Prior to the 2022 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers had needs at two of the most important positions in football: quarterback and left tackle. Carolina actually brought in some offensive line help through free agency, but left the left tackle door wide open for draft night. With no quarterback signings or trades, that door was left open as well.
Most avid mock makers would agree that Carolina would be shocked to see left tackles, Evan Neal or Ickey Ekwonu, at pick six. Well, surely enough, Carolina ended up having the choice of the two. For me, this pick easily became between Ickey and Neal, but you couldn’t rule out quarterback at the time. We would later find out how the league actually valued this QB class, but Malik Willis was still on the board, and so was my personal favorite, Matt Corral. Which position would Carolina prioritize? Would they go a certain direction if they actually had a 2nd or 3rd round pick? So many questions that confused everyone leading up to the draft were finally going to be answered.
ROUND 1 PICK 6
(OT) ICKEY EKWONU – N.C. STATE
HEIGHT – 6’4
WEIGHT – 310
As I mentioned above, Carolina shockingly had the choice between Evan Neal and Charlotte’s own, Ickey Ekwonu. To me, the Panthers couldn’t go wrong with either of the two. Ickey without question comes with more versatility due to his run blocking abilities, and Neal has a generational type body that allows him to pass protect with an immense amount of size and quickness. Since the Panthers selected Ickey over Neal, they clearly saw more value in Ickey’s game. I’d imagine they also fell in love with his attitude. Ickey plays with a real mean streak. Rejoice my fellow Panthers fans! This pick finally gives us some hope at the left blind side, and now a quarterback can finally be properly evaluated in Carolina.
ROUND 3 PICK 94
(QB) MATT CORRAL – OLE MISS
HEIGHT – 6’2
WEIGHT – 212
Following the Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson trades, Fitterer and company were left without a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the 2022 draft. This made Carolina’s first round pick that much more important, and luckily for Carolina, the position they ended up passing on, quarterback, would not be as valued as many originally anticipated. Kenny Pickett was the only QB taken in round one. This was surprising, especially due to the hype surrounding Malik Willis. Even more surprising, the next quarterback wouldn’t go off the board until round 3. Desmond Ridder landed in Atlanta at pick 74 and Malik Willis was drafted to Tennessee at 86. Two of the top QB prospects, Matt Corral and Sam Howell were still available, and rumor started to spread that Carolina wanted to trade into the third round. Finally, Ian Rapoport tweeted that Carolina was trading into the 94th spot. Would it be Matt Corral or Sam Howell? The Panthers ended up going with my favorite quarterback prospect from the entire draft, Matt Corral. I believe the Ole Miss product has some serious modern-day traits to his game. Corral easily has the quickest release out of the group. I love the arm strength as well along with his athleticism. Get ready for some accurate throws on the run, it’s going to be something we’ve never experienced in Carolina.
ROUND 4 PICK 120
(LB) BRANDON SMITH – PENN STATE
HEIGHT – 6’3
WEIGHT – 250
Even though Carolina lost their fourth round pick in the trade to get Corral, they were not done. Carolina decided a certain linebacker had fallen far enough, so they returned to the fourth for Brandon Smith. Don’t expect him to be Micah Parsons, but Penn State is linebacker University. Smith is a hard hitting tackler with loads of athleticism. Expect to see a rotational role for the rookie during his early years.
ROUND 6 PICK 189
(ED) AMARE BARNO – VIRGINIA TECH
HEIGHT – 6’2
WEIGHT – 212
One of the best sleeper picks in this draft has to be Amare Barno out of Virginia Tech. The Panthers spent a sixth round pick on a pass rusher that ran a 4.36 forty-yard dash. Barno’s quickness and speed makes him an extremely versatile defender. Barno will be able to track down running backs and work as a QB spy. Barno won’t play as many snaps, but he should have the Hassan Reddick role when on the field.
ROUND 6 PICK 199
(G) CADE MAYS – TENNESSEE
HEIGHT – 6’5
WEIGHT – 311
It would not have shocked anyone if Carolina decided to draft another offensive lineman after taking Ickey in the first. While Carolina made some serious moves on the interior this offseason, it’s important to add some depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The All-SEC second team member, Cade Mays, will do just that. The SEC product allowed just one sack during 469 passing plays. With his strength and quick first-step, Cade Mays was a great pickup in the sixth round.
ROUND 7 PICK 242
(CB) KALON BARNES – BAYLOR
HEIGHT – 5’11
WEIGHT – 183
Fitterer and Rhule clearly valued speed during this draft. After taking Barno’s blistering speed in the sixth, they went with Kalon Barnes and his lightning 4.23 forty-yard dash in the seventh. The Baylor product (you knew we would end up saying that at least once) is a speed demon that isn’t afraid to press at the line of scrimmage. Barnes’ speed allows him to recover if things go poorly at the line. I viewed wide receiver as greater need here, but Carolina can use all the secondary help they can get in the pass happy NFL.
Let’s put this Panthers draft into perspective. The Panthers were able to land one of the top tackle and quarterback prospects. This is extremely rare. In fact, my first round big board for Carolina included the top three offensive tackles, followed by Matt Corral and Malik Willis. Carolina literally acquired two of the players in my top five! We all know this occurred due to the lack of appreciation for this quarterback class, but Matt Corral is definitely worth a third round pick. Overall, the Panthers really hit every major and minor need besides wide receiver. This wasn’t a big deal though. Who knows, maybe Carolina will get the privilege to address receiver in the early part of next year’s draft after either Darnold or Corral finds some success.