We come not to praise Josh Norman. We come to bury him. So goes the Shakspearean thought process. So goes the Carolina Panthers offseason.
The All Pro CB is now patrolling the Washington backfield and hopefully he enjoyed the taste of the NFC East he received last year as it’s now a full time gig. In the mean time the Josh Norman replacement search is in full swing.
The NFL is a resource management puzzle. The Panthers spent a ton of draft value in addressing their heretofore dominant backfield opening. What did they get for their draft lucre?
CB James Bradberry – 6’1″ 211 lbs Samford Southern 4.50 40 yard dash
CB Daryl Worley – 6’1″ 204 lbs West Virginia 4.64 40 yard dash
CB Zack Sanchez – 5’11” 185 lbs Oklahoma 4.48 40 yard dash
Tall, rangy, physical, raw press corners all sharing “great ball skills” who are officially in the Ron Rivera training regimen which “coached up” Josh Norman from a 2012 fifth round pick to a 2016 All Pro.
Two things here. First, Josh Norman had the talent to become an All Pro. Secondly Ron Rivera is a renowned defensive coach for a reason. The importance of fulfilling both criteria can’t be overstated if you want to “replace” Josh Norman versus “get by” without him. In the NFL you need a stud CB. “Replacing” Norman is the goal.
Second round rookie Bradberry has the inside track but is not alone. I can easily see him on one side and fellow third round rookie Daryl Worley manning the other in short order. Of course you can’t leave out fifth round selection Zack Sanchez considering the Panthers fifth round successes. Both All Pro Norman and soon to be All Pro Benwikere were drafted in the fifth.
RCB Bene’ Benwikere is 5’11” 195 lbs and has some serious ball skills. Drafted in the 2014 draft after the club traded the Vikings a fifth and seventh round pick in order to move up and select him. Started in the slot as a rookie he is currently penciled in on the right side.
Benwikere had a stellar rookie campaign and was breaking out in 2015. In a late game (December) against the Falcons he fractured his leg and hit the IR. Ouch, but the upside is clearly there. Bene’ should be a mainstay in the Panthers backfield for years to come. All Pro status is in his future.
LCB Robert McClain is 5’9″ 195 lbs and has good speed. Drafted originally in the 2010 seventh round by Carolina he was released in 2011. He bounced around the league seeing time with the Jaguars, Falcons and Patriots before singing as a free agent (again) with the Panthers in 2015.
McClain is a “good” player. He looks to be a solid ‘bridge” between now and when one of the three rookies takes over. I believe he is more suited to the slot where his speed and quickness translate better. If one of the rooks steps it up the move could happen sooner rather than later.
Carolina got by “just fine: in 2015 after Benwikere went down and should do “just fine” sans Josh Norman in 2016. But as soon as one of the rookies (maybe two?) step up their game Ron Rivera’s DB’s will go from “just fine” to “dominant.”
The search will continue until it’s over. I have no doubt in my mind the replacement was drafted in 2016 and is currently on the roster. The Panthers track record at the position is too solid to doubt. Second rounder Bradberry has to be the favorite with third round selection Worley right behind him. But I like fifth rounder Zack Sanchez. Why? #ComeOnMan – Josh Norman and Bene’ Benwikere were fifth rounders and third times a charm.
Suffice to say attacking the Panthers backfield in 2016 isn’t going to be pleasant for opposing QB’s and WR’s. That’s championship football.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over