Carolina Panthers should not overthink things with Ikem Ekwonu

(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /

Many assume that Ikem Ekwonu will be the starting left tackle for the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, but versatility gives them options. 

Ikem Ekwonu is a local guy born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He went to high school at Providence Day School and moved on to play three years of collegiate football at North Carolina State University. So his connection to the area is real and he also grew up watching the team he will now play for sitting in the stands at Bank of America Stadium.

Standing at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, Ekwonu was drafted in the first round with the No. 6 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. The perfect scenario for the front office given that the stud offensive lineman was the top player on their board.

In his freshman college season, he started games at both the left guard and left tackle positions. In one particular contest, Ekwonu had seven pancake blocks and followed this up with 50 more during a hugely impressive sophomore campaign.

Ekwonu played all of his snaps in 2021 as the Wolfpack’s premier blindside protector and solidified himself as one of the best offensive linemen in the country. His production was exceptional and ended with a 91.6 grade from Pro Football Focus.

This draft pick should bring immediate excitement to all Panthers fans because Ekwonu is a beast on the field, and he projects to have a solid career in the NFL. With that being said, will offensive line coach James Campen, view him as the team’s starting left tackle, or will he think that he will be better suited starting out at left guard?

Some scouts believe that Ekwonu could be an All-Pro guard right now and could develop into a tackle of similar caliber over time.

Carolina Panthers have options with Ikem Ekwonu but are desperate for LT consistency

Carolina’s potential lineups on the left side of the line could include left tackle Ekwonu and left guard Brady Christensen. On the other hand, the team could flip the pair by making the former third-round selection out of BYU their blindside presence should they wish.

Cam Erving, the starting left tackle from last season, will also be competing. But after drafting Ekwonu at No. 6 overall, it feels as if he’s their guy to start.

Here’s how Ekwonu’s PFF Grade of 91.6 from college stacks up against the starters from the Panthers offensive line in 2021:

  • Cam Erving: 56.0
  • Pat Elflein: 50.1
  • Matt Paradis: 66.9
  • John Miller: 52.1
  • Taylor Moton: 77.9

It’s not necessarily a completely fair comparison since Ekwonu’s number grade comes from college. But it should be a good measuring stick of what to look forward to this season from the player.

After the abysmal offensive line play that the Panthers fans have grown used to, Ekwonu should bring some much-needed relief and a significant upgrade in performance for good measure.

Wherever Campen places Ekwonu, most are sure that the prospect will be a starter and that he is the team’s best option at left tackle. Fans are hoping that his game will translate to the NFL quickly and make a positive impact during a critical third season for head coach Matt Rhule.

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There is a lot of confidence that Ekwonu will succeed and bring a toughness that’s been sorely lacking lately. It may not be a sure thing just yet, but one suspects it won’t take long for the player to firmly establish himself as the team’s long-awaited successor to Jordan Gross.