As they cleaned up and prepared to clear out of Charlotte after a rookie season in which they were invariably linked, Carolina Panthers rookie cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry shared one last laugh.
The two – whose lockers were side by side in 2016 – were asked if they planned to have the same arrangement next season.
“Nah,” Worley said, “because he’s messy as hell.”
“I need him on the opposite side,” Bradberry countered.
Pro Football Focus ... rated Bradberry No. 20 among corners overall – four spots ahead of Josh Norman.
Worley and Bradberry lined up opposite each other as starters for eight of the Panthers’ final nine games last season.
The young cornerbacks – drafted a week after the Panthers cut ties with Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman – experienced down-and-up rookie seasons. But the way they ended on an upswing gives the Panthers reason for optimism as they get ready for Year 2, post-Norman.
“Where James and Daryl finished, we’re very pleased and very excited,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “They fit us. They’re what we need. And we’re looking forward to their continued development. They know they’ve still got a long ways to go. We’re excited to have them.”
Bradberry and Worley, drafted in the second and third rounds, respectively, figure to be viewed as a tandem throughout their tenure with Carolina, in much the same way defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short (Gettleman’s first- and second-round picks in 2013) are.
Bradberry became a starter immediately and held the spot until turf toe sidelined him for three games in October. Bradberry’s injury and the decision to cut Bené Benwikere created a vacancy for Worley, who started 11 of the last 12 games.
The inevitable comparison
They ended up with similar numbers:
▪ Bradberry had two interceptions and 10 passes defensed, with 47 tackles.
▪ Worley finished with one interception and nine pass breakups, with 62 tackles and one sack.
“It was pretty much even, really. I had two (pick), he had one. That’s pretty close if you think about it,” Bradberry said. “I don’t know how many pass breakups he had. For the most part every stat sheet (comparison) ... was similar.”
They made an impact every time we stepped on the field in the back half of the season. Panthers safety Kurt Coleman
Bradberry drew the tougher coverage assignments, lining up against the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. And for the most part he held his own.
Pro Football Focus, the football analytics site, ranked Bradberry as the league’s No. 21 cover corner. PFF rated Bradberry No. 20 among corners overall – four spots ahead of Norman.
Worley earned high marks for his run support, coming in at No. 12 on PFF’s list of corners in terms of run defense.
“I thought it was a pretty productive season,” Worley said. “I like the way we grew and learned together. Hopefully the growth process continues.”
‘Did a great job’
Panthers coach Ron Rivera had that process in mind when he gave a measured response recently to a question about the future of the corner duo.
“They both did a great job, both finished strong, did a lot of good things. They have the ability to be (multi-year starters). But it’s an everyday process,” Rivera said. “They have to come out and work hard, compete and get themselves ready to go for the next season. You can’t fall back and rest on your laurels.”
Veteran safety Kurt Coleman, who tried to help steer the rookies through their rookie seasons, said he was proud of Bradberry and Worley.
“Usually people talk about hitting that rookie wall. And I know there were times they told me they were tired,” Coleman said. “But they still came out to work and practiced their butts off, and they worked really hard.”
Like Gettleman, Coleman said their development was apparent late in the year. Worley had an interception against Philip Rivers in Week 14, and Bradberry picked off Jameis Winston in the season finale at Tampa.
“They started to make a lot of plays. They started to make a difference. They weren’t just out there playing. They were a part of this game,” Coleman said. “And they made an impact every time we stepped on the field in the back half of the season.”
During their exit interviews with just-promoted defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the former secondary coach told Bradberry and Worley he wanted to see them continue to grow during their “sophomore” seasons.
“Those guys really showed up at the end of the year,” Wilks said. “I’m excited about where they are right now and I’m looking for their development and growth.”
Bradberry and Worley were headed in opposite directions after the season – Bradberry to his childhood home outside Birmingham, Ala., and Worley back to north Philadelphia.
They were asked – somewhat jokingly – whether they needed some space from each other this offseason.
“I’m going home. I’ll be in Birmingham. So we’ll be pretty far away,” Bradberry said. “We’ve still got group texts and things like that, so we’ll keep in touch.”