A Deeper Look at the Panthers Recent DB Position Changes

Something I’ve been a little puzzled about for a couple seasons now is what exactly was it that caused the Panthers to immediately move 2008 3rd round draft pick Charles Godfrey from the position he last played in college Cornerback to Free Safety. Conversely the following draft they moved 2nd round pick Free Safety Sherrod Martin to Cornerback. Were both decisions based on the same criteria or was it some combination of factors? Is there a common thread and could the Panthers make a similar decision with a draftee yet again this season.

If you look at both players measurable they are very similar:

Charles Godfrey 6’-0"; 207lbs;  4.43 sec-40 yd dash; 7.28 sec 3-cone  

Sherrod Martin 6’-1"; 198lbs;  4.43 sec-40 yd dash; 6.60 sec  3-cone

What stands out other than Martin being a little taller and Godfrey a little heavier, is Martin’s significantly better 3-cone time. Okay but certainly the position moves were based on more than a single drill.

I decided to ask SBN draft guru Mocking Dan from Mocking the Draft who gave me a pretty short summary:

Mocking Dan: A corner usually has to switch to safety because he doesn't have great agility or instincts in man coverage. The agility aspect is that he has to backpedal, flip his hips open and turn and run with the wide receiver. A lot of the corners who get switched to safety take false steps in their backpedal, which slows them down. Or they're slow in the flip and take an extra step to recover.

The inverse there is the same. Good college safeties can move fluidly. That's why you may see a guy like Texas' Earl Thomas move to cornerback in the NFL. Or why Darrelle Revis moved from college safety to NFL cornerback.

more after the jump...

 

We hear a lot of prospects being described with said ‘fluid hips’ these days. It’s become almost cliché to talk about swivel hips for many NFL positions such as RB, LB and WR. With a cornerback though is apparently where having fluid hips really matters. So was the prevailing thought on Martin prior to the draft was that he had ‘good hips’ and a good back petal? Here is his CBS Sports pre-draft profile:

Analysis 

Positives: Good height and has a wiry, strong frame. ... Flies around the field. ... Gets to the opposite sideline in a hurry. ... His speed and coverage skills take away opponents' deep routes, allowing the defensive line to wreak havoc. ... Can work through trash and find the ball. ... Has nice length to wrap up in the open field. ... Despite his height, Martin has the low, smooth backpedal necessary to play corner. ... Has speed to blitz effectively from 10 yards out or close quickly on inside runs. ... Used as a gunner on punt returns.

So it seems the hint that Martin might be moved to CB were already there. He also has the size the Panthers seem to prefer these days, being over the 6’ threshold. What about Godfrey, were there hints he wasn’t NFL safety material?

Godfrey's pre-draft analysis at CBS Sports:

Positives: Has decent muscle definition for a cornerback, but can also add at least another 10 pounds of bulk without the added weight affecting his foot speed for a possible move to safety … Very physical hitter who likes to provide run support … Has good arm length and elevation, along with the timing to compete for jump balls and knows how to reach around the receiver to disrupt and break up the pass at its high point … Hard worker in the weight room who takes well to hard coaching … Has good eyes for recognizing pocket movement, but still needs to do a better job of making plays with his back to the ball … Hard wrap-up tackler who keeps his pad level down, but must reduce the times he takes a side rather than driving through with his hits (likes to arm tackle) … Has a better feel playing in the zone than in deep man coverage, as his timed speed lets him get to plays in front of him with good timing and burst … Likes to bang heads when coming up to fill rush lanes, avoiding blocks to close with good urgency … Has developed better hand-eye coordination and will extend and pluck the ball outside his frame (would trap the ball before, leading to more deflections than interceptions) … Takes good angles to impact the outside rushing attack and push those plays back inside … Has the ability to drive through ballcarriers, as he consistently attacks the outside leg to impede forward progress (does this well in closed quarters, but for some reason, in the open, he prefers to grab and drag down) … Has the eyes to read and jump routes, but needs to stay in control and not try to punish the receiver when doing this (likes to shove and push) … Strong enough in the press to take the receiver out of his game … His poor hip snap will see him lose some position when turning, but in plays in front of him, he has the burst to close … Not as reckless jumping routes playing the zone as he does in man coverage … Has the body control to adjust to the thrown ball and while his timed speed says he can carry receivers down field, he needs to improve his plant-and-drive skills, along with his turning motion to be more effective there … Explosive leaper who likes to combat for jump balls … Has the strength and physicality in his play to turn runs back inside and while he can avoid blocks in traffic, he also has the hand jolt to stop blockers in their tracks.

So I conclude that you can focus on a single aspect of a DB prospect to determine whether the Panthers might move that player between CB and Safety. It’s not really based on speed, or height or weight. It’s not necessarily based on their ball-hawk potential or how well they tackle. It seems to be based on, at least for the Panthers tandem of Marty Hurney and John Fox, based on the DB's ability to turn his hips and run with a WR as smoothly as possible without any as Dan says ‘false steps’. I think you can also use the scouting combine’s 3-cone drill time and some of the other un-timed drills involving backpedaling to essentially confirm what you have seen on film.

So I’m sure some of you reading are thinking ‘Duh Jaxon’ but honestly I would never have guessed you could boil it down so simply. This also explains why the Panthers were willing to spend a lower round pick on Martin versus Godfrey. Marin has the versatility to move between CB and FS but Godfrey does not.

It also might answer the question as to whether Martin could end up at free safety given his success as a starter at the position last season. My thought is ‘No’, the Panthers will continue to plug Godfrey in at FS and see if Martin can progress to the #2 CB spot. He can still be listed as a back-up FS, possibly freeing up a roster spot if he doesn’t actually earn a starting spot. So where we have been thinking 2nd year player Captain Munnerlyn might push Richard Marshall for a starting spot it is just as likely is Sherrod Martin getting on the field more at CB. I can see Ron Meeks doing what it takes to get his four best DB’s on the field at the same time. Now that he has had more time to evaluate his players Marshall might end up back in nickel slot and gunner on special teams. It might not make Marshall happy but in the end the Panthers could very well have the depth to replace him in 2011 if needed.

So a natural follow-up to this post is a look at potential DB’s the Panthers could target with a mid-round pick and seem to have the ‘fluid hip’ description.

I’ll leave you with a couple things. First Sherrod Martin's draft profile from last year here and a short video of a drill from the combine:



I have to equal time to Godfrey so here is his draft profile and his killer hit on the Patriots Wes Welker:


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