The Panthers have been stuck with a gaping hole at left tackle since Jordan Gross retired in 2014. When Marty Hurney drafted Greg Little with the 37th overall pick in 2019, Panthers fans across the globe thought that the hole was filled with the big man out of Ole Miss. Two years and four months later, Greg Little was traded to Miami for a seventh-round pick, and the Panthers will continue to tread water in the pool of mediocrity at left tackle.
Little came into college with significant excitement surrounding him. He was the number two prospect in the country behind current Green Bay Packer Rashaan Gary. He was named Second Team All-SEC in 2017, and First Team All-SEC in 2018, appearing in every game for Ole Miss in his three seasons in college. Little fell to the Panthers in the second round due to questions about his work ethic and football IQ, and his doubters may have been correct.
Little played in a total of 14 games in Carolina, only starting six. His lack of playing time wasn't just because he was unable to perform. Little battled a concussion, an ankle sprain, a knee injury, and to top it all off, a stint on the COVID-19 list last season. Carolina bet big on the potential of Little by using valuable draft capital to trade up for him, but the nagging injuries zapped any potential that he may have had.
At the time of the pick, fans were hopeful that Little would bring consistency to a position that was in flux for five years. Since Jordan Gross retired, the Panthers have had a revolving door at left tackle. Players like Michael Oher, Chris Clark, Dennis Daley, Mike Remmers, Matt Kalil, Byron Bell, and Russell Okung have all spent time manning the Carolina quarterback's blind side over the last seven years, but none of them have been able to perform consistently.
As we approach the 2021 season, Panthers' fans are staring at another season full of questions marks at the left tackle position. Career journeyman Cam Erving is slotted to start the season at left tackle, protecting the blindside of Sam Darnold. While Erving may be a serviceable starting tackle, Panthers fans know all too well the feeling of an offensive line that cannot protect their quarterback.
Former Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton had his career ruined by injuries after playing behind a suspect offensive line. Newton was the league MVP in 2015, but his future performance was defined by injuries and inconsistencies after spending week after week running for his life from oncoming defenders due to poor line play.
The NFL changes quickly, but one thing always stays the same: you must protect your quarterback in order to have success. All-world quarterback Patrick Mahomes spent three hours running for his life in Tampa this past February, and the Chiefs only mustered nine points in the Super Bowl.
If the Panthers truly want to evaluate Sam Darnold this year, he's going to need time to throw. The hope was that Greg Little could be the starting left tackle for the next decade or so, but now he's in Miami with a chance to reinvigorate a career that has been lackluster at best, and the Panthers are left scratching their heads. The trade-up with Seattle to draft Little was objectively a disaster, and it is a shame that Little wasn't able to find success in Carolina.
Panthers fans have become as familiar with their quarterbacks scrambling away from pressure as they are with the "Keep Pounding" mantra, and unfortunately, Panthers fans may see another year of our starting quarterback getting pounded behind an offensive line that has a gaping hole on the left side.