Captain Munnerlyn is the Carolina Panthers 'secret superstar'


Each year Pro Football Focus pick players who will stand out. This year they're paying attention to one of the Panthers' cornerbacks.

Captain Munnerlyn has gotten more than his fair share of criticism over the last few years. His scrappy demeanor and physical play-style hasn't meshed with the role he's been put in, and as a result he's looked like a corner who needs to play in the slot, or not at all. Pro Football Focus disagree, calling him the team's 'Secret Superstar'.

The Panthers should be familiar with these articles. In each of the last three years they've had a player singled out, and right now PFF are batting .500. Their selection last year was Greg Hardy, an unmitigated success as he went on to have a career year, and a 10 sack season. Their pick in 2011 wasn't quite as fortuitous, as Geoff Schwartz was cut from the team prior to the start of the season -- going on to have an average year with Minnesota.

This year it's Cap, and flying in the face of conventional wisdom, they believe Munnerlyn can play on the outside.

In 2011, playing out on the boundary, he gave up a completion percentage of 67% and a yards per coverage snap of 1.54. In 2012, those figures dropped to a completion percentage of 53% and a yards per coverage snap of 1.00.

The figures are impressive, but there's no guarantee this wasn't an anomaly. The Panthers were a Jekyl and Hyde team in 2012, and the entire defense looked better as a result of their late-season heroics. Furthermore, it's hard to quantify just how valuable the pass rush was in creating a facade that the secondary were better than they appeared.

Last season, only 20 cornerbacks played at least 900 snaps while maintaining a positive grade for the season and Munnerlyn was one of them.

I would be very interested to see how many of these snaps came in the slot, vs. playing on the outside. Advanced metrics show that Munnerlyn played well when covering starting-caliber receivers, but on film he's very hit-or-miss on the outside. He certainly has the attitude, but not always the physical ability -- especially as wide receivers continue to get bigger.

It's easy to get lost in these pieces and assume that Dave Gettleman is right, that the answer 'is already on the roster', especially in light of comments like this:

It's safe to say that if you thought his ceiling was that of a backup after his dreadful 2011 campaign, it's worth reconsidering your stance based on his performance in 2012.

Herein lies the cognitive dissonance between writers and organizations. Teams aren't always right, that's certain -- but if Munnerlyn truly had starting potential, and the Panthers had as much faith in him as PFF do, then surely he would have gotten a contract earlier, attracted more attention from other teams, and been a vital part to the Panthers future plans. As it stands he was a one-year Band-aid. Perhaps everything clicks, and this 'secret superstar' moniker rings true -- but it's a little premature, and I'd advise not to hold your breath.

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