The State of the Panthers:
Since Matt Rhule was hired in 2020, the Panthers have openly been in the market for an elite quarterback. The Teddy Bridgewater era only lasted one season, and they came up short in the trade sweepstakes for Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson.
Currently, the Panthers’ front office believes they have the roster to compete in the NFC South, but their confidence in Sam Darnold seems to be wavering.
The Panthers are also in a prime position to secure a left tackle of the future, a position that Carolina has seen a different starter at the beginning of each season since 2013. Here are some players the Panthers could be considering for the only pick they hold in the top 100.
Neal is a young prospect with the rare combination of size and athletic ability that give him both a high floor and a Hall of Fame ceiling as a blind-side protector.
Neal can give the Panthers stability at the left tackle position, and fits their history of drafting high-profile SEC prospects with Top 10 selections in recent years.
Charles Cross – OT – Mississippi State
Cross’ transition to a more diverse offense will be an adjustment, but he’s a true pass-protecting left tackle displaying outstanding athleticism and body control, whose improvements already at a young age suggest a very high ceiling.
Even at a young age, Cross is the best pass-protecting left tackle in the class, which is an area Carolina really struggled stabilizing in 2021.
Ekwonu isn’t clean in all technical areas, and his ability to blind-side pass protect against elite finesse rushers could be a concern, but his combination of size, power, athleticism, and finishing tenacity are rare, regardless of position.
The Charlotte native Ekwonu could be a match for the Panthers with his positional versatility, whether at the left tackle spot or along the interior of the line.
Kenny Pickett – QB – Pittsburgh
Pickett lacks some arm strength and the ability to truly work the pocket, but his ability to work through progressions, use eye discipline to hold safeties, and perform in clutch situations should make him a low-end “win-with” NFL starter.
Pickett has ties to the Panthers coaching staff and ownership, and with the sense of urgency to win now, Pickett seems like the QB best suited to do so in this Draft.
Willis is a true dual-threat quarterback with special arm talent and explosive athleticism, but needs to become a more polished and accurate passer to reach his full potential at the next level.
Willis is the most physically gifted quarterback in this Draft, but may be best suited to sit and develop for a season. However, can the Panthers be patient with him given the urgency to win now?
To learn more about the Panthers and their draft needs, visit their team page on our NFL Draft website here.