At this time last year I was clamoring for the Panthers to draft a free safety in the 1st round. The Panthers promptly passed on every available FS in the draft because "they didn’t like the remaining prospects at the position in which they we’re drafting". I’m sure they we’re thinking Nate Salley would be ready to go but an injury at the start of camp derailed that plan.
So we now find ourselves basically in the same position as last year, set at strong safety but really need an upgrade at free safety. Will the Panthers spend a draft pick on it this year? They certainly have more pressing needs at other positions and actually the Panthers pass defense wasn’t too bad with the journeymen they played. The problem is that outside of Chris Harris the pass defense lacked play makers.
My guess is we won’t spend a pick lower than the 3rd round on a free safety but given the lack of talent at the position on the free agent market I bet the Panthers do pick a safety at some point.
Here’s a look at the safeties the Panthers currently have on the roster.
Starter: SS Chris Harris
After Mike Minter retired the Panthers went looking and basically stole Harris from the Bears for a 5th round pick. It turned out to be one of the better deals the Panthers have made in the last year. Though Harris at times has trouble in coverage he is a big hitter who takes pride in causing fumbles. He’s young and just hitting his prime in his 5th season and he brings Super Bowl experience. He can also play both free and strong safety though the Panthers will most likely pencil him in as the starter at strong safety for the upcoming season.
Starter: FS Deke Cooper
Deke is 6th year player from Notre Dame who came to the Panthers as a free agent a little over a year ago. Cooper played fairly well isn’t going to scare any DC’s in the coming season.
Back-up: Quinton Teal
Teal is local kid who was signed by the Panthers as UDFA prior to last season. He was one of the last players to make the roster last season and then played in 15 games, starting one. Teal will probably remain a back-up at both safety positions and special teamer for his career.
Back-up: Nate Salley
Salley is the unknown quantity in this group. Drafted by the Panthers in the 4th round of the 2006 draft, he played in eight games before being injured but showed some promise. Last season he was the expected starter at free safety but had his season end before it started due to another injury. Salley could very well win the job in camp but the probability of that happening is much lower than last season. Salley will have his work cut out for him as he not only needs to prove he can play at the NFL level but also that he can remain on the field.
Back-up: CJ Wilson
Wilson is the 7th round draft pick from last year’s draft that was converted from CB to safety. He played in four games late in the season and didn’t embarrass himself. I doubt he’s more than a back-up at any point in the future.
Overall the Panthers are set at strong safety with Chris Harris but are still looking for a play maker at free safety. They know what they will get from Cooper, Teal and Wilson. Nate Salley is still and unknown quantity that could resurrect his career with a good camp. It’s hard say if the Panthers will value the position enough to spend a mid-round pick on it but maybe last years lessons will come into play.