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Carolina Panthers use 3rd-round draft pick on QB Matt Corral amid Baker Mayfield trade speculation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With reports swirling Friday night that the Carolina Panthers could trade for disgruntled Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, general manager Scott Fitterer waited patiently and traded into the third round for Ole Miss’ Matt Corral.

While Fitterer didn’t completely rule out adding a veteran to the quarterback room that now includes Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker and Corral, he emphatically said the Panthers are “happy with the group we have.”

“I never put an absolute on anything,” Fitterer said after Day 2 of the NFL draft. “We came into this weekend with the intention of getting a quarterback, and that’s what we did. And we’re going to go with this group.”

The Panthers spent a lot of time evaluating the top five quarterbacks for the draft, but after selecting NC State State left tackle Ikem Ekwonu with the sixth overall pick Thursday, Carolina was left without another pick until the fourth round.

Fitterer, who told starter Darnold earlier in the week he planned to add another quarterback over the weekend, didn’t have to pull the trigger on a trade in the second round as no quarterback was taken after Kenny Pickett went No. 20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After Desmond Ridder (Atlanta Falcons) and Malik Willis (Tennessee Titans) went in the third round, Fitterer made his move knowing the price would be considerably cheaper. He traded Carolina’s fourth-round pick (No. 137) and next year’s third-round pick to the New England Patriots to select Corral at No. 94.

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A league source told ESPN that adding a quarterback in the draft always was Fitterer’s first choice, although the Panthers hadn’t totally ruled out a trade for Mayfield if the Browns agreed to pay a large portion of his 2022 salary ($18.58 million).

The two sides never got close enough to make a deal agreeable.

“I believe in drafting and developing new guys,” said Fitterer, who was part of the Seattle Seahawks front office in 2012 when they selected Russell Wilson in the third round. “We needed a young guy that we’re going to have to develop for the future of this team.”

Corral, 23, finished his four years at Ole Miss with a 67.3% completion percentage. He had 57 touchdown passes to 23 interceptions, but had a ratio of 20 touchdown passes to five picks in 2021. He also rushed for 614 yards this past season.

“He’s got the quickest release we’ve seen in a quarterback in quite some time,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “The fearlessness with which he plays with. … He’s just constantly working on his game.

“And so for a young, developmental quarterback, he’s got all the physical tools. And he also seems to have the mental makeup.”

But what attracted the Panthers to Corral went beyond statistics. Rhule noted the way Corral’s teammates rallied around him to catch passes as he waited for the television networks to give him the official go-ahead to throw on his pro day.

Rhule also noted how teammates rallied around Corral after he suffered a leg injury in the Sugar Bowl. He added there were no major concerns about Corral’s struggles with depression that the quarterback opened up about in a 2019 interview.

“We’re going to bring him along slow,” said Rhule, adding Darnold would be the starter if the season started Friday. “We’re going to train him from the ground up. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s got a lot to do. But I am unbelievably fired up to get Ickey yesterday, to have Matt Corral today.

“Shoot, I can’t wait for tomorrow. Kenny Chesney and this. What could be better in Charlotte?”

Rhule was referring the country music star performing Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Corral was just ready to get started, period.

“Being an NFL quarterback is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 6 years old,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words. I couldn’t be more excited to get back to work and actually play the game of football again.”

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