CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers addressed a longstanding need on Thursday night, selecting offensive tackle Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu from North Carolina State with the sixth pick in the NFL draft.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Ekwonu is expected to be penciled in to start right away at left tackle.
Ekwonu, whose nickname “Ickey” was given to him by a youth football coach who thought he played like former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods, is considered light on his feet and has the ability to lock up defenders with his long arms.
Carolina entered the draft with two glaring needs — quarterback and left tackle — and for weeks fans have debated which direction the team should go. But this draft was heavy on offensive tackles and light on standout quarterbacks, so the Panthers elected to add a pass protector.
It helped that the first five players selected in the draft were defensive players, the first time that has happened since 1991. That gave the Panthers the choice of Ekwonu and Alabama’s Evan Neal, who went one pick behind Ekwonu to the New York Giants.
Ekwonu becomes the first offensive tackle selected by the Panthers since Jeff Otah in 2008.
Carolina has struggled to find a consistency at the position since Michael Oher retired in 2016, one year after the Panthers reached the Super Bowl. Carolina has not made the playoffs since 2017.
The Panthers allowed 52 sacks last season, fifth-most in the NFL and their quarterbacks spent the season under major duress most of the year.
General manager Scott Fitterer put a big emphasis on revamping the interior offensive line via free agency, adding guard Austin Corbett from the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and center Bradley Bozeman from the Baltimore Ravens to fill needs.
Ekwonu adds to that list of improvements on the O-line.
Ekwonu wore a green and white suit to the draft representing his Nigerian heritage.
The Panthers don’t have a draft pick on Friday after trading away their second and third round draft picks last year for quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback C.J. Henderson, respectively. They aren’t slated to pick again until the fourth round (No. 137) on Saturday.