Carolina Panthers 2022 draft class offers promise, but patience is needed

(Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu
(Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /

The Carolina Panthers 2022 draft class offers promise and potential, but patience is needed going forward.

Entering the 2022 NFL Draft this past weekend, the Carolina Panthers had a sense of uncertainty at two of their biggest weak points. These were quarterback and left tackle, to nobody’s surprise.

The Panthers came out of the selection process with a sense of renewed optimism for the franchise. Not only across the organization but within the fanbase as well.

When the first five selections were all defensive players, general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule knew they had struck gold. With their No. 6 overall pick, the Panthers drafted North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekownu.

Ekwonu is the first offensive tackle the Panthers have drafted in the first round since 2009 when Pittsburgh product Jeff Otah was taken at No. 19 overall.

The Panthers now have a future franchise left tackle for the first time since Jordon Gross retired following the 2013 season. However, the organization didn’t stop there.

With many of the top quarterback prospects falling down the draft order going into the third round, Fitterer and other influential figures within the front office got to work.

Carolina traded back into the third round to select Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, who some believed could’ve been a real possibility at No. 6 overall. The Panthers now have a signal-caller they can develop and ease into the starting lineup whenever Rhule believes he’s ready.

The remaining draft class for the Panthers is as follows:

Nittany Lions . BRANDON SMITH. 120. player. 806. . LB

. DE/OLB. Hokies . AMARE BARNO. 189. player. 847

Volunteers . CADE MAYS. 199. player. 839. . OL

. CB. Bears . KALON BARNES. 242. player. 860

The Panthers ended up with a promising potential-filled draft class.

Even so, caution is needed going forward.

Ekwonu and Corral offer tremendous potential and promise that could lead to excellent benefits for the Panthers in the coming years, as do Brandon Smith and Amare Barno with what they offer from a pure traits perspective.

Late-round selections Cade Mays and Kalon Barnes are expected to be depth and developmental pieces at key positions.

All four players should see playing time during their rookie year. However, if you’re expecting every rookie to come in and make an immediate impact right away, this will only set unrealistic and too high expectations for these young players.

Ekwonu looks to be the player that could meet some of these unrealistic expectations. He was one of the best overall offensive prospects in the 2022 draft and offers incredible size, movement skills, and is an aggressive blocker in the run game.

The dominant lineman was a candidate for the No. 1 overall selection before the Jacksonville Jaguars opted for Travon Walker, instead.

Carolina Panthers fans and media must caution themselves when it comes to Year 1 expectations for the rookie class of 2022.

While Ekwonu is expected to start right away, there will be a learning curve and some development needed in terms of overall technique in pass protection and hand placement. However, offensive line coach James Campen should give some hope that he can grow quickly in these two areas.

Corral may need as much time as he needs to develop into a formidable starting quarterback. The former Ole Miss rebel offers ample out-of-structure ability, accuracy, mobility, clean mechanics, and plenty of arm talent to make throws on all three levels of the field.

Despite having a lot of talent, Corral will need time to grow as a player.

He comes from an Ole Miss offense that was very run-pass option-heavy and didn’t provide a lot of full-field progressions. Corral also needs to be a better decision-maker as he puts the ball in harm’s way too often on film.

Even while he continues to develop this coming season, Corral may see the field sooner than later especially if incumbent starter Sam Darnold struggles early on.

As it pertains to Barno and Smith, it should be expected that they’ll see the field on a rotational basis at these respective positions with the hopes of being starters on defense in the foreseeable future post-2022.

It’s easy to be excited about the future of your favorite team, especially when you’re able to land two exciting and very promising players at very important positions. However, we should cap expectations for guys like Ekwonu and Corral.

Could they shock everyone and make a Pro Bowl in their rookie season? Absolutely, anything is possible.

Though, there will be early struggles for Carolina’s top two draft choices once they see the field. The speed of the NFL is very different from college football.

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Patience is needed this season. In due time, we could be looking at two potential stars at left tackle and quarterback for years to come.