for any backup offensive lineman is versatility, and Mays has plenty of that. The Tennessee product played all five offensive line positions at some point in his career, and can perform at each spot at a serviceable level. Again, if he’s starting at left tackle for 17 games, you’ve got a problem. However, he can fill in when injury strikes without causing the entire offense to collapse. At the back end of the sixth, that’s a great find.

Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Ikem Ekwonu

More than arguably any other team, the Carolina Panthers know just how important it is to find great play on the offensive line. Ekwonu is easily the best talent to arrive in quite some time, and his highlight reel is full of soul-crushing blocks. Getting to see those in practice should be satisfying for a fan base that had to suffer through one of the worst offensive lines in football last year.

The Rest

It is hard to find good players on the third day of the NFL Draft, so the Panthers decided to draft great athletes and hope to teach them the nuances of the position. Brandon Smith and Amare Barno are similar guys, as both boast great athleticism but have a lot to learn about the linebacker position. Barno probably has the higher ceiling, but Smith has the higher floor. Chances are, Smith will serve as a depth linebacker while Barno starts off primarily on special teams.

Kalon Barnes can fly. The fastest player in the draft, the cornerback was actually recruited by head coach Matt Rhule while at Baylor, so the organization should be very familiar with what he can and cannot do. While he desperately needs to work on his coverage ability, the tools are there and he can make a nice living as a special teams gunner as a rookie.

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