5 Panthers players whose hype train is rolling entering 2022 season

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Frankie Luvu
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Frankie Luvu /
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Carolina Panthers
(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports) Ikem Ekwonu /

Ikem Ekwonu – Carolina Panthers OT

It took longer than many expected for Ikem Ekwonu to become the starter at left tackle officially. The Carolina Panthers made their No. 6 overall selection earn every opportunity throughout camp, which he did with aplomb heading into his rookie campaign.

Ekwonu grew up cheering the likes of Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, and Thomas Davis from the stands at Bank of America Stadium. So turning out for his hometown team is the stuff of fairytales after the North Carolina State product fell out of the top five and into their grasp.

This finally provides the Panthers with a franchise blindside protector. Something that’s been sorely lacking since Jordan Gross announced his retirement almost a decade ago.

There will be some rough spells for Ekwonu, which is all part of the learning experience. But providing the player can hold his own against some of the league’s most ferocious pass-rushers, a productive career is well within his capabilities.

Ekwonu’s outstanding final preseason outing versus the Buffalo Bills was the clearest sign yet that his development is well on track. Although a baptism of fire is coming in Week 1 when Myles Garrett comes to town.

It’ll be a major test of Ekwonu’s credentials. But his mindset alone indicates he’ll be more than ready for the challenge.