Carolina Panthers strike it lucky in Las Vegas with Ikem Ekwonu
By Dean Jones
The Carolina Panthers struck it lucky in Las Vegas en route to selecting offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Las Vegas is a place where dreams come true.
That proved to be the case for the Carolina Panthers during an unbelievable opening night of the 2022 NFL Draft.
In truth, the first hour could not have been scripted any better. No fewer than five defensive players all went off the board before Carolina got on the clock, leaving them with their pick of the top-three offensive tackles to finally fill a void that has needed consistency for almost a decade.
As it turned out, the decision was a pretty easy one to make. Even though the Panthers clearly didn’t feel all that optimistic that Ikem Ekwonu would be available when the time came.
Thankfully, he was.
And after the phone didn’t ring regarding a trade back, they handed in their card.
Ekwonu is an instant difference-maker for a team that’s prioritized strengthening the offensive line since the 2021 campaign came to a conclusion. Adding the North Carolina State product to a group that also consists of Bradley Bozeman, Brady Christensen, Austin Corbett, and the ultra-consistent Taylor Moton should ensure this unit makes the improvements needed for whoever is manning the plate under center.
Carolina Panthers bet on a winner in Ikem Ekwonu
According to Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network, he was the top player on the draft board. Based on Matt Rhule’s comments after the pick was confirmed, it’s not hard to see why.
"“Just really a special person to go along with his physical style of play. There is no doubt that he can pass set, that he can run block, he’s got all those tools. He’s a person that is going to step into this locker room, and our players are going to respect the way that he plays but also who he is. I think that visit was, I mean it was one of the best things that I’ve ever been a part of. We walked away like, wow, that’s a grown man.”"
This is a slam dunk whichever way one looks at it. Ekwonu beings elite production and high character to the Panthers and providing there are some slight adjustments to his pass protection technique, this is a premier blindside protector with Pro Bowl potential.
Although this does mean that Carolina might be quiet on Day 2 with no draft picks to speak of, that should not prevent the Panthers from making a move to improve their quarterback play with so many prospects dropping out of the first round entirely.
Malik Willis, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral, and Bailey Zappe are still there for the taking. So it will be interesting to see how the Panthers approach this with the option to also find a short-term fix with Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield.
There promises to be plenty of twists and turns to come. But fans can wake up this morning happy they have finally got a left tackle that provides hope for the future.
James Campen’s presence in Carolina is another important element to this equation that cannot be overlooked. The experienced offensive line coach will be a tremendous asset to Ekwonu during his early development and boasts an exceptional reputation for turning linemen of this ilk into Pro Bowlers.
Carolina hit the jackpot in Vegas. Just another building block for what will hopefully become a successful future.