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Panthers select N.C. State tackle Ickey Ekwonu in first round of draft


CHARLOTTE — It's been a long time.

And the sigh of relief you might be hearing could be coming from a generation of past quarterbacks, and any who could arrive in the future.

The Panthers finally added what they hope is some stability for their offensive line, drafting N.C. State tackle Ikem Ekwonu with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The 21-year-old Ekwonu gives them a pedigreed left tackle, and is the latest move of an offseason devoted to improving the protection up front.

The Panthers haven't used a first-rounder on a tackle since taking Jeff Otah 19th overall in 2008.

As a result, they've had nearly a decade of uncertainty on the line. Since Hall of Honor tackle Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season, they've used 16 different starting left tackles, none for more than 19 of the 129 regular-season games since then.

The path to take Ekwonu was cleared when cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. went to the Texans with the third pick, after defensive ends Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson went one and two. When cornerback Sauce Gardner went fourth overall to the Jets, it gave the Panthers a choice among the top tackles.

And while the choice wasn't immediate, it was clear which way they wanted to go.

The Panthers were eager to accept that, since Ekwonu gives them a chance to put together what should be an improved line. After signing guard Austin Corbett and center Bradley Bozeman in free agency, the Panthers can now shift 2021 third-rounder Brady Christensen into left guard and have a stable lineup, along with cornerstone right tackle Taylor Moton.

Ekwonu, who was born in Charlotte and starred at Providence Day, went onto an incredible career at N.C. State, where he started at tackle as a sophomore, before settling into to become one of the dominant blockers in the country and earning All-American honors.

The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder (with 34-inch arms), ran a 4.93-second 40, showcasing his elite athleticism during pre-draft workouts. Scouts love his mean streak and aggressive nature, and he was known for pancaking opponents.

He doesn't just block people into the dirt. He appears to enjoy it.

View photos of Ickey Ekwonu with the Commissioner on the draft stage in Las Vegas.

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