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Carolina Panthers have rocked through NFL draft so far


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Matt Corral, who the Carolina Panthers drafted within the third spherical within the 2022 NFL draft, throws a cross for Ole Miss in opposition to Auburn in 2021.

Ole Miss Athletics

It wasn’t excellent, as a result of no NFL draft ever is. It may implode, as a result of all draft courses can. But the Carolina Panthers’ first two picks of the 2022 NFL draft positive look good to me. The Panthers instantly seem like a staff that has discovered persistence within the entrance workplace and is beginning to develop into the intense soccer place head coach Matt Rhule has all the time envisioned.

When the Panthers didn’t commerce for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo Friday night time and as a substitute took a less expensive possibility by selecting Ole Miss QB Matt Corral late within the third spherical, I may really feel myself nodding my head in settlement. Mayfield would have been a mistake — a giant contract for a man whose talent set might not really be any higher than Sam Darnold’s. Garoppolo made a bit extra sense, however the cash and the damage historical past positive didn’t.

For Corral, the Panthers had to surrender their third-round choose in 2023 and their fourth-round choose Saturday to New England. That allowed them to maneuver into the third spherical and draft a quarterback at No. 94 general, which in actual time occurred simply after 11 p.m. Friday.

Corral gained’t begin immediately for Panthers

Corral gained’t be a Day 1 starter. He’s a developmental quarterback with some points and loads of expertise. “We’re going to bring him along slow,” Rhule mentioned of Corral. “We’re going to train him from the ground up. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s got a lot to do.”

It sounded from the best way Rhule defined it that Corral might be third on the depth chart to start out the 2022 season, behind each Darnold (now virtually certainly the starter in September) and PJ Walker. He’s additionally coming off a excessive ankle sprain he sustained in Ole Miss’s bowl recreation in January — a recreation he simply may have opted out of however didn’t.

Corral joins first-round choose Ickey Ekwonu — the huge N.C. State offensive lineman who grew up in Charlotte — because the Panthers’ first two picks. I favored Liberty’s Malik Willis, and he was nonetheless round till No. 86, however the truth that the Panthers can have a proficient quarterback on a rookie contract for the subsequent a number of years is massive.

That cost-effectiveness permits Carolina to make one other vital QB determination with out being hamstrung a lot by the wage cap in 2023. They can both re-sign Darnold if he performs higher this yr underneath what must be an improved offensive line, or to go along with Corral if the Panthers see sufficient from him, or to signal or draft another person totally in the event that they don’t.

Panthers assume Corral has ‘first-round talent’

The keys are choices and suppleness. The Panthers have retained each on the recreation’s most essential place relatively than choose up the subsequent shiny gold coin close to them after their two proposed blockbuster QB trades over the previous yr — for Matthew Stafford (this is able to have been nice) and Deshaun Watson (this is able to have been horrible) — didn’t work out.

Panthers GM Scott Fitterer mentioned earlier than the draft he was going to attempt to not mortgage the long run — i.e. commerce away very excessive draft picks in 2023 — merely to recoup among the capital he misplaced within the questionable Darnold commerce of 2021. You may argue he broke that promise by buying and selling New England a future third-round choose for Corral; I might argue he didn’t, as a result of that choose goes to possible be within the 70s or so. That’s price taking a QB gamble.

Corral has had ups and downs — success within the SEC, battles with alcohol and despair, a reported battle with Wayne Gretzky’s son whereas in highschool. You can form of see why he lasted till late within the third spherical. But have you ever seen how shortly he will get the soccer out of his hand? This was definitely worth the danger.

“We think he has first-round talent,” Rhule mentioned.

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Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral runs the soccer vs. Kentucky in 2020. The Panthers traded as much as seize Corral with the 94th choose of the 2022 NFL draft. Joshua McCoy Ole Miss Athletics

The Panthers had a number of possibilities to commerce into the second spherical Friday night time however common supervisor Scott Fitterer mentioned the worth was too excessive.

“I thought Scott tonight was unbelievably elite,” Rhule mentioned of Fitterer at practically midnight Friday at a late-night press convention. “You know we had chances to trade up many times. At the last minute, his gut was not to do it and just to wait.”

Patience hasn’t been the Panthers’ greatest attribute over the previous few years. They’ve finished some splashy issues that haven’t actually labored out — signing Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore final season, to call simply two.

But Ekwonu was about as secure a choose as you may get — a sturdy offensive lineman who can play guard or middle and who can simply envelop defenders. And Corral, whereas extra of a danger, got here at a sensible worth and can possible now be pressured to be affected person himself, whether or not he needs to be or not.

“If you think about it, it’s amazing,” Rhule mentioned, talking of NFL quarterbacks. “This is the only position in sports where the best players are over the age of 35… I mean Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady…. In a perfect world, it’s going to take some time.”

Rhule additionally identified the plain — that taking Corral within the third spherical relatively than the primary will even relieve among the stress. “And so sometimes you take those guys at No. 6 (where the Panthers drafted Ekwonu),” the coach mentioned of rookie QBs, “the pressure is so great to put them on the field that they can get ruined.”

It might all by no means work out. But it’d. A Panther fan can legitimately dream a bit after these first two draft days about an offense sooner or later the place Corral is throwing the ball and Ekwonu is defending his blindside. It may very well be enjoyable, identical to the primary two days of the NFL draft have been.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, together with 4 concerning the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has gained the Thomas Wolfe award for excellent newspaper writing and has earned 18 nationwide APSE awards. He hosted The Observer’s 8-part podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.”
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