Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers load up on corners on Day 2, seeking to replace Josh Norman

West Virginia defensive back Daryl Worley runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in March in Indianapolis.
West Virginia defensive back Daryl Worley runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in March in Indianapolis. AP

As Josh Norman took in Game 6 of the Hornets-Heat series, the Carolina Panthers worked to find his replacement.

Make that replacements.

The Carolina Panthers loaded up on cornerbacks Friday night just two weeks after rescinding the franchise tag on their All-Pro cornerback.

Carolina tabbed Samford cornerback James Bradberry with the No. 62 pick in the second round, and the Panthers followed that up by trading up with the Browns to secure West Virginia corner Daryl Worley in the third round.

“We’re just very pleased we were able to get them both,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “We had second-round values on both of them. And we just felt that the trade up was important. And that we needed to secure Daryl.

“We’re very, very pleased with what we got today, and very honestly if you told me two nights ago we were going to come out with Vernon Butler and these two corners I’d have been very happy.”

Both corners are long and athletic. Bradberry racked up eight interceptions in his four years with the Bulldogs. At 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, he provides the ideal size and length a cornerback needs to go up against the bigger receivers in the NFC South.

Shortly after making that pick, the Panthers traded their late-third, fourth and fifth round selections to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the Browns’ earlier third and fifth rounders.

That left Gettleman in a position to go after Worley in the third round.

Gettleman defended the picks Friday night, almost as if he could sense some hesitation among pundits with these two players. Bradberry hails from a small school, and Worley was told by the draft advisory board to return to school for his senior year because he wouldn’t be picked in the first two rounds.

Gettleman said that after the first three or four cornerbacks were taken in the draft, the top two at the position remaining on the board were Bradberry and Worley.

“You have to prevent position disasters,” said Gettleman, who experienced one at wide receiver in 2014 when he jettisoned Steve Smith. “Sometimes you can only improve incrementally. And sometimes the cap will put you in that box. But these are two good, young, talented kids.”

Gettleman also admitted that taking the tag away from Norman and effectively losing the star corner to free agency also impacted the team’s decision making.

Had the Panthers kept Norman and had him play under the franchise tag at $13.95 million next year, there’s little doubt they would have spent both Day 2 picks on cornerbacks.

“And it affected it, but the best part of this thing is, I promise you, I’m not lying, we did not reach,” Gettleman said. “Once those top corners went off, three or four corners were in front of them, but then those were our next two guys. We feel really good about it. I don’t feel like we reached. I know we didn’t reach. We didn’t.”

Bradberry’s strength is in man coverage, although he played plenty of zone at Samford. He got well acquainted with Carolina defensive backs coach Steve Wilks during the pre-draft process. The Panthers were the only team to have Bradberry in for both a workout and visit.

Both figure to vie for the other cornerback position opposite Bene Benwikere, who’s recovering from leg surgery. Free-agent signing Brandon Boykin will go into training camp as the starter at slot corner.

Worley, who finished seventh in the nation last season in interceptions with six, said that Carolina was the team he always wanted to come to.

“Honestly I think it may be the culture,” Worley said. “The culture that they have at the Panthers, honestly, is identical to what we had on our defense last year. And the fact that it spreads on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, I know that they do something awesome.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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