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.
CHARLOTTE — The Jaguars are picking first this year. Again. That's generally a bad sign.
But this year, it creates more confusion than ever, because it's impossible to know exactly what they're thinking or planning to do.
You could make a reasonable case for any number of positions or players to go first overall, as there's not a clear-cut selection this year like in 2021 with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
They also have a new coach in Doug Pederson, putting Lawrence in more capable hands. But it's unclear which path they're going to pursue to try to put a more stable team around last year's prized rookie.
What they need: A little bit of everything. You don't end up with 15 wins over the last four seasons because there's a lot of good stuff on hand. The Jaguars think they have the quarterback position solved, and that's a big first step, but there's a lot of work left to do, particularly in terms of weapons for Lawrence and the defense in general.
A pass-rusher to play opposite 2019 first-rounder Josh Allen (the other one) would be handy, and they'd have their choice of Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson, Georgia's Travon Walker, or anyone else.
Offseason moves: The Jaguars spent a pile of money in free agency, as is their custom. One of this year's recipients was former Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk, who got a four-year, $72 million deal that caught a lot of people by surprise. A more conventional move was signing former Washington guard Brandon Scherff, adding some toughness and talent on the offensive line, which they needed. They also franchise-tagged left tackle Cam Robinson for the second-straight year.
Possible clues: Tagging Robinson was interesting, because he's not exactly considered among the best five players at his position. He's just the best they had, and they apparently didn't want to get into the market for players such as Terron Armstead. Ostensibly, the Jaguars are stable up front, with Robinson and Jawaan Taylor at tackles, along with 2021 second-rounder Walker Little. None of those guys are necessarily viewed as future Pro Bowlers, so it would be worth considering the possibility that they would look at one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. But Richardson signed his franchise tender last week, guaranteeing him $16.662 million this year (and ostensibly keeping the Jags from rescinding the tag, Josh Norman-style, and drafting his replacement). Should that preclude them from considering Ickey Ekwonu or Evan Neal? No. Will it? Maybe.
Do they need a quarterback? Nope.
How they impact the Panthers: The best-case scenario for the Panthers includes a lot of non-offensive tackles going in the top five, so the Jaguars loading up with Robinson and Scherff suggests the Jaguars could help the cause.
But the Jaguars are also among the most unpredictable teams in the league, and general manager Trent Baalke has made some unconventional selections when he's been in charge. He took the ultra-talented Aldon Smith instead of the safer J.J. Watt in 2011 when he was in San Francisco. He also used a lot of his highest picks with the 49ers on defensive linemen (including DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead), and has shown a tendency to draft players based on athletic potential rather than tangible production. (He also drafts a bunch of guys with torn ACLs, hoping to get premium talent at scratch-and-dent prices. That included a second- and third-rounder last year in Jacksonville. It hasn't always worked out.)
That's a long way of saying, who knows what he's going to do with the first pick? Hutchinson seems like the safest play, a Bosa-brother-style defensive end who has shown what he can do. But Walker has climbed in the public consciousness after putting up impressive testing numbers this offseason (a 4.51-second 40 at 275 pounds). He didn't put up huge numbers at Georgia (7.5 sacks), but he was surrounded by a lot of other productive players there.
Mostly, he seems to fit Baalke's type. It would surprise no one in the league if Walker turns out to be the first pick. The same is true of about a half-dozen other guys.
View pictures of all of Carolina's first-round draft picks back to 2002 when Carolina picked Julius Peppers second overall.