CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, considered the premier blocker in this draft, has been selected sixth in the first round by quarterback-hungry Carolina.
The Charlotte native was the first offensive player chosen. It’s the first draft since 1991 that no player on offense went in the top five.
Using long arms and mobility at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Ekwonu has been a team leader for the Wolfpack. He should start immediately at tackle for the Panthers — and whomever is their starting QB.
Nicknamed “Ickey” after former Bengals running back Ickey Woods by a youth football coach, Ekwonu can get too aggressive at times and had 10 penalties in his career. He probably had three times as many pancake blocks.
“I’m just going to do everything I can to be the best player, best person I can be," Ekwonu said after being drafted. "I’m from the area. I love Charlotte so much.”
Prior to the draft, Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer informed current starter Sam Darnold the team plans to add another quarterback soon.
While this is not considered a strong quarterback class — and many draft pundits question whether any of them are worthy of being selected in the top 10 — Fitterer had said ahead of the draft, the Panthers would feel comfortable taking one with the No. 6 pick.
Fitterer said trading for a veteran remains an option but that likely wouldn’t happen until after the NFL draft. He wouldn’t discuss specific players on other NFL teams because of league rules, but San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield are among the veteran QBs on the trade market.
The top quarterbacks in this draft were considered to be Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Mississippi’s Matt Corral. The Panthers met with those three QBs in person, as well as North Carolina's Sam Howell, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, and Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe during the pre-draft process.
Currently, Darnold and P.J. Walker are the only quarterbacks on the Panthers' roster.
“In our conversation, I said, ‘Hey listen, we are going to add to this group' through this weekend," Fitterer said of his meeting with Darnold on Monday. "It's open competition. It's his spot right now. But whoever can take this spot and run with it, we're going to do that. So he was good with that. We are on the same page. We know we need to stabilize that position and we're looking forward to adding to it."
Darnold struggled in his first season in Carolina after the team traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks to the New York Jets. After leading the Panthers to a 3-0 start, Darnold went 1-7 the rest of the season, completing 59.9% of his passes with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He was sacked 35 times in 12 games.
The Panthers are limited in what they can do in the draft. The Panthers don’t have picks in the second and third rounds and their second selection isn't until No. 137 overall.