Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2022 NFL Draft: Scouting the South, Carolina Panthers 

A post-draft journey through the NFC South rivals. What could the Carolina Panthers draft mean for the Buccaneers?  

Ekwonu Panthers
North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu poses for photos after being picked by the Carolina Panthers with the sixth pick of the NFL football draft Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Next up in the 'Scouting the South' series is the Carolina Panthers. How will their draft potentially impact the Buccaneers twice a year? Here is a breakdown.

The Panthers' draft selections:

  • OT Ickey Ekwonu (No. 6 overall)
  • QB Matt Corral (No. 94 overall)
  • LB Brandon Smith (No. 120 overall)
  • Edge Amaré Barno (No. 189 overall)
  • OG Cade Mays (No. 199 overall)
  • CB Kalon Barnes (No. 242 overall)

The Panthers did not have second or third-round picks this year after using them in trades to acquire Sam Darnold and CJ Henderson a year ago. Despite the lack of draft capital, Carolina was able to find value selections early in the draft. With the sixth overall pick, the Panthers snagged Ickey Ekwonu, a premier run blocker with near flawless execution in outside zone. He is a violent blocker in either gap or zone and the Panthers are hopeful he will make an immediate impact in the trenches. Todd Bowles and co. will have tricks up their sleeve come fall for the rookie blindside tackle, Ekwonu. He is inconsistent in pass sets and will need to develop, playing into the Bucs' strengths. With the menacing men in Tampa Bay's front, opponents have stopped trying to run the ball. The Panthers like many other teams will likely resort to an aerial and perimeter-based attack, which means more pass blocking for the rookie.

In round three, the Panthers grabbed a quarterback to compete with Sam Darnold early on. Corral was an inexpensive risk that could produce a lot of upside in the future. The Ole Miss product played in a quarterback-friendly, RPO-based shotgun scheme. His quick release, athleticism and toughness caused Carolina to roll the dice. Regardless of who is under center, the Bucs will bring the blitz on game days.

Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith has explosive pass rush potential and possesses the athleticism to roam in coverage. He will have to learn the anticipation element of the NFL game and Amaré Barno and Kalon Barnes have solid intangibles and developmental traits to mold on the Panthers' defense. They have the right measurables -- especially Smith -- Carolina just has to maximize their chess pieces. The Bucs will come firing on all cylinders, stretching their opponents both vertically (shots downfield) and horizontally (screen game, intermediate routes and wide zone runs) in the 2022 football season.

Comments: The Panthers entered this draft in a tough position. They had clear needs at quarterback and offensive tackle but didn't have any picks on Day 2 because of two different trades (including one for Sam Darnold last season). Should they reach for a quarterback at No. 6? Take one of the great offensive tackles available? Or trade down to try to add some capital?

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Comments: Carolina played the quarterback market well, landing the talented Corral in the third round (paying the reasonable price of a 2023 third-round pick to move up for him) while greatly improving the offensive line with Ekwonu. They had previously traded second- and fourth-round picks in the deal for Sam Darnold, though. That investment has yet to pay off.

Comments: Ekwonu makes this draft, but the rest of it was so-so in large part because they didn't have a lot of picks. Corral is a risky pick. Sixth-round offensive lineman Cade Mays is a good player who will play in the league for a while.

Comments: The Panthers made a great pick at no. 6 overall, grabbing NC State offensive lineman Ickey Ekwonu, a mauler on the blindside who moves people in the run game and plays with light feet in pass protection. But overall, Carolina's draft was underwhelming, mostly due to the team's lack of draft capital.

Comments: The board couldn't have fallen much better for Carolina, with all three of the top offensive tackle prospects still on the board. The Panthers opted for the top run-blocker in the class in Ekwonu. The N.C. State tackle earned PFF run-blocking grades above 85.0 in all three of his college seasons, with grades above 90.0 in each of the last two years. It's worth noting that the Panthers didn't trade back to add another pick or two, given that they aren't on the clock again until the fourth round.

How the Bucs faired:

The Bucs bolstered the trenches in the second round with selections Logan Hall and Luke Goedeke. Both Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon remain un-signed free agents with Will Gholston entering his 10th season with the Bucs. An interior pass rusher and developmental partner for Vita Vea long-term became a top priority heading into the draft and Logan Hall projects as a three-technique with versatility potential in certain sub-packages. His relentless motor and block recognition will be a fit for the Bucs' one-gap, penetrating scheme.

With the retirement of Pro Bowler Ali Marpet and the departure of Alex Cappa in free agency to the Bengals, Luke Goedeke will add competition with Aaron Stinnie at left guard. At Central Michigan, Goedeke primarily played at the right tackle spot, but general manger Jason Licht confirmed he will work at guard.

With the loss of Ronald Jones to Kansas City in free agency, Rachaad White will join the mix behind incumbent starter Leonard Fournette, featuring Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard. White is not going to be a power runner through tackles but does present a tremendous upside with his pass-catching ability. He can quickly get to the perimeter in wide zone runs with his slash running style and adds another versatile weapon for Byron Leftwich and Tom Brady.

Later, the Bucs snagged Jake Camarda, who can compete for the team's staring punting role and the organization added depth to a thin tight end room with Cade Otton's selection. Even if Rob Gronkowski does return for the 2022 season alongside Cameron Brate and Codey McElroy, Otton adds insurance as a 'Y' tight end. The Buccaneers then rounded out the three-day draft event with Sam Houston State cornerback Zyon McCollum, Minnesota tight end Ko Kieft and LSU EDGE Andre Anthony.