It is no secret that the Carolina Panthers' defense has been special this season. This can largely be attributed to a front seven which has collectively played as good as any in the NFL. The secondary? Not so much. Frankly, the coaching staff and the front four have done a phenomenal job of masking the weaknesses on the back end. There is no question at this point that the Panthers lack a true number one cornerback and it will probably stay that way until our general manager makes it a priority. I realize that this isn't necessarily Dave Gettleman's style, but maybe he will reconsider should the New Orleans Saints formidable passing attack embarrass the Panthers' secondary in their two remaining division-deciding meetings this year. If he does, then why not draft the best one available.
Provided he gives up his last year of eligibility at Oregon, that would be none other than Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
I know what you may be thinking, and the answer is no. He isn't that tall, rangy corner that teams and fans are coveting these days, but what the 5-Foot-10, 190-Pound California native lacks in size, he makes up for with instincts and physicality. His smooth backpedal and loose hips allow him to mirror his opponents every move. Like most cornerbacks, he is subject to getting beat, but you don't see it very often. When a receiver does gain separation, Ekpre-Olomu displays excellent recovery speed to make a play on the ball.
Have you ever noticed that most cornerbacks struggle to turn around when running stride for stride with a receiver? This is by far his greatest strength. His superior balance and deft ability to track the ball in the air in such a way that he is almost always in a a position to either intercept the pass or knock it away. His PAC-10 leading twenty passes defended(16 PBU + 4 INT) in 2012 were a testament to his nose for the ball, and this was his first year as a starter. Ekpre-Olomu hasn't matched those numbers this season only because he hasn't had a chance to do so. Simply put, quarterbacks and coaching staffs have realized that they have a better chance moving the ball when they throw away from him.
Ekpre-Olomu's nose for the ball isn't just relegated to the pass. He is a solid run defender who uses fundamental technique when tackling and he usually does so with force, as evidenced by his six forced fumbles in 2012. Schematically speaking, he most likely projects to be a better fit in off man and press man coverage. This strength would be a welcome change for a team who lacks a play-making aggressive ball hawk on the outside.
Today's Tuesday Afternoon Prospect isn't exactly perfect, but neither is he a finished product. His work ethic and motor is such that he could see drastic improvements at the professional level. If the Panthers' brass want to take this defense to a completely different level, then drafting Ekpre-Olomu would be a step in that direction. But he won't be around at the end of the second round. He is a first round talent and will probably be treated as such.
Although I would personally be more enthused about taking a receiver or offensive lineman with our first pick, Ekpre-Olomu would still be on my short list nonetheless. The opportunity to add a potential shutdown corner to an already ever improving top tier defense is something that shouldn't be ignored and this is why I would somewhat hesitantly put my stamp of approval on it.
What say you CSR?
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Career Statistics