Now that draft week (and weekend) is behind us, let's take a look at how Fitterer maneuvered the draft board this year. Going into the draft without a 2nd or 3rd round pick really hurt Carolina's chances of moving up or down on Day 2 but we did see the front office pull the trigger on two trade-ups in the 2nd & 4th rounds respectfully.
***TRADE*** Round 3 Pick 94 Ole Miss QB Matt Corral; Carolina sends #137, 2023 3rd to New England for #94
While many fans, including myself, were disappointed the front office couldn't snag Liberty's charismatic QB Malik Willis, it seems that Corral was their #1 quarterback all along. Before the draft, Fitterer mentioned that he was comfortable selecting "a couple" QBs at No. 6 prompting national analysts to speculate about connections between Rhule (who recruited him while at Temple), Tepper (Pittsburgh native), and Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett. However, following Day 3 selections, Rhule said that they would've taken Corral "high." It makes you wonder if they had a first-round grade on him.
Regardless, the former Ole Miss signal-caller is a perfect fit for Ben McAdoo's quick passing and up-tempo offense. Lane Kiffin's scheme featured lots of RPO (run-pass-option) concepts, forcing Corral to make quick decisions on the fly. This should bode well for his prospects in the pros, where you don't have the advantage of being one of the most talented players on the field. The QB competition should be one of the more interesting position battles come training camp.
***TRADE*** Round 4 Pick 120 Penn State LB Brandon Smith; Carolina sends #142, #147 to Washington for #120, #189
Yet again, Fitterer trades up to get his guy; his guy is in the form of Brandon Smith, an uber-athletic off-ball linebacker who needs some time to develop but has shown plenty of flashes in-game. In 2021, Smith racked up a career-high 81 tackles, 9 TFLs, 2 sacks, 5 PD, and 1 forced fumble. There's no question he has the potential to be a high-level player coming out of "Linebacker U." Especially when considering the depth behind Shaq Thompson, the 21-year-old could get some early playing time.
Round 6 Pick 189 Virginia Tech EDGE Amare Barno
For most that stay involved with the draft process, it wasn't too much of a surprise to see the Panthers pull the trigger on the fastest defensive end in the draft, who clocked in with a 4.36 40 time. Rhule has always been enamored with "traitsy" prospects and even brought the former Hokie in for a private visit at BOA stadium; Fitterer later admitted they were going for toolsy players on Day 3 as evidenced by Barno's elite athletic ability.
While he certainly has some speed, there is a reason he fell to the 6th round. He recently transitioned from LB but started to learn the more modern position of edge this past season. Burns should serve as a mentor to him as he grows into his 6'6 frame but I think he'll contribute in a rotational role in his first season alongside players like Marquis Haynes, Austin Larkins, and Darryl Johnson.
Round 6 Pick 199 Tennessee OL Cade Mays
The Panthers seem to keep adding athletic maulers to the mix this offseason as they prioritize a focus on the run game with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Cade Mays isn't much different. Standing at 6'6 325, the former Vol and Bulldog has played all over the line, including time at center, as well as both guard and tackle spots. Under line coach James Campen, he'll likely practice more with the interior group, competing with players like Brady Christensen, Dennis Daley, Michael Jordan, and Deonte Brown for the left guard spot, or a valuable depth piece. Make no mistake, this was a steal for Carolina in my eyes.
Round 7 Pick 242 Baylor CB Kalon Barnes
The name of his game is speed. Barnes recorded the fastest 40 times in the 2022 combine at 4.23. Other than that, the former Baylor Bear should compete near the bottom of the depth chart or even be redshirted for his rookie year; the Panthers just have an abundance of talent at the corner position (Horn, Jackson, Henderson, Melvin, Taylor Jr, STO). This pick doesn't make sense when you consider that but then you factor in Rhule's love for his college players. Every draft will feature either a Baylor or Temple player, fans just have to accept it.
What were y'all's thoughts on the Panthers draft weekend? Did they take full advantage of their draft capital? Leave any comments or concerns below.