Carolina Panthers trade up, draft Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral in third round

Published 7:33 pm Saturday, April 30, 2022

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By Steve Reed, AP Sports Writer

The Carolina Panthers finally got their quarterback, selecting Matt Corral from Mississippi after trading up into the bottom half of the third round on Friday night.

He was the fourth quarterback taken in the draft following Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Liberty’s Malik Willis. The Panthers gave up this year’s fourth round pick (No. 137) and next year’s third-round pick to the New England Patriots to move up to 94.

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Corral expected to go much higher in the draft.

“It was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for sure,” Corral said of his slide. “You just have to control what you can control. I felt like I put my best foot forward (in the draft process) and you just got to let go and let God take control.”

The Panthers plan to bring Corral along slowly and let him develop.

Carolina coach Matt Rhule said Sam Darnold is the team’s starter heading into the season and likes that there won’t be any pressure on Corral to play right away since he’s not a first-round draft pick.

“The transition from college to the NFL is really hard and over the last couple of years guys who have tried to make that transition and play right away haven’t been real successful,” Rhule said. “… In a perfect world, coming from a dynamic, fun spread offense that he was in with Lake Kiffin, the differences in the game it is going to take some time.”

Corral is considered an athletic and nimble runner and passer who can make throws from all angles. While he doesn’t have great size at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, Corral rarely shies away from contact.

In four years at Mississippi, Corral threw for 57 touchdowns and 23 interceptions while completing 67.3% of his passes for 8,287 yards. He also ran for 1,338 yards and 18 TDs.

The Panthers have been searching for quarterback stability for the last three years.

Teddy Bridgewater was brought in to replace 2015 league MVP Cam Newton in 2020, but he went 4-11 as a starter and was jettisoned after one season. Carolina turned to Darnold last year, trading three draft picks to the New York Jets for the former No. 3 overall pick. But Darnold struggled mightily, finishing the season with 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. Carolina even brought back Newton midseason, but he went 0-5 as a starter.

This offseason Carolina unsuccessfully attempted to trade for QB Deshaun Watson, who wound up in Cleveland.

Earlier this week general manager Scott Fitterer informed Darnold that he planned to add a quarterback. The Panthers passed on a QB with the No. 6 pick, taking offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu from North Carolina State.

Carolina entered the night without a pick in the second or third round.

Fitterer said he had several chances to trade up into the second round to get a quarterback, but decided to be patient — largely because he didn’t want to give up a first- or second-round pick in next year’s draft.

Fitterer added that he wouldn’t rule out trading for a veteran quarterback despite the addition of Corral. The Panthers had some conversations with the Cleveland Browns about Baker Mayfield during the draft, but no deal ever materialized.

“I have always believed in drafting and developing your guys,” Fitterer said. “Obviously there is a market out there where you can go find guys that are veterans. But we needed a young guy of our own to develop as the future of this team.”

Corral has talked openly about battling depression while playing at Mississippi.

“I think everyone goes through things in their life and I think we do a really good job of trying to delineate between people who have a problem that can’t be overcome and people who are going through something in their lives,” Rhule said. “When I was 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 I went through things.

“I really respect people who went through things and are really powerful enough and open enough to talk about them,” the coach added. “And Matt is definitely one of those guys.”