Although we are still a month or so away from the offseason, it wouldn't hurt to take a first glance at the 2022 NFL Draft during the Panthers' bye week. Carolina currently holds a 5-7 record which would give them the eighth overall pick if the season were to end today. With the remaining schedule the Panthers have, there's a very good chance they finish the year with just five or six wins. By doing so, it will essentially guarantee them a top 10 pick in next year's draft.
Below, I made my initial predictions as to what the Panthers may do in the 2022 NFL Draft. Yes, there is no quarterback being selected in this mock. Why? Well, I don't see any of the available quarterbacks being someone who can come in and be a franchise guy for the next 8-10 years. I expect the Panthers to be active on the trade market for a quarterback this offseason.
Round 1: OT Ikem Ekwonu - NC State
Aside from quarterback, the Panthers' biggest need heading into this offseason is going to be the offensive line. They could really stand to upgrade just about every spot except for right tackle, if we're being honest. I do think Carolina will be more aggressive in free agency and will bring in a veteran guard to help stabilize things on the inside. Left tackle has been a sore spot for this organization over the last eight years with eight different starters. NC State's Ikem Ekwonu seems like a great fit for this offense and could provide elite pass protection for years to come. Ekwonu can also move inside to guard as well. NFL scouts are split on where he should be at the next level but they all agree that he is going to be special. Assuming the Panthers have a top 10 pick, I expect Ekwonu to be the selection.
Round 4: C Alec Lindstrom - Boston College
Matt Paradis is going to be coming off a knee injury and for offensive linemen, you never know how they will respond to severe knee injuries. Paradis has been okay during his time in Carolina but this would be a great opportunity for them to usher in some new blood at that position. Drafting Lindstrom doesn't mean he has to start right away. He can sit and learn behind Paradis for a year or two until the coaching staff feels like he is ready to take over the starting role. Lindstrom's physicality is what the Panthers need in order to really get things going up front.
Round 5 (via JAX): IDL Haskell Garrett - Ohio State
Almost two full seasons in and 2020 1st round pick Derrick Brown has been very inconsistent. He has flashes of brilliance but at times lacks gap discipline which leads to gaping holes in the run game. Brown won't lose his starting job but he does need some help on the inside long-term and I don't view DaQuan Jones or Bravvion Roy being the answer. Garrett has evolved to be more than just a run stopper. So far this season, he has recorded 5.5 sacks, all of which came from the 3-technique.
Round 5: WR Justyn Ross - Clemson
Ross missed the entire 2020 season due to a congenital fusion condition of his neck and spine that required surgery. The Clemson offense as a whole hasn't been very good this year including QB D.J. Uiagalelei. With the quarterback play being average, it hasn't allowed for guys like Ross to really blossom into a top NFL draft pick. As a freshman in 2019, Ross caught 46 passes for 1,000 yards and nine scores. Carolina desperately needs to add another weapon on the perimeter to go along with DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. Ross could be that guy.
Round 6: IOL Jack Snyder - San Jose State
I don't know that a sixth-round pick is necessarily going to fix Carolina's problems at the guard spot but it can't hurt to add a little competition. The Panthers have started a number of guys at both guard spots including Pat Elflein, Dennis Daley, Trent Scott, Michael Jordan, and John Miller. Of those, Elflein is just about the only guarantee to be on the roster next season. Jordan and Daley are both under contract through 2022 but I wouldn't be surprised to see Carolina move off of one of them, if not both. Snyder is one of the older offensive linemen in this upcoming draft class having spent six years at San Jose State. In that span, he played in 45 games including making 38 consecutive starts. Following the 2020 season, Snyder was named the Pro Football Focus Player of the Year. He has mainly played offensive tackle but I would guess a lot of NFL teams would like for him to add a little weight and kick inside to guard.
Round 7: LB Troy Andersen - Montana State
Anderson is an intriguing prospect. He may be more of an option post-draft but when you get into the later rounds, it's no longer about value. Last year, the Panthers felt like they hit on their needs in the early rounds and knew they wanted long snapper Thomas Fletcher from Alabama. To avoid him hitting free agency, they just went ahead and drafted him. The Panthers don't currently have a need at linebacker but if Jermaine Carter Jr. signs elsewhere this offseason, they're going to need more bodies in that room. Anderson began his career on the opposite side of the ball as a quarterback where he threw for 1,195 yards and rushed for another 1,412 in 2018. He made the switch to linebacker and flourished this past season recording 111 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
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