Three weeks ago, Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports mocked where no mocker mocked before and sent quarterback Malik Willis to the Carolina Panthers with his sixth overall projection. At that time, the connection seemed like a bit of a reach.
Well, not anymore.
After an eye-opening week in Mobile, Ala., the Senior Bowl standout has seen his draft stock rise. And it’s taken such a bump that another prominent draft analyst is buying a ticket onto the Willis-to-Carolina train. On Monday, it was ESPN’s Jordan Reid.
“After the Panthers played musical chairs with quarterbacks in 2021, they take a swing on the raw talent of Willis,” Reid writes in his new mock draft. The big QB decision they have is this: Do they go with the class’ most physically gifted thrower in Willis or think about Kenny Pickett, who’s more ready to play right away? Willis is a long-term project, so the challenging part for the Panthers is remaining patient and developing him considering the pressure on the coaching staff to win entering Year 3 for Matt Rhule.”
As Reid alludes to, Rhule’s hot seat and Willis’ trajectory as a prospect could steer the Panthers away from such a selection. With Carolina having turned in a second consecutive five-win campaign—with this latest one ending in an embarrassing seven-game losing streak—Rhule must produce better results in 2022 and Willis may not be ready to contribute to that just yet.
Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis or OL?
That’s the question that the #Panthers have to answer at No. 6 overall.
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) February 7, 2022
Reid also mentions that Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer, in a very different approach, could seek to sell off their sixth pick in moving down the first-round order. This would be a pretty wise strategy considering their trades for quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback CJ Henderson have left them without any second or third-round picks.
“This could also be a spot to watch for a trade down, and Carolina—which hasn’t drafted an offensive lineman in Round 1 since Jeff Otah in 2008—could look to the O-line, too,” he adds.
It’s still too early to predict, but could the Panthers try to play it safe by recouping draft capital or might they look to swing for those fences with the upside of Willis?