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Why Matt Corral could jumpstart the Carolina Panthers’ turnaround

Former Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral came off the board a bit later than expected in the 2022 NFL Draft, ultimately landing with the Carolina Panthers in the third round at pick No. 94 overall. That was far too low in the eyes of many and a reason why we could look back at this draft in the future and view Corral as one of the biggest steals.

Corral was highly touted by a number of analysts and made a good impression upon scouts with his stellar play — even in the face of injury and adverse conditions — during the 2021 season. Some, like myself, even pinned him as the best quarterback available in the draft.

2022 NFL Draft QB Rankings

(1) Carson Strong
(2) Kenny Pickett
(3) Matt Corral
(4) Malik Willis

Crissy Froyd

But he seemed to take a back seat during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine and showcases ahead of it like the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the Shrine Bowl, the obvious reason being that he didn’t throw at the combine and wasn’t invited to attend those offseason showcases because he didn’t meet the eligibility criteria. Though, it’s more than reasonable to assume he would have had a place at the Senior Bowl if he had exhausted his college eligibility.

“My game is not necessarily underrated, it just hasn’t been talked about as much because I didn’t get a chance to do those things,” Matt Corral told me at the NFL Draft. “The chance I got to show what I can do for the scouts of all 32 NFL teams was when I was healthy during the season and then I felt like I continued to show that I’m ready to take the next step to the NFL at my pro day.”

One of the main questions about Corral ahead of the draft was whether out not he’d be able to smoothly transition from the “score from far” offense with a lot of run-pass options (RPOs) within it that he operated so well under Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. And it continues to exist considering all that was seen of Corral after his Sugar Bowl injury was his performance at pro day.

68% completion, 3,349 passing yards, 614 rushing yards, 31 total TD, 5 INT

Matt Corral Ole Miss Stats (2021)

Matt Corral: “Chip on my shoulder… just got even bigger”

Between some of that skepticism, falling in the draft and the rumors surrounding Corral’s maturity, it’s safe to assume Corral is going out with something to prove ahead of his first season in the NFL. Both the quarterback and Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has said talk about Corral’s maturity level is unsubstantiated.

“I mean, I had a chip on my shoulder before. But it just got even bigger,” Corral said during Carolina’s rookie minicamp Friday. “(Draft night) was for sure, a roller coaster. It was a bunch of mixed emotions. When I got that phone call, I have truly never been happy and sad at the same time. I’ve never felt that before.”

The Panthers’ situation at quarterback is an interesting one that has some question marks surrounding it. The room outside of Corral is composed of Sam Darnold, who was last year’s starting quarterback, former XFL star PJ Walker, who has seen the field in limited action in his time with Carolina, undrafted rookie Davis Cheek, and tryout quarterback Anthony Russo out of Michigan State.

Obviously, this will shift when it comes time to cut down to the 53-man roster and sort out the practice squad. It also wouldn’t be incredibly surprising if the Panthers aren’t quite done yet at quarterback. Rhule recently said in a meeting with the media that he “wouldn’t say no” to adding a veteran passer, while Darnold would be the starter if the season were to begin today.

Related: Ranking Matt Corral and all 2022 rookie QBs

“Video game-like accuracy” at Ole Miss

carolina panthers qb matt corral
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While the transition from the college offense to the pro level is something that has come into question, it’s important to look at a quarterback from a purely individual perspective as well. With the way the NFL is trending toward quarterbacks who are solid passers from the pocket but who can also use their legs when necessary, Corral checks a lot of boxes.

He made a significant improvement between the 2020 and 2021 seasons in his decision-making and release time, receiving praise from Kiffin for his “video game-like accuracy” that he only kept building on. What was equally as admirable were the intangibles and the tough mobility he showed throughout the season, even while he was playing hurt to move the chains and put his team in the best position possible at perhaps his own cost.

Rhule and many others were impressed with what they saw watching the film from Ole Miss.

“When we watched the tape, we loved the way that Matt played. At the end of the day when we went back, we loved the way he played,” Rhule said in a report from team reporter Darin Gantt. “His release, his moxie. He’s gotten injured a little bit because he runs guys over or tries to run guys over. But at the end of the day, it’s still a game of who has the ability to throw the ball. And we just love the way he throws the ball. His release, his vision, his timing — we thought it would translate over to this level.”

Related: Carolina Panthers 2022 schedule and game-by-game predictions

Matt Corral is very much a quarterback who has a shot at being a successful long-term starter if he hits his ceiling. That’s something that shouldn’t be considered far-fetched to happen in Carolina, either, considering he arguably already has the greatest upside of any other quarterback in that room.

Projected Carolina Panthers depth chart at QB

  1. Sam Darnold
  2. Matt Corral
  3. PJ Walker

Corral has the greatest upside of any Panthers quarterback

The Panthers have struggled to find an answer at quarterback over recent years and it wouldn’t be surprising to see their depth chart shift multiple times in the coming seasons.

Just over two years ago after Rhule was hired, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater — only to trade him one year later. Darnold was their next acquisition in April of 2021 and they picked up his $18.9 million fifth-year option for 2022 before he put out an overall subpar performance in a season shortened by injury.

Darnold has his work cut out for him to prove himself as he’s shown both inconsistency and decision-making issues over his NFL career. He completed less than 60% of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2021.

Outside of Rhule clearly indicating that he’s open to the idea of a veteran quarterback, Carolina has shown in many ways it’s keeping its options open. That is especially true when it was in the mix for ex-Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in March. Based on the way things look now, it seems like it could be sooner rather than later that Matt Corral takes the helm.

Regardless of how things ultimately shake out, the former Rebels quarterback is going into his NFL career with a QB1 mentality.

“If I know the playbook, I’m going to be ready to play,” Corral said. “As far as getting ready to be a starter, of course, my mentality is to be a starter. But right now, I’m trying to get on that 53-man roster.”