Brayden Kameron Stamps
The 2022 NFL season has reached its climax, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI and we now sit just a month away from the beginning of the new league year on March 16. With the new league year comes new promises of hope for those 30 desolate fanbases watching the euphoria of the Super Bowl experience from their couches.
That takes us to our beloved yet woebegone Carolina Panthers. Coming off a 5-12 season that concluded with a brutal and humbling seven-game losing streak that eliminated all hope that came with a promising 3-0 start to the season. That very fresh wound was salted in the eyes of the many-a-Panthers fan when it was announced that head coach Matt Rhule would be returning to the organization for a third season despite his 10-22 record during his first two years at the helm at 800 S. Mint St.
However, as the old adage goes, “time marches on,” and with the retirements of NFC South mainstays such as Tom Brady and Sean Payton, the Panthers find themselves with the opportunity to elevate themselves from the catacombs of the NFL standings if they make the right moves in the off-season.
With only 28 million dollars in available cap space and key free agents such as Stephon Gilmore, Hassan Reddick, and Donte Jackson needing to be re-signed, the Panthers’ most likely path to taking a significant step forward next season is through the NFL Draft. Let’s imagine what that could possibly look like.
Round 1 Pick 6: Trade w/ Philadelphia Eagles for picks 15, 19 & 51
As a result of trades made in the last year for Sam Darnold and CJ Henderson respectively, the Panthers find themselves without any selections in the second and third rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
With the top two offensive tackles (Alabama’s Evan Neal and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu) in the class likely unavailable at this point, look for GM Scott Fitterer to look to trade down and recoup some of the value lost in the aforementioned trades.
As for the Eagles, they have three first-round picks this draft and may want to use their excess of assets to move up and acquire a blue-chip talent in Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, a safety whom many scouts considered to be the best pure talent in the class.
Round 1 Pick 15: OT Taylor Penning, Northern Iowa, 6’7” 322 lbs
Now back on the clock, the Carolina Panthers select Penning who my scouting source views as the third-best offensive tackle in the class over the more popular Charles Cross out of Mississippi State. With one of the best anchors in the class, Penning should be a plus run blocker from day one and has the athletic upside to develop into a pass protector that can stop the speed rushing Brian Burns’ of the world. This selection would also allow the Panthers to move the undersized Brady Christensen to Guard which is the preference of Matt Rhule and the coaching staff.
Round 1 Pick 19: Trade w/ Detroit Lions for picks 32, 34 & 83
With HC Dan Campbell attempting to turn over and instill a new culture of “knee-biting” toughness in the Motor City, The Lions use one of the picks they received for Matthew Stafford to trade up and select LB Devin Lloyd from Utah, addressing a long-time position of need for Detroit. I have had two scouting sources refer to Lloyd as their number one linebacker in the class.
As for the Panthers, GM Scott Fitterer continues his trend of trade downs that he displayed in last year’s draft where the Panthers made 11 selections after making the most draft-day trades in franchise history. This trade also aligns with Fitterer’s philosophy of valuing prospects taken between picks 16-40 of being worth virtually the same amount of value. So, look for this to be a place for yet another trade back.
Round 1 Pick 32: EDGE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State, 6’5” 262 lbs
With the penultimate pick of day one, the Panthers hit a homerun with FSU’s Jermaine Johnson. After falling out of academic favor in a stacked Georgia defense in 2020, Johnson burst onto the scene in 2021 after transferring to FSU and finishing the season with 12 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Johnson’s fan club only expanded at the Senior Bowl where he was so dominant he departed from Mobile after only two practices where many scouts considered them the biggest winner of the event.
Much like his fellow Seminole alumnus and hypothetical Panthers teammate Brian Burns, Johnson is a pure physical specimen at the edge position with a lethal combination of strength and speed. With Hassan Reddick entering free agency and very likely getting offers outside of the Panthers’ limited price range, look for Johnson to be an immediate replacement at the position to give the Panthers one of the most talented young pass-rushing trios in the NFL with Brian Burns, three-technique Yetur Gross-Matos, and Jermaine Johson.
Round 2 Pick 34: S Lewis Cine, Georgia 6’1” 200 lbs
With two-high safety looks making a heavy reemergence in recent seasons as a counter to the rise of these dominant young quarterbacks who can vertically thrash defenses, the Panthers add one of the only missing pieces from last year’s surprisingly dominant defensive unit.
A member of the dominant Georgia defense this past season, Cine has prototypical size and length at the safety position and brings a physical presence to defending the run game. Expect him and Jeremy Chinn to form an elite duo of young safeties.
Round 2 Pick 51: LB Leo Chenal, Wisconsin, 6’2” 255 lbs
Matt Rhule made it clear with his infamous decision to draft exclusively defensive players in the 2019 Draft that his vision for the Carolina Panthers will be accomplished through building a dominant defensive unit. And despite all of the accolades and praise heaped upon the young upstart defense, one weakness it had was a fairly average run defense that had some stinkers against very physical teams such as the Cowboys, Washington, and Eagles.
Thus here in the second round, the Panthers look to pair a big physical run-stuffing presence at linebacker next to the hyper-athletic Shaq Thompson. Chenal was a monster in his final season with the Badgers posting 115 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and eight sacks in just 11 games played.
2022 Carolina Panthers Three Round Mock Draft Round 3 Pick 66: OLB Quay Walker, Georgia 6’4’ 240 lbs
With the departure of Hasan Reddick, the Panthers require replenished depth at the position. While Jermaine Johnson will replenish the value lost in Reddick’s pass-rushing skills, Walker will help fill in some of the hybrid LB coverage responsibilities as well as provide quality depth behind Shaq Thompson and Leo Chanel at ILB.
Round 4 Pick 105: OT Sean Rhyan, UCLA, 6’5” 320 lbs
Round 5 Pick 142: DT Neil Farrel, LSU 6’4’ 340 lbs
Round 5 Pick 147: C/IOL Alec Lindstrom, Boston College 6’3” 298 lbs
Round 6 Pick 199: OL Nick Ford, Utah 6’5” 317 lbs
Round 7 Pick 220: TE Cameron Latu, Alabama 6’5” 250 lbs