Taking a second look at D.J. Campbell

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

The Panthers' seventh-round pick played better than imagined on Sunday, causing us to take a second look at the hard-hitting safety from Cal.

Selecting a player for Cal felt inevitable, and the team waited until the seventh round to select D.J. Campbell -- a safety most had given an undrafted grade. The Panthers elected to spend a pick rather than risk free agency, and they chose him over more highly touted prospects carrying baggage. Following his standout performance against the Atlanta Falcons it's time to revisit D.J. Campbell.

In the span between 2009-2012 the Carolina Panthers selected five defensive backs in the 6th or 7th round. While most of these players didn't pan out, it's hard to argue that Captain Munnerlyn wasn't worth it -- even if he shouldn't be a starting cornerback. It's too early to heap effusive praise on D.J. Campbell, but his poise against a difficult Atlanta offense set him apart, especially as often as the Falcons looked to test him.

It seemed Campbell was destined for special teams duty. Ron Rivera was impressed with his speed and tackling ability, but most scouting reports read like a player who would be over-matched at the next level. His ability to read-and-react, play the ball in the air, and adjust pre-snap were all brought into question, seemingly setting him up as a nice gunner, but little more.

Whether he's been coached up, or poorly scouted, D.J. Campbell showed none of these issues against the Falcons. This season Dirk Koetter's offense has succeeded by attacking safeties; putting them in a 'no-man's land' where they need to decide to commit to stopping Tony Gonzalez, or cheat over and assist with a wide receiver. More often than not they've guessed wrong, and Matt Ryan has made them pay. Last Sunday we saw a player who straddled this line perfectly, and was quietly a huge reason why neither Julio Jones, nor Tony Gonzalez had big days.

Digging a little deeper into his history, you see a player who may have simply been stuck in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Cal's defense gave up so many yards that it was easy to see why he got overshadowed. A highly-touted recruit who had an offer from LSU, he elected to stay closer to home (Campbell was born in Las Vegas) and play in Berkeley. As we did our post-draft diagnoses here at CSR, one thing lept off the screen -- D.J. Campbell's pro-day results in comparison with the scouting combine, which he wasn't invited to:

- 22 bench press reps of 225 pounds

Would have tied for first among safeties.

- 4.51 40-yard dash and 38-inch vertical leap

- 10' 7" broad jump

Would have been second among safeties.

This week against San Diego we'll get a better sense of who D.J. Campbell is, and he'll be in for another good test against Philip Rivers and the Chargers' offense. The skills he displayed against Atlanta did not look like a flash in the pan, and if the Panthers found a late-round gem at safety, it will work wonders for setting up their 2013 draft.

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