Carolina played the quarterback market well, landing the talented Corral in the third round (paying a reasonable price of a 2023 third-round pick to move up for him) while greatly improving the offensive line with Ekwonu. They had previously traded second- and fourth-round picks in the deal for Sam Darnold, though. That investment has yet to pay off.
Carolina made a slight move up the board to select Smith, which is fair considering his athleticism. Barno was a quality pick in the sixth round, as was the strong and experienced Mays. Barnes is a speed demon.
LB BRANDON SMITH, PENN STATE
Pick Grade: Good
Smith is an athletic project, but he's a project well worth taking at this stage of the draft. The production profile isn't overly impressive. Smith earned PFF grades below 60.0 in each of the last two years at Penn State. But the NFL is always going to look for 6-foot-4, 250 pound linebackers who test above the 90th percentile in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and short shuttle. Now, the Panthers just need to figure out how to use him.
EDGE AMARE BARNO, VIRGINIA TECH
Pick Grade: Good
One of the twitchiest athletes in this draft, Barno is the ultimate risk-reward edge prospect in this draft. Evidenced by his 4.36-second 40-yard dash, Barno has all the traits to be a contributor off the edge for Carolina but will need years of development to ultimately reach his ceiling.
T CADE MAYS, TENNESSEE
Pick Grade: Good
Mays played 2,131 snaps throughout his four-year career, earning single-season PFF grades between 65.5 and 73.4. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder allowed just five pressures (and only one sack) across 272 pass-blocking snaps last season.
CB KALON BARNES, BAYLOR
Pick Grade: Elite
An exceptional athlete who ran a 4.23-second 40-yard dash while posting a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-1 broad jump, Barnes has all the tools to develop into one of the steals of the draft. While Barnes has yet to translate those athletic traits to on-field production, as his highest overall defensive grade (73.8) and coverage grade (73.0) came in 2019, Barnes' athletic profile was well worth the gamble at this point in the draft.
The Panthers entered this draft in a tough position. They had clear needs at quarterback and offensive tackle but didn't have any picks on Day 2 because of two different trades (including one for Sam Darnold last season). Should they reach for a quarterback at No. 6? Take one of the great offensive tackles available? Or trade down to try to add some capital?
Ultimately, they went with the top tackle in the class in Ikem Ekwonu -- and were still able to get a quarterback at a nice value later in the draft. Let's start with Ekwonu. He's just a baller. He bullies defenders in the run game, and he toys with them as a pass-protector because of his ability to move his feet. He is the left tackle this team needs.
And for the quarterback? The Panthers sent pick No. 137 and a 2023 third-rounder next year to move up to snag a sliding Matt Corral (94), whom I rated as the No. 32 prospect on my Big Board. Corral has his detractors -- his offense relied on a lot of RPOs, and he needs to process reads faster -- but he has a lightning-quick release and can make plays with his feet. I definitely think he could challenge Darnold this season, and I don't see a need for Carolina to trade for Baker Mayfield now (though I do think Mayfield can help a team this season).
If you were watching the ESPN broadcast, you probably saw Amare Barno (189) as my longtime best available prospect. His 4.36-second 40 at the combine turned heads, because he did it at 246 pounds. If he can match his ability with his technique, he could be a steal as an edge rusher. Brandon Smith (120) has the physical talent to be a good run-and-hit linebacker.
Carolina made its six picks count here, but it's tough to grade it too highly because of the amount of picks and because it's still chasing a quarterback after that Darnold trade.
Carolina not really in position to be trading up, but Smith has sky-high upside given his size, length, and overall athletic profile. Super fast, too. Missed tackles are very frequent. Play-recognition skills are slower than usual. Coverage chops stand out.
DE Amaré Barno
Long, super-slender EDGE who lit up the track at the combine. Hustles, fights hard to set the edge against the run. Outside speed rush is awesome but doesn't have much else in the pass-rush toolbox right now.
OL Cade Mays
Club bouncer on the interior. Wants to get his hands on you and toss you to the ground. Serious torque and he routinely finishes through the whistle. Better as a run blocker than in pass pro but isn't totally liability in the latter area.
CB Kalon Barnes
Fastest man at this year's combine. Not terribly raw in coverage but faster than anything else. Decently twitchy with average ball skills. Wish he played to his speed more frequently.
Goals Entering the 2022 NFL Draft: *The Panthers have only one pick in the top 136 selections. They can't accomplish much in the 2022 NFL Draft as a result. The only thing they must do is decide whether or not they want to draft a franchise quarterback with the sixth-overall pick.
