Top 20 Panthers of 2012: #16 S Charles Godfrey

CHARLOTTE NC - SEPTEMBER 26: Jordan Shipley #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals is tackled by teammates Chris Gamble #20 and Charles Godfrey #30 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26 2010 in Charlotte North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Continuing our series countdown on the top 20 Panthers to watch in 2012 we have #16, strong safety Charles Godfrey.

We all know the Panther defense was downright bad in 2011 and therefore every single starter on the defense bears some of that responsibility. The secondary in particular bore a lot of criticism though I would say the majority went in Sherrod Martin's direction. You might think S Charles Godfrey on the other hand might have come out of it unscathed given statistically he had a fairly consistent season when compared to his previous three seasons.

In 2011 Godfrey matched his career high of 84 tackles but in two fewer games, 14 vs. 16 in 2010. He also knocked down 7 passes against a career high of 8 the previous year. The only stat that he fell off on was interceptions where he only logged 2 in contrast with 5 the season before. I might venture his missed tackles and blown coverages might have been up in 2011 but I don't have official stats on that. Overall I think the season was a step back for Godfrey as it was for the entire defense. This came on the heels of Godfrey signing a contract extension last September.

The Panther secondary was obviously a concern for the Panthers as they signed two free agent safeties and drafted a rookie safety to compete and I can't imagine both are slated as free safeties; i.e. one of the free agents, either Haruki Nakamura or Reggie Smith could challenge and supplant Godfrey in 2012. Yet I'm n ot about to say that will happen and I'll let Cyberjag give the reasons why:

Thanks to Sherrod Martin, last year Godfrey went from the defensive goat to just another crappy safety in most fans minds. But that's not really fair to him. You can look at all of the advanced statistics at ProFootballFocus and Football Outsiders and make a case that Godfrey's beyond saving. In 2011, Godfrey gave up the fourth highest yards per play in coverage in the league. He missed tons of tackles in 2011, finishing in the top 20 in that regrettable defensive category. And, of course, he had only two interceptions and one forced fumble.

So what's the deal? Why does he enjoy a spot on the top twenty list at all? It's simple, he's got talent. In 2009 and 2010 he was viewed as an "up and coming" member of a young defense. He finished 2010 particularly strong, with five interceptions, eight passes defensed, and a forced fumble. In 2009 he had four forced fumbles to go with an interception.

A lot of us were looking at 2011 as the season where he would really get his act together. And then we had the lack of a training camp, a new defense, and a defensive line that couldn't generate enough pressure to pop a bubble. Couple that with the awkwardness of having a position coach who was the defensive coordinator the previous year, and you might get a reason why both our safeties struggled in 2011.

The talent is there. Godfrey has a lot of range and, as his forced fumbles have shown, he can bring the wood when he actually connects on a tackle. He runs a 4.43 40 and as a converted cornerback, he has the coverage skills to really clamp down on the passing game from the safety position (in 2010, Football Outsiders gave him the second best stop rate percentage on passing plays in the league).

If he can get the scheme down, and get back to the point where he's reacting instead of thinking and acting, he could show a tremendous improvement in 2012.

So, Steve Wilks, let's see what you've got.

I think that last part is a key. Though we still had Ron Meeks as the DB coach we still changed the defensive schemes creating the learning curve resulting in blown coverages.

In 2012 Godfrey is a player to watch as he is entering his 6th season and is a veteran on a young team. The only question is whether he has tapped out his potential or can he rise to the next level? Will be see the player that reacts without thinking or will he hesitate to make decisions? Will we get the player that stops the play dead in its tracks or will he over run the tackle? We now have a secondary coach who is aligned with the staff in Steve Wilks who has his job cut out for him.

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