While many foresee the Panthers making an immediate investment into the offensive line in April’s upcoming NFL draft, not every ‘draft guru’ sees it that way.
In Daniel Jeremiah’s 2022 NFL mock draft 1.0, the NFL.com writer has the Panthers taking cornerback Ahmad Gardner out of Cincinnati to pair up with last year’s first-round selection, cornerback Jaycee Horn. While it would make for an enviable young secondary, it’s tough to see Panthers fans rejoicing in delight if the team neglects other areas of need.
Let’s dive into the No. 6 pick from both mock drafts.
Daniel Jeremiah: Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Panthers will likely have their pick of any quarterback in the draft class, but, barring an unexpected move, they’re committed (at least financially) to Sam Darnold for one more season. Gardner is the most gifted cornerback in the draft and would team with Carolina’s 2021 first-rounder, Jaycee Horn, to give the Panthers the best young duo in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Matt Rhule is very much a head coach on the hot seat heading into the offseason. The Carolina Panthers got off to a 3-0 start but went on a downward spiral following. Despite using draft capital to secure Sam Darnold just a year ago, they’re a prime contender to reach for a QB early in the 2022 NFL Draft.
However, no quarterback is going to have success behind the current Panthers line. They legitimately need to address multiple positions across the line. They begin the rebuild of the line with the selection of Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. He’s a lean, mean, offensive tackle machine, whose athleticism will benefit Carolina’s running game. Meanwhile, he’s a technically sound pass protector whose aggressiveness belies his slender frame.
With their next selection, the No. 105 overall pick in the fourth round, Pro Football Focus has the Panthers selecting Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe. Zappe threw an NCAA single-single record 62 touchdown passes in 2021, surpassing LSU’s Joe Burrow (2019) and Hawaii’s Colt Brennan (2006), who threw 60 and 58 touchdowns, respectively.