Another day, another Pat Yasinskas column trying to push the Panthers into drafting a CB with one of their top 2 picks. Yes, the media does have influence, especially when it is used to inflame fan opinion. The problem is when the media influences the direction of a team because of what they believe should happen instead of what a team actually needs. Yasinskas has decided A) the Panthers' have been giving up a lot of yards through the air for some time now, B) they let Chris Gamble go so C) they need to fix this by using a 1st or 2nd round pick on a CB. And he rails on it again and again and again until Gettleman finally felt compelled to address it by stating his confidence in the CBs that he signed this offseason, which produced Yasinskas' counter-piece telling him that he is wrong. But Yasinskas needs to simply back off his campaign and let Gettleman do his job.
Now this is not to say that cornerback isn't a big need for the Panthers. Cornerback - and defensive back generally - may actually be the weakest area on the team. So Yasinskas is right in that sense. The problem: the Panthers could take the best CB in the draft at #14 and it still not win them a single game. Here's why: because while CB (and DB more generally) is probably their biggest need, it is not their only need. The Panthers are not some otherwise solid team with a glaring hole that if plugged effectively would win them 2-4 more games next season. Instead, the Panthers are a team with a ton of needs. Starting QB, starting DE and starting LB is the only area where they do not need help. So even though CB/DB might be the area that needs the most help in terms of talent deficiency, addressing that need won't win them games.
The reason: the NFL has changed. Because of the rules changes to protect QBs and WRs and the changes to offenses to take advantage of it, the way that most rookie CBs play is no longer a big part of the game. Back when more teams played 2 WR 2 back offenses, you could simply put your rookie CB on the #1 (actually more often #2) WR, or just have him line up on the same side of the field, and let him use a combination of his natural talent and whatever he learned from his very simple college defense. Now because of the rules and the spread the ball type offenses that the rules make possible, the way that most rookie CBs play aren't nearly as effective. Because of this, rookie CBs rarely make a big impact in the NFL. Instead, it takes a year or two for rookies to pick up enough of the NFL game to be truly effective. Also, the CB position has been devalued in general. Lots of people are willing to talk about how tailback is no longer a premium position, but truthfully CB isn't either. The days when CBs were big stars who commanded huge salaries have long been over, and franchises who have in recent years have refused to adapt to this reality and instead invested too much in the position (like the Jets with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and the Eagles for at one point having Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) have paid for it. These days, experience and depth at CB is more important than having big salary high draft picks there.
Now it is true that the Giants regularly draft CBs and safeties relatively high, but A) the Giants never give big contracts to those positions and B) the Giants acquired DBs after they were generally set at other positions like DL, OL and WR. And that is one reason why the Giants have two Super Bowl rings in the past 6 years while their division rivals - who continue to live in the past by investing heavily in the position as if it was still the 80s and 90s - have been treading water. The other teams keep using big contracts and high draft picks on "shutdown corners" only to have opposing offenses pick them apart by throwing to the 3rd WRs and TEs as well as by throwing underneath.
It is odd that Yasinkas is hyping the importance the Panthers getting a CB when the two currently most successful teams in the division that he covers - the Falcons and Saints - succeed despite their CB play rather than because of it. Of course they have Pro Bowl QBs - as do the Panthers - but the Saints win on offense with their WRs and OL and the Falcons do the same. On defense both teams pretty much do what they can to pressure the passer and force turnovers and mistakes with their defensive front sevens and consider whatever they get from their secondaries a bonus. Now this is not to say that the Panthers have to do the same, of course. Instead, it is just more evidence that based on the division that he covers, Yasinskas knows that using a #1 pick to cover Julio Jones and Marques Colston isn't going to do any good when Matt Ryan and Drew Brees are simply going to throw to Roddy White, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez. Instead, that pick should go towards a guy who can help his front seven put pressure on Ryan, Brees and the host of other good QBs in the NFC (a DT) or a guy who can help the Panthers score enough points to keep up (an OL to get the power running game going or a dynamic big play WR). That is what wins games in a division and conference with good offenses and QBs, not a rookie CB that everyone from Russell Wilson to Tom Brady can easily compensate for by throwing the ball to one of the many other targets that those explosive offenses have.
To put it another way: the Panthers have 6 games against proven dropback passers (New York, New England and 2 apiece in the division with the Saints and Falcons) plus 2 games against zone read option teams with great running games (Seattle, San Francisco) plus a game against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. That's 9 games where a rookie CB won't do a thing for the Panthers. So even if a rookie CB is useful against teams with questionable QBs like the Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Rams, Cardinals and Bucs (twice) big deal ... the season is already shot. The only way to have a chance is the same what that other elite teams do, which is with a combination of being able to score as many points as the other team and being able to put the other team's QB on his back.
Either way, the Panthers are going to neglect some needs to fill others. Let them neglect needs that won't win them games anyway when you consider the current state of their roster for this year and fill them next year. This year, let them fill needs that give them a shot of improving from 7-9 to 10-6 while playing a schedule filled with QBs that for the most part are extremely unlikely to throw pick 6s to Xavier Rhodes. (Or even if they do throw a pick 6 to Xavier Rhodes, can overcome it by throwing 5 TD passes to the guys that Rhodes aren't covering.)