This week, we're going to take a look inside the heads — or at least inside the rosters and offseasons — of the five teams currently picking ahead of the Panthers in the 2022 NFL Draft. What they've done and will do will impact what the Panthers are able to do at No. 6, so it's better to know the landscape ahead of time. Monday we started with the Jaguars at No. 1, discussed the Lions at No. 2 on Tuesday, the Texans at No. 3 on Wednesday, and the Jets at No. 4 on Thursday.
CHARLOTTE — New Giants general manager Joe Schoen started his NFL journey with the Panthers, as an intern working in the ticket office.
He could probably sell the Panthers a ticket now, just to know what he's thinking.
Armed with the picks immediately before and after the Panthers (fifth and seventh overall), Schoen could really mess with the Panthers in a way no one else can.
The Giants have effectively put the for sale sign on one of the picks, hoping to hustle up some interest in future assets for their rebuild.
So if another team picking behind the Panthers thought they were locked in a particular thing they might want, all that team has to do is call Schoen and make a deal.
Or, Schoen could just take a guy the Panthers want for themselves, and frustrate them in the more traditional way.
With some overlapping needs, that's possible, if not downright likely.
Offseason moves: Part of a rebuild is always a teardown, and the Giants created some significant gaps with players they let go this offseason. They cut Kyle Rudolph and let Evan Engram walk away in free agency, creating a void at tight end that Ricky Seals-Jones doesn't necessarily fill on his own. They also released veteran safety Logan Ryan, and have just two actual safeties on the roster at the moment so they could definitely use some help there. And with five of the top 81 picks, they have chances to address both needs.
Possible clues: Everything the Giants have done this offseason practically screams: YES WE'RE DRAFTING A TACKLE HIGH.
They added some capable interior blockers in free agency, including Mark Glowkisnki and Jon Feliciano, but there's a big ol' OL-shaped hole at the tackle spot opposite 2020 first-rounder Andrew Thomas.
Do they need a quarterback? Not at the moment, as they're still trying to figure out what they have in Charlotte's Daniel Jones. Bringing in Tyrod Taylor as his backup (and I envision Taylor with a business card that reads "Capable Backup") suggests they want a fallback plan, not someone who is there to push Jones. But the clock is ticking on the 2019 first-rounder, and the new GM (Schoen) and coach (Brian Daboll) have no ties to him, so they've got a free pass to move on if he can't meet their standards.
How they impact the Panthers: In the most intimate way possible.
The Giants are going to leave the first round with a tackle, one way or another. Which prospect and when they take him is the tricky part to figure out.
They could stay and pick at five and feel reasonably confident that one of the top three will be there. The Panthers can't share that confidence at six.
The Giants were eyeballing Mississippi State's Charles Cross working as a right tackle at his pro day, which is a little unusual since he's probably the most athletic, and most pure pass-protector among the top tackles in this class. And Thomas is entrenched on the left, and he's not bad. But they've also done a lot of work on Ickey Ekwonu and Evan Neal, and either of the other top rookies would upgrade what they have on hand.
Or, they could trade the fifth pick to someone who needs a tackle even more (like the Saints who have a couple of picks in the first round as well). What they probably can't do (unless the top four picks get really weird) is trade five away, and plan on a tackle at seven, since the Panthers would likely take one at six.
Either way, Schoen has a direct impact on what his first team will be able to do, which has forced the Panthers into another year of an uncomfortable game of wait-and-see (after the Lions took Penei Sewell a spot in front of them last year).
View photos from the weight room and the Atrium Health Dome as the Panthers continue offseason workouts on Thursday.