If there were any questions about whether Carolina’s two featured second-year cornerbacks were ready to come into the 2017 season, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley shut them down during minicamp.
Bradberry and Worley more than held their own against the team’s top receivers throughout minicamp. Bradberry was especially heralded as the main playmaker in the unit despite the use of one arm after he suffered a minor fracture in his left wrist and had to wear a cast.
After a wobbly rookie campaign that showed flashes of promise near the end, Carolina will lean heavily on the two young cornerbacks to continue their progression.
General manager Dave Gettleman also took steps to ensure the fortification of the cornerbacks unit after the secondary was largely picked apart in 2016 (Carolina finished the season No. 29 out of 32 teams in passing defense, with 4,291 yards and 27 touchdowns allowed). The Panthers brought back veteran Captain Munnerlyn to be their go-to slot presence in their often-used nickel defense, and drafted a rookie version of Munnerlyn in Miami’s Corn Elder in the fifth round – a steal, considering Elder’s value and versatility.
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Despite missing a large portion of organized team activities because of a minor injury, Elder showed up strong in minicamp and at times ran with the first-team defense as an outside corner. Expect Elder to rotate in with Munnerlyn at the nickel while also providing depth as a backup to Worley.
Elder was also a prolific returner during his junior year of college and saw a few repetitions in that position when Carolina worked through special teams drills in minicamp.
To be decided in camp
Second-year cornerback Zack Sanchez was brought in during the 2016 draft with Worley and Bradberry. That has now been coined the “hungry shopping” period for the secondary. But unlike Worley and Bradberry, Sanchez’s time with Carolina has been unglamorous because of injury. He finished the season on injured reserve and will need to step up in Spartanburg at the risk of seeing his minutes – and maybe even his roster spot – swallowed by Elder and Teddy Williams.
Underdog to watch
Speaking of Williams, he got a chance to shine in OTAs when Bradberry was limited for a short time because of his fractured wrist.
Williams’ six years of experience in the league and large role in 2015 doesn’t exactly make him an “underdog,” but he showed in workouts that he’s hungry for a larger role. He could provide key depth behind Bradberry in 2017.
Three bold predictions
▪ Worley and Bradberry will compete for interceptions all season, and it’ll be a rip-roaring, smack-talking good time. Ultimately, Bradberry’s athleticism and awareness in coverage will give him the edge and he’ll lead the team in picks this fall.
▪ Elder will be a main presence on punt and kickoff returns before the end of the season, and he’ll score – at minimum – two touchdowns doing so.
▪ Atlanta passed for 481 yards against Carolina’s secondary in early October of last season (including 300 yards on 15 catches by Julio Jones), and for another 256 on Christmas Eve. This year, an irritated Carolina secondary won’t let Matt Ryan and his wideouts rack up more than 200 passing yards per matchup.