Despite having to resort to a Plan B, Ron Rivera thinks the Carolina Panthers are in better shape at cornerback than last season when highly drafted second-year players James Bradberry and Daryl Worley were the starters.
The Panthers traded Worley to Philadelphia this month for wide receiver Torrey Smith, parting with a young player (Worley is 23) from a position where it’s often hard to find dependable starters.
But Rivera said he’s excited about the three players who will compete for Worley’s former spot, and discussed on Monday why the Panthers were willing to deal their third-round pick from 2016 so quickly.
“When you go back and look at what was happening, I don’t think Daryl was taking the next step in our situation and set of circumstances. And we felt that giving him a chance to go somewhere else and grow would be better for him,” Rivera said Monday during the NFL owners meetings.
“Secondly, we needed a wide receiver with speed. This gives us that. It gives us a guy that can get vertical very quickly. And quite honestly, Daryl was probably the most tradeable and the guy that we were willing to part ways with.”
Asked to expand on why Worley’s development stalled in Carolina, Rivera added: “I just thought he didn’t grow the way we were expecting and maybe a change might be good for him.”
Worley started 25 games in two years with the Panthers, but was in a platoon with Kevon Seymour for the first half of the 2017 season. Worley had three interceptions and 19 pass breakups in two seasons, compared with four interceptions and 20 PBUs for Bradberry over that same span.
The Panthers pegged free agent and former Clemson star Bashaud Breeland as Worley’s replacement, but his three-year deal was voided after he failed his physical.
General manager Marty Hurney then turned to former Duke and Charlotte Latin defensive back Ross Cockrell, who signed a two-year contract last week.
Rivera said he also expects Seymour and LaDarius Gunter to compete with Cockrell for the spot.
The Panthers brought Gunter back on a one-year deal Monday after they chose not to tender him as a restricted free agent. Rivera said the Panthers “need to take a serious look” at Gunter, who started 15 games for the Packers two years ago.
Other than an appearance at corner in a playoff loss at New Orleans, Gunter played exclusively on special teams in four games last season after Carolina claimed him off waivers from Green Bay in Week 2.
Rivera said the lack of playing time was because of the players ahead of Gunter on the depth chart and his late arrival in Charlotte.
“It really was about numbers. I think part of it, too, was he didn’t get to us until the beginning of the year and missed out on opportunities to learn,” Rivera said.
As for where the corner position stacks up now to this time a year ago, Rivera offered an encouraging view.
“I think we’ll be better. I just think we have a different group of guys, a different look in terms of the three guys that will really get opportunities to compete,” he said. “So I’m excited about that group of guys.”