Here in a few months, the Carolina Panthers will be on the clock with the 6th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. GM Scott Fitterer could do a lot of things with that pick - take a quarterback, an offensive tackle, best player available, or possibly even trade out of it and accumulate more picks in return.
The most popular and most obvious thing for the Panthers to do would be to take an offensive tackle. Brady Christensen showed some promise toward the end of the season but head coach Matt Rhule still won't commit to him being the left tackle of the future. Instead, he has tabbed him as a starter but where exactly on the line he will start will likely come down to the moves the team makes this offseason.
Earlier this week, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN, released his first mock draft of the year. With the 6th pick, Kiper has the Panthers taking Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross.
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.
I love Cross as a pass protector but he has to show me a little more consistency in the running game. Evan Neal (Alabama) and Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) are rated as the top two tackles in the draft. If either of those guys make it to six, the Panthers will turn in their draft card very quickly. Cross is clearly the third-best tackle in the class but that's not a knock on him. Had he been eligible for the draft a year ago, there would have been a good chance of him still going in the first round despite having little experience. I don't hate the idea of Cross landing in Carolina but if the Panthers are lucky enough, Neal or Ekwonu will still be on the board.
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