CHARLOTTE - This week's mock drafts includes a few new names and some now-familiar holdovers.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah tabbed Trevor Penning as his third offensive lineman off the board to Carolina at six, slotting Charles Cross to go much later in the first round. The Athletic and PFF, meanwhile, still have Cross going to Carolina at six. Wide receiver Drake London was a new name for the Panthers, while Sauce Gardner continues to pop up, along with Malik Willis.
DANIEL JEREMIAH: The Panthers are desperate for O-line help. This is a little early for Penning, but he has guard/tackle flexibility and he'll start from Day 1 in Carolina.
TODD MCSHAY: This was the most difficult pick for me. For one, the QB situation remains unresolved. The Panthers are financially invested in Sam Darnold for 2022, but it's apparent he isn't the long-term solution. Even so, No. 6 is too rich for any of the signal-callers in this class, and if Carolina is set on drafting one, a move back would be prudent. Then there is the offensive line, which surrendered 52 sacks in 2021 (fifth most). But again, the board doesn't fill the holes. Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross could work, but he's No. 22 on my board at the moment. (I'm a little lower on him than some teams; he could be a top-10 pick.)
So I ended up going with the best available, and that's absolutely Gardner. I mean, he gave up all of 60 yards in 14 games last season. That's a true shutdown cornerback. And yes, the Panthers took Jaycee Horn at No. 8 last season, but this duo would be one of the best young tandems in the league. A team has used top-10 picks on defensive backs in back-to-back drafts just three times in the common draft era -- and Carolina traded for CJ Henderson, who was Jacksonville's ninth pick in 2019 -- but Stephon Gilmore and Donte Jackson are both free agents, meaning this group isn't as strong as it appears.
CHRIS TRAPASSO: The Panthers are probably going to sign someone at quarterback this offseason, right? If they do, and don't have to trade this selection, they should take a receiver to help said quarterback in 2022. London's a beast.
NICK BAUMGARDNER: The Panthers couldn’t block anybody last season. A general upgrade along the offensive line has to rank ahead of drafting a quarterback. If the Panthers focus on Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis but give him nothing up front, things will be a mess.
Carolina should focus on the top of the O-line class, including Cross, and see who stacks up where.
AUSTIN GAYLE: The 2022 NFL Draft class is rich in offensive tackle talent, and Cross is a big contributor to the class’ strength. PFF Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner identified the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Cross as a potential riser before the 2021 college football season on Tailgate, and the big man rose to the occasion.
After earning just a 64.4 PFF grade in 2020, Cross turned in an 86.7 overall grade, 84.9 pass-blocking grade and 87.2 run-blocking grade across 900-plus offensive snaps at left tackle this season. He’s a smooth mover with great mobility for the position — traits Carolina should chase at the top end of the draft.
DAMIAN PARSON: This quarterback class is easy to like but hard to love, and that is fair. The Panthers have needs on the offensive line without question. After reading my guy Joe Marino’s road map detailing how to fix this offense, I decided to select the quarterback that offers the most bang for our buck.
Liberty’s Malik Willis has tantalizing traits and physical tools. He will need a year to sit but that is not a bad thing. Allow him to learn how to be a pro while honing in on his mechanical corrections. His bazooka arm talent paired with his unreal running ability fits the new mold at quarterback. Willis’ potential is more than enough of a reason to draft, stash, and develop him as your future.
View college photos of Jeremiah's initial list of top prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft.