Carolina Panthers exploring all options at 2022 NFL combine to find remedies to rebuild offense
The Carolina Panthers 2021 season ended in disappointment due to myriad issues on both sides of the ball. But nothing was more evident than the leaky offensive line that fielded more than ten different combination over the course of the season. Adding to the list of issues was the ever-revolving situation at quarterback due to Sam Darnold's failure to launch and the lack of time with the playbook for Cam Newton 2.0 to have a real chance at making an impact. Not even the dismissal of former Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady appeared to effect the trajectory of the seemingly flawed system he left behind.
Fast forward to the 2022 NFL combine. Carolina panthers General Manager Scott Fitterer is on a mission to do some serious damage control. Fitterer's statements on Wednesday seem to echo what many critics in the sports world have already note. "We went into this offseason with an emphasis on the offensive line," Fitterer said.
"The biggest thing we want is to have options at pick 6."
In mock drafts, there are some really good options to fit both primary categories the Panthers need to rebuild.
Offensive lineman Charles Cross out of Mississippi State will likely be the best option available to the Panthers who currently have the 6th pick. Cross is an athletic offensive tackle who had a strong season for Mississippi State and would be a good fit in the type of offenses that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo likes to create. McAdoo is well known for the simplicity of offensive schemes which would be better for Cross to absorb quickly and have a greater chance to make an early impact. McAdoo has also worked in various offensive roles over the past few season showing noticeable progress in the areas he's coached. Aside from being able to protect the primary signal caller, the offense should have a fairly good chance to rebound.
Then there is the quarterback position. Fitterer and Panthers head coach
Matt Rhule have both talked openly about quarterbacks and the possibility of choosing a quarterback in the draft but stopped short of saying that it was a higher priority than solving other offensive issues. "It's a really important decision for us ...do we go the free agent route ...do we go through the draft," Fitterer said.
"That's definitely a priority for us as well as the offensive line."
However, it may not be in their best interest to overlook drafting a long-term option for the front line. Not being able to effectively protect, even the best at the quarterback position, would evolve into an exercise in futility and stifle the development of a very expensive project. Whoever they might select for the quarterback position, whether from the draft board or from free agency, which begins March 16, will need to make an immediate impact. A big factor in that decision, however, is the $18.9 million guaranteed to Sam Darnold since the team picked up the fifth-year option on Darnold's contract last offseason.
Malik Willis out of Liberty University is the top prospect at the position this year. Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett is right on his heels as a needle threading passer who threw for 4,319 yards last season. His talent at feeding receivers combined the a sneaky athleticism helped boost him into the spotlite as a Heisman finalist where his stock has remained elevated.
While Fitterer believes there are quarterbacks in this year's draft that can make a more immediate impact, Rhule maintains that it's too earlier to what he thinks will define such a player. "It's too early to tell," Rhule said.
"So much of this is to not let there be any sort of bias in your head ...history has shown that they are there if you'll put the work in."
Many speculate that Matt Rhule only has this upcoming season to turn things around or he's likely out as head coach. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That is why there may be some blockbuster moves coming that include some names that were, at one time, deemed untouchable.
The NFL combine continues through Monday, March 7.