2022 NFL Draft: Grades for Ikem Ekwonu and Every Other Carolina Panthers Pick

The Carolina Panthers entered the 2022 NFL Draft in need of help along their offensive line. They could have justified using their first-round selection, falling at No. 6 overall, on their quarterback of the future so they wouldn’t have to run it back with the same limited options, though the top-tier signal-callers in this draft class never earned the highest marks. They could also have chosen to make upgrades at linebacker, safety, and cornerback, among other positions. 

As it turns out, a 5-12 season leads to a lot of spots for potential upgrades in what could be the final chance for head coach Matt Rhule. At least Christian McCaffrey is still in place at running back after a brief period with some trade speculation?

The other complicating factor? The Panthers originally weren’t scheduled to return to the podium for 131 selections after they were up at No. 6, though a trade changed that. The capital here was rather limited until the back end of the draft and certainly wasn’t commensurate to the number of needs scattered throughout the roster. 

2022 NFL Draft picks by Carolina Panthers

  • No. 6 Overall: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
  • No. 94 Overall: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
  • No. 120 Overall: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State
  • No. 189 Overall: Amaré Barno, DE, Virginia Tech
  • No. 199 Overall: Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
  • No. 242 Overall: Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor

No. 6 Overall: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

The Carolina Panther draft pick at No. 6 is NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu
Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

The Carolina Panthers get a potentially great offensive tackle in Ickey Ekwonu, but they also don’t select a weak quarterback prospect at No. 6, so they should get extra credit for that. As for Ekwonu, he is a smart, cerebral player in the meeting room and a nasty mauler on the field. Whether it’s Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or the franchise’s 2023 first-round pick, Ekwonu will make the Panthers QB life easier for years to come.

Grade: A

No. 94 Overall: Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

Matt Corral seems like more of a Lane Kiffin creation than a legit NFL quarterback prospect. If the Carolina Panthers took him earlier, this grade would be much lower. However, when Sam Darnold is your QB, taking a flyer on a young signal-caller isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. I don’t have high hopes for Corral but at No. 94, the Panthers took a worthwhile risk.

Grade: B-

Day 3 Picks

No. 120 Overall: Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State

Smith will look good getting off the bus at 6-foot-3 1/2, 250-pounds, but even as a major five-star high school recruit he never showed the aggressiveness or instincts to become a dominant linebacker.

Grade: C

No. 189 Overall: Amaré Barno, DE, Virginia Tech

Barno ran a WR-like 4.38-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5, 246-pounds. He’s a boom or bust pick who could become an excellent pass-rush specialist, which is a good gamble for a team like Carolina at this point.

Grade: B

No. 199 Overall: Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee

Mays started his career at Georgia before transferring back home to Tennessee. Along the way he played all five O-line positions and projects as a potential starting NFL center or possibly guard. He’s a good value pick at “the Tom Brady spot” in the sixth round.

Grade: B

No. 242 Overall: Kalon Barnes, CB, Baylor

Barnes was a track star in high school and ran an incredible 4.23-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He is still raw despite three seasons at Baylor., but you can’t teach speed.

Grade: C+

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