Carolina Panthers: Development of the Defensive Backfield

Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (43) carries the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (24) tackles in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

While 2016 wasn’t the greatest year, there are visions of improvement in the future of the Carolina Panthers defensive backfield.

At the end of the 2015 campaign, Carolina Panthers fans were wondering how the team was going to handle the Josh Norman situation. He was coming off of two big seasons as one of the best secondary players in the league and it was his time on the free agent market.

However, in a move that’s consistent with past practices, the Panthers allowed Norman to leave and turned to the draft to re-staff the backfield. The results seemed rocky at first, but after the 2016 season fans should expect improvement by the back group.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman turned to the draft to pick up James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez in hopes that the group to replace Norman’s production. At first things were not panning out well, but before the end of the season Bradberry and Worley showed a level of unexpected improvement. Both individuals received strong grades from Pro Football Focus (Bradberry received an 82.6 and Worley earned a 75.5). Both of which are strong scores if compared to how they played at the start of the season.

The big concern is where will the veteran leadership come from. Not only did the Panthers lose Josh Norman, but Charles Tillman decided to retire at the end of the 2015 season. That left Bene Benwikere as one of the main leaders but he was jettisoned form the team after failed to corral Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. Now, the leadership conversation turns to players such as Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston, the safeties in this Panthers defense.

Coleman’s play has been a big part in why this Panthers’ defensive secondary has been amongst the best in the league recently. He’s earned 14 interceptions in the past three seasons. Many thought that was due to Norman’s presence, but after snatching away 4 passes and closing the year with 95 total tackles he proves that he’s earned the praise that’s been sent his way. Tre Boston may not have the same type of performances on his resume, but he’s continuing to improve after his third year in the season. Both Coleman and Boston are the type of players that can help groom Bradberry and Worley into stronger contributors for this unit.

Do not expect the Carolina Panthers to use as many picks on the backfield as they did in the previous draft. Yes, there are still some issues in that position, but the team has more pressing concerns in areas such as the offensive line. It will be interesting to watch how the promotion of Steve Wilks to defensive coordinator impacts the secondary as well since he’s spent so much time as their main coach.

Carolina’s secondary didn’t perform great throughout much of the 2016 season. In many situations the inexperience factor contributed heavily on the field. With one season under their belts James Bradberry and Daryl Worley should continue to develop into important members of this defense, especially under the leadership of teammates such as Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston.

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