How Panthers skipping Malik Willis shows they could still make a run for Baker Mayfield

Oklahoma Spring Game QB Baker Mayfield
Oklahoma Spring Game QB Baker Mayfield

The Carolina Panthers were expected to pick a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Instead, they opted to play it safe and picked offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu.

So does that mean Sam Darnold is safe in his job as the team's starting quarterback? That may be a premature assumption, given that Baker Mayfield still needs to be traded by the Cleveland Browns.

The #Panthers have their pick of all the OTs and all the QBs. No trade. So at No. 6, they go with NC State OT Ikem Ekwonu, their top tackle on their board. They considered QB, but go with them top player.

Passing on a quarterback in the draft could indicate that the team intends to land the Browns star.

Why the Panthers passed on a top quarterback

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers

Countless times, it has been noted that the 2022 quarterback class is not an elite one. That is why defensive players flew off the board right away.

So the Panthers played it safe and took a foundational piece in Ekwonu with the sixth overall pick. If he flops, it will be hard to fault Carolina, given his high rating in nearly every mock draft.

But there is another reason why Carolina passed on the likes of Willis and Pickett. Darnold is set to play on his fifth-year option in 2022. The team traded for him a year ago, investing draft capital in the hopes he could turn into something extraordinary.

Drafting a young quarterback in 2022 would prove that decision was a failure. In that scenario, jobs could be lost.

A trade for Mayfield is a more wide-open situation for all sides involved. He, too, is set to play on a fifth-year option in 2022. The Panthers can swing a deal where the Browns may have to take on much of the quarterback's salary. This creates a low-risk, high-reward situation where two of the top signal-callers from the 2018 NFL Draft compete to be the future in Carolina.

From our NFL Draft coverage: The #Panthers select at top OT, meaning they still need a QB. They could circle back on Baker Mayfield.

If both fail? The team has a top offensive lineman and can rely on a stacked 2023 quarterback class to land a franchise cornerstone.

Passing on a quarterback does not ensure that the Panthers will go after Mayfield. However, it keeps the possibility alive because it is hard to imagine the team opening up the season with Darnold as the starting quarterback. This is a scenario where Matt Rhule could lose his job, regardless of how well Ekwonu plays.

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Edited by Jay Lokegaonkar
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