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Mel Kiper mock draft 1.0: Panthers add offensive line help with Charles Cross at No. 6

ESPN’s draft guru helps out the Panthers at a big area of need

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ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his Mock Draft 1.0 Wednesday morning (ESPN Insider required), and his pick for the Panthers could wind up being a stalwart franchise left tackle for years to come.

Here’s how SB Nation’s Chris Pflum put the importance of Kiper’s mock drafts: “There are a few major outlets we like to pay special attention to for their contacts with front offices around the NFL. Kiper is one of the leading voices in the media at large (at least when it comes to the draft) and he has contacts league-wide. His picks can reflect some of what he is hearing from those contacts.”

However, it’s still very early in the process and much will change between now and the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, and will change again following free agency, and pro days.

Here’s who Kiper sees the Panthers grabbing with their first round pick:

6. Carolina Panthers

Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

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This is an easy call based on Carolina’s biggest weakness: It has to get a better left tackle. The Panthers ranked last in the league in yards per play (4.6) and 28th in sacks allowed (52). They went into the season with journeyman Cameron Erving manning the spot and finished with rookie third-rounder Brady Christensen filling in. Taylor Moton is a really solid right tackle, but they can upgrade the left side with this pick.

Cross took a big leap in 2021, allowing just a single sack while playing in a pass-happy Mike Leach offense. He can be a big-time NFL left tackle. This isn’t a reach pick. The Panthers need to hit here because they don’t have second- or third-round picks due to trades for quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback CJ Henderson. This is a massive draft for coach Matt Rhule, who fired his offensive coordinator and might have to make the playoffs in 2022 to keep his job.