Ikem Ekwonu was the ‘best-case scenario’ for Panthers

The doomsday scenario for the Carolina Panthers was very much in play on Thursday night. That prospect would’ve seen each of the 2022 draft’s top three offensive linemen—Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal and Charles Cross—off the board by the time the sixth overall pick hit the clock.

But, it didn’t happen that way. In fact, the exact opposite happened, and the Panthers couldn’t believe it.

General manager Scott Fitterer spoke to team media shortly after their pleasantly stunning selection of Ekwonu, and said everything rolled the right way.

“I was actually very surprised that all three tackles were there,” Fitterer said. “We started to hear that four defenders may go first—1, 2, 3, 4. But in this situation, this is the best-case scenario for us. I can’t say a couple days ago, we’d ever thought this would happen.”

The Panthers’ pick was preceded by five defenders, in fact—Travon Walker to Jacksonville, Aidan Hutchinson to Detroit, Derek Stingley Jr. to Houston, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner to the New York Jets and Kayvon Thibodeaux to the New York Giants. And it was that last choice, with the Oregon pass rusher going to Big Blue, that really gave Carolina their pick of the lot.

“We were pleasantly surprised as it went,” Fitterer added. “The Giants—we didn’t know what they were gonna do. In that situation, with all three [offensive linemen] on the board, we thought they could go a pass rusher at that point and not tackle and still get their guy at 7, one of the three at 7. Overall, we were very excited and we can’t wait to get this guy here.”

Head coach Matt Rhule was, obviously, extremely pleased as well. He praised Ekwonu, with his massive on-field talents aside, for his overall presence as a human being.

“I think when he came in the building, it was like a bolt of energy,” Rhule said of Ekwonu’s visit prior to the draft. “Just really a special person to go along with his physical style of play.”

Luckily for Rhule, Fitterer and the Panthers, that certainly won’t be the last time the electric Ekwonu enters that building.

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