Carolina Panthers should remember rookies tend to struggle
Ikem Ekwonu’s struggles shouldn’t be a concern to the casual eye and local media alike until it needs to be. After all, the transition from being a star college offensive tackle to an NFL starter as a rookie is always a steep one.
The playbooks are more expansive with each play having a certain language with multiple assignments and responsibilities for each player. The strength and conditioning programs are different. The adjustment from being a college student to a professional athlete is a big one, to say the least.
Most offensive tackles entering the NFL Draft are not trained or prepared during their college years to be refined and sound technicians who offer great physical and athletic traits for the position. Some may have flaws with their footwork in pass sets, as does Ekwonu. Others may come from a college offense that rarely ran the ball and would require more growth as a run blocker.
Charles Cross, who was an outstanding pass protector at Mississippi State, did not offer the functional strength to be a reliable run blocker, though he had room to grow and develop in this area. Through two starts with the Seattle Seahawks, however, he has shown a lot of growth.
There are rare expectations that an offensive tackle prospect enters the league and success right away. Especially considering the Carolina Panthers have been crying out for improvements at left tackle for almost a decade.
Tristan Wirfs and Rashawn Slater – two top-10 talents – entered the NFL in their respective rookie seasons and became premier players at their positions almost immediately due to their refinement in almost all facets.
Even so, in most cases, rookie offensive tackles typically take at least one to two years to fully develop into what their ceiling is expected to be. In general, most draft prospects don’t fully progress until Year 3.
This also applies to Ekwonu and other raw tackles that have entered the NFL in recent years. The likes of Kolton Miller and Andrew Thomas found life difficult early on before coming of age into valuable contributors over time.