2022 NFL Draft Accomplishments: *To quote a former NFL running back, the Panthers "ate their cake and ate it, too." Carolina had to decide on whether it wanted to select a quarterback or a left tackle at No. 6 overall. As it turns out, the front office was able to acquire both.
Based on what happened, the Panthers made the right choice by selecting Ikem Ekwonu. All the quarterbacks, aside from Kenny Pickett, plummeted in the 2022 NFL Draft. I'm sure the Panthers didn't expect to land Matt Corral toward the end of the third round, but they were able to do so by trading next year's third for the Ole Miss product. Corral has some personality question marks, but his talent level was worthy of at least a second-round pick. He'll be able to compete with Sam Darnold right away for the starting job, and if he wins it, he'll have some nice protection from Ekwonu.
Carolina had four picks on Day 3, and all scored B+ or better. The two best selections were Amare Barno and Kalon Barnes, two defenders who should have been chosen earlier in the draft. Brandon Smith and Cade Mays were good picks as well.
I love what the Panthers did overall. They had a dilemma, and they found a way to choose both solutions by being patient. In the end, they came away with an excellent haul.
The Panthers did well to address their primary needs with GM Scott Fitterer, being able to land Ekwonu to shore up offensive tackle and also get a rookie QB with arm/athleticism upside to push Sam Darnold. Mays is a sneaky developmental player who can start in time. Now the team also doesn't need to fore a trade for another veteran QB.
The Carolina Panthers don't have a long-term solution at any of the linebacker spots. Damien Wilson and Cory Littleton are on short-term deals. Shaq Thompson's pact ends after the 2023 campaign. Penn State's Brandon Smith (6'3", 250 lbs) adds size and a comfort level working into space.
Speed matters. It's relevant no matter the position an individual plays too. Virginia Tech's Amare Barno is a 246-pound defender with 4.36-second 40-yard-dash speed. Yes, you read the previous number correctly. Barno lacks the core strength to turn the corner if he doesn't beat offensive tackles clean off the snap. Yet his speed alone will prove problematic in multiple phases for the Carolina Panthers' opponents.
The Carolina Panthers made the smart play by passing on a quarterback early and landing North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu. With left tackle settled, left guard is still somewhat of a question mark. Brady Christensen could earn the spot. Or, rookie Cade Mays can give it a run and take the spot.
Elite speed will always make heads turn. Being the fastest ever among a position group adds another level of intrigue.
Deion Sanders' mythical 40-yard dash aside, Kalon Barnes' 4.23-second 40-yard dash at this year's NFL combine is the fastest ever recorded by a cornerback. It's the second-fastest ever and only a hundredth of a second behind John Ross' record-setting run.
Barnes has a strong track pedigree as a two-time Texas state high school champion in the 100-meter and 200-meter events.
NFL teams don't see a football player just yet, hence his slide into the seventh round. The Carolina Panthers will continue to develop the defensive back and find ways to harness Barnes' speed.
The Panthers undeniably improved. They solidified their offensive line by getting T Ikem "Ickey" Ekwonu at No. 6. They used a third-round choice on QB Matt Corral, as a trade for Baker Mayfield failed to materialize. The downside is that the Panthers emerged from the draft with Sam Darnold still, at this point, their best option at QB. That cannot be particularly comforting to Coach Matt Rhule, who's facing a potential make-or-break season.
ANALYSIS: I think the main criticism here is a failure of GM Scott Fitterer to make more out of what they have. We've watched, for instance, as the Eagles rescue themselves through smart administrative work, and then watch other teams (such as the Panthers) in a perpetual shrug emoji. If the plan was not to draft the best quarterback available, the limited draft capital at their disposal should have gone toward an all-In approach to buoy Sam Darnold. If the plan was to draft a quarterback to compete with Darnold, they should have tailored the draft around Corral, who hails from an RPO heavy system that requires certain players to make it effective. Brandon Smith seems like a Phil Snow (defensive coordinator) type of player, though, with blitz capability off the edge and a mean streak. While it's always hard to project big hitters once collegiate players reach a larger pond, Smith has quite the resume of helmet-twisters from his time in Happy Valley.
Analysis: Would've benefited more from trading down at No. 6 and drafting QB Kenny Pickett in the mid-first round. Instead paid a steep price to move up for Corral in the late third. The homegrown Ekwonu projects as a perennial Pro Bowler who could've gone No. 1 overall.
View photos of all six of the Panthers draft picks in 2022.