The disastrous Sam Darnold trade has the Panthers short of draft capital this season. Here’s how Carolina can make every pick count.
Last offseason, the Panthers hoped they could revive Sam Darnold’s career and turn him into a top-10 NFL starter. It’s pretty clear at this point that trade was a clear failure by the team’s front office. Carolina is still looking for its franchise quarterback and the deal with the Jets robbed them of the draft capital required to acquire that sort of player in this year’s draft.
As such, the Panthers need to focus on other roster needs. It might be tempting to grab the top-rated signal-caller on their board with the No. 6 overall pick, but that would represent a serious reach for a roster that can’t afford a high-profile draft miss.
That’s why the right philosophy for the Panthers in this year’s draft is to keep things nice and boring. Building an offensive line capable of protecting a quarterback should be the organization’s top offseason priority. That’s why Carolina should go with a building block at tackle with their first-round pick.
Round 1: Ikem Ekwonu
The Panthers don’t need to leave the state of North Carolina to find a potential franchise left tackle in Round 1. Ekwonu is a former NC State star who possesses all the physical traits required to protect his quarterback’s blindside.
What sets Ekwonu apart from his peers is that he’s also got a nasty streak that allows him to project as a plus run-blocker. He’s not just a technician on the perimeter. Ekwonu is a draft pick that can help his quarterback and running backs right away. If Carolina doesn’t get a big offer to trade back, they should sit back and take their left tackle of the present and future.
Round 4: Alec Lindstrom
The Panthers don’t have a second or third-rounder to work with at the moment due to the aforementioned Darnold deal. That makes it imperative that Carolina’s front office come away with meaningful value in the draft’s later rounds.
Matt Rhule’s offense really struggled all over the offensive line last season. Finding a guard capable of playing right away should be a priority in this draft. Lindstrom isn’t a road-grader on the inside but he’s a good technician with surprisingly quick feet.
That allows him to profile as an excellent pass-blocker and a guard who can get out in space to help the run game on the second level. His lack of brute strength limits his ceiling, but he’s a high-floor player who should be ready to make early contributions during his rookie campaign.
The Panthers might elect to go for a higher-upside player here, but grabbing a safe bet like Lindstrom in Round 4 opens up some more options for Carolina with their next few picks. The franchise still needs to spend money on a new starting guard in free agency but Lindstrom can drastically improve their depth chart.