The Carolina Panthers’ 2021 season took an ugly turn after the first three games and never really brightened after that point, leading to an undeniably make-or-break season for head coach Matt Rhule in 2022.
The bad news for Rhule and Carolina fans in general is that it appears the team will head into next season still in desperate need of an answer at the quarterback position, unless an unexpected trade comes to pass.
Most of the team’s 2021 troubles trace back to the play under center during a wild season that saw two one-time first-round picks, Sam Darnold and the returning Cam Newton, both mostly fail miserably at trying to provide the offense with any sense of continuity.
For better or worse, it seems that Darnold will be the Week 1 starter once again this season.
Perhaps realizing that significant improvement on offense may be hard to come by, the Panthers doubled down on upgrading what was already one of the league’s best defenses in 2021. Free agency has seen the additions of linebackers Cory Littleton and Damien Wilson, while safety Xavier Woods was also brought aboard.
Panthers NFL Draft Picks 2022
- Round 1, Pick 6 (6th Overall): Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
- Round 3, Pick 30 (94th Overall): Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
- Round 4, Pick 15 (120th Overall): Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
- Round 6, Pick 10 (189th Overall): Amare Barno, EDGE, Virginia Tech
- Round 6, Pick 21 (199th Overall): Cade Mays, G, Tennessee
- Round 7, Pick 21 (242nd Overall): Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor
Carolina came into the 2022 NFL Draft with just six selections, tied for the third-fewest in the NFL. This was partly due to the Sam Darnold trade with the Jets, which cost them second and fourth-round picks.
The division rival Buccaneers also entered the draft with six picks but traded back to acquire more. Needless to say, the Panthers needed to make the most of these selections, especially considering the state of this franchise as a whole.
Carolina is in a rebuild and has massive question marks surrounding the quarterback position. Darnold does not appear to be the long-term answer, regardless of how well he started last season.
To address that need, the Panthers used a third-round pick on Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, who has dual-threat ability, is athletic, and plays tough. Assuming they don’t bring anyone else in, I’d expect Corral to take over the starting job at some point during the season, potentially around halfway through.
First-round pick Ikem Ekwonu is a big, athletic left tackle who has the size to also play guard if needed. He is one of the top prospects in this class and should be an anchor for years to come on this offensive line.
The Panthers also traded up in the draft to grab Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith, who is more of an athletic, long-term player with potential upside. He tested very well at the Combine but didn’t produce a ton in college.
Given the lack of picks to work with, this could be a decent class for Carolina, but there are still holes on this roster to fill moving forward.
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Note: The Panthers NFL Draft predictions below were published before the 2022 NFL Draft.
Pre-Draft Panthers NFL Mock Draft Predictions 2022
- Round 1, Pick 6 (6th Overall): Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
- Round 4, Pick 32 (137th Overall): Tyler Smith, OT, Iowa
More Possible Panthers Draft Targets: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh; Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Pre-Draft Panthers Team Needs 2022
The Panthers are in the unenviable position of potentially having to reach a bit for a quarterback. This year’s draft won’t remind anyone of the 2021 edition in terms of NFL-ready quarterbacks, but Carolina should get a crack at one of the top two signal-callers at worst.
2. Offensive Line
Darnold and Newton were legitimately inept last season, but they admittedly didn’t get a lot of help from an offensive line that allowed the fifth-most sacks (52).
Given the state of the position, Carolina would likely be well advised to take the best player available at either guard or tackle at the time with at least two of their selections.
3. Wide Receiver
DJ Moore remains a clear-cut No. 1 receiver that could once again thrive with better quarterback play, but there are question marks behind him to varying degree beginning right with No. 2 wideout Robby Anderson, who is coming off a down year.
A later-round option with some upside in what is considered a deep receiver class would likely be a smart move.
Panthers May Also Consider Drafting: Defensive Tackle, Linebacker, Tight End