CHARLOTTE — Matt Corral admitted it was difficult, still waiting in Las Vegas deep into the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft, when he thought he'd be a first-rounder.
But even as he struggled to understand why he and the rest of the quarterback class slid in this draft, Corral still felt a certain ease now that he's found a new home with the Panthers.
And partly, that was because they were willing to call him on being uncomfortable, and they were honest with him. And in turn, they like the way he responds, and the way his teammates respond to him.
After the Panthers took Corral with the 94th overall pick, he said the relationships he forged during his visit here with the team's staff helped him feel a sense of calm during the flurry of pre-draft trips and workouts. In particular, an exchange with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo made him feel at home in a hurry.
"I was a fan of coach McAdoo when I finally got to meet him and spend time with him when we were eating lunch," Corral said from his hotel in Las Vegas. "I'm excited to get back to Carolina and start to work. Really, because I was nervous at first, and he noticed that, and called me out on it. Then there was a comfort there. Him understanding I was already nervous and calling me out on it was kind of comforting. He knew it.
"I felt like it was a place I'd end up for sure."
That exchange at a nearby restaurant was underscored when he talked to team officials, including head coach Matt Rhule, general manager Scott Fitterer, and owner David Tepper.
"Mr. Tepper as well. Just talking about life, and his experience and my experience, and really just chopping it up that way, getting real personal," Corral recalled. "We were just talking, and they were getting to know me more. That's when I got to talking with Mr. Tepper, and I got to like him a lot, because I felt comfortable with him."
Rhule was careful not to place any burden of expectation on Corral coming in, saying that if they had to play today, Sam Darnold would start at quarterback. They want to give Corral the chance to come in, get established in a new place, and learn the league. While Corral said there were some schematic similarities between what he ran at Ole Miss and McAdoo's system, it's an adjustment for any rookie.
And because of what they learned about him during the pre-draft process, they were willing to make a move to get him. They traded next year's third-rounder, and this year's fourth-rounder to New England to move up to the 94th spot to get him. Along with using their first-rounder on left tackle Ickey Ekwonu Thursday, the Panthers have checked off the two biggest boxes they had going into the weekend.
Corral might not have been drafted as high as he'd like, but he's a value pick for them, and they clearly value what he brings to the team.
Rhule recalled a scene from Corral's pro day, when a television broadcast schedule pushed back his normal throwing slot. Since Ole Miss' running backs needed someone to throw to them, he jumped right in, without considering it was an audition for every team in the league there to see his workout rather than theirs.
"There was some confusion and they needed him to throw to the running backs," Rhule recalled. "Here is this kid getting ready, coming off of a foot injury; he has been throwing for about a week. He is trying to save his arm. His teammates, his running backs, need him to throw drills to them. He goes over and starts throwing. Even some of us were like, 'What is he doing? Poor kid.' His trainer is like, 'Don't throw, don't throw,' and he is like, 'No, I'm going to throw to my guys.'"
There were also signs that Corral was someone they wanted to work with as they watched the Sugar Bowl, when he went down with a high ankle sprain.
"I think you can go back to the bowl game and you watch when he gets hurt, and you watch every single guy on that field when he comes back out onto the field," Rhule said. "I'm talking about trainers, I'm talking about running backs, I'm talking about D-linemen, they all come over to him. One of the benefits in my life is when I go into some of these schools, there are kids that I recruited. I sat in their houses, I talked to them. I had a chance to talk to them, and I had the chance at Ole Miss to talk to some kids that I recruited, and there is not one of them that wouldn't say, 'Hey, your whole team is going to love him.'
"That's a big part of this position. There is a lot of stress. There is a lot of pressure. There are a lot of accolades. Every guy on the team has to believe the quarterback wants to put them first. He did that at Ole Miss. He did that in small ways at pro day, throwing to the running backs. But you see how much love those guys pour out to him. We are going to bring him along slow. We are going to train him from the ground up. He has a lot to learn. He has a lot to do. But I am unbelievably fired up to get Ickey yesterday and have him show up today and then Matt Corral today."
View photos of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, drafted by Carolina in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.