Carolina Panthers 2013 Position Review: Cornerbacks

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Arguably the most important and most unpredictable camp battle of the 2013 season, the cornerback position is so up in the air that we're basically looking into space at this point. Chris Gamble was the only corner last season that could be regarded as a sure starter, and now he's gone due to being a cap casualty. At the latter half of last season, we saw players like Josh Thomas and James Dockery step up and play, but Captain Munnerlyn was the only player who consistently saw the field. Now, enter DJ Moore and Drayton Florence, who look to bring some needed veteran presence to a young secondary. Each player has about an equal shot of starting, but also has about an equal shot of being cut. It will be interesting, to say the least.

Josh Norman

If the phrase "trial by fire" applies to any one corner on this roster, it's Josh Norman. Norman was a sensation to many fans last year after making some very good plays during training camp, even going as far as to match up with Steve Smith. Norman possessed a swagger, and ended up nabbing the starting job opposite Chris Gamble to open the season. However, Norman quickly was welcomed to the NFL. Norman logged 73 tackles, 7 pass deflections, and 1 interception. However, the number of tackles he made is more troubling than impressive. Yes, Norman was able to tackle the receiver after the catch, the problem was the fact that he allowed WAY too many catches. He gave receivers too much cushion, and often found himself giving up a bit too much seperation. Norman would eventually be benched, but returned for some limited action. The expectations of Norman went a bit overboard. He played exactly as any 5th round rookie starter would be expected on most teams, better even. But due to the lack of secondary talent and his flashes of potential, Norman was expected to be the answer. However, Norman needed more time to develop, as we saw. Norman's 7 pass deflections tied him for first on the team, and his size and strength are promising traits for a cornerback.

Norman will get his shot to compete, for sure. Norman's easily one of the better fits to start on paper. He started 12 games his rookie year and possesses the ideal size to play on the outside. The signing of two new nickels and resigning another can help his cause, as they are better fits to play in the nickel. But Norman's going to have to catch up to the mental speed of the game, and learn to do HIS job, and not try to do too much. I expect Norman to make the roster due to his promise shown last season, and his youth. It wouldn't make sense to retain a bunch of the same type of player and let go of one of the few that actually fits the NFL "outside corner" mold.

Chance to start- 25% Chance to make roster- 100% (the reason I say this is he actually did get quite a bit of experience his rookie year. I highly doubt Gettleman will let him go in favor of ANOTHER nickel corner on roster)

Josh Thomas

Thomas is an interesting prospect. Thomas only started 4 games for Carolina in 2012, actually notched his FIRST NFL start since entering the league in 2011. Thomas is actually very similar to Norman, being only about an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter (though Norman's arms are longer). Thomas entered the league as a fifth round pick before being waived by Dallas. Thomas tied Norman last season with 7 passes deflected, not bad with only 4 starts. Thomas was able to make a pretty good impact with his limited chances, and (minus the interception) was actually more productive due to the considerable difference in snaps. He and Norman have been getting a lot of the first team snaps throughout OTA and mini camps. Thomas has generated a lot of buzz here at the CSR, and I'd say he might have been the most improved corner of the 2012 season. He will also get his chance to prove he can start, but even if he doesn't, he managed 7 special teams tackles and a fumble recovery on special teams last season. These corners will all need to show their individual special teams value, because that small amount of added value may be the difference between being on the roster and being out of a job.

Chance to start- 25% Chance to make roster- 80%

Captain Munnerlyn

Captain Munnerlyn was the only player who consistently saw the field the entirety of the 2012 season. Munnerlyn started 11 games (11 of the last 12) at left corner after Gamble went down with injury. Munnerlyn often covered the opposing team's number one receiver, but would also line up at his more natural nickel corner spot. Munnerlyn unfortunately didn't always fair very well against opposing receivers, but was undoubtedly the most trusted corner last season. He also tied a team record two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season. Munnerlyn is similar to DJ Moore in a lot of ways. He seems to have a knack for getting to the ball and is a pretty good run stopping option. Munnerlyn has been sidelined with an injury for OTA's, leaving Josh Thomas and Josh Norman to take the majority of first team snaps. The OTA starters are virtually meaningless, but having the two young bucks with arguably the most potential could be telling. I expect Munnerlyn to win the nickel corner spot, but share his duties with DJ Moore.

Chance to start- 25% Chance to make roster- 75%

DJ Moore

DJ Moore could be best considered the Captain Munnerlyn in Chicago. Though Munnerlyn was often thrust into starting duties because of injury or lackluster play by his counterparts, Munnerlyn has always been a very good nickel corner for the Carolina Panthers. Munnerlyn's old friend DJ Moore will join him in Carolina to compete in a cornerback battle that is completely wide open. Moore played in three games his rookie year, but didn't start to see significant time til his second season. Moore would fill the nickel role in Chicago for a loaded group of corners in Charles Tilman and Tim Jennings, snagging 10 ints with two returned for touchdowns (one of which came against us, unfortunately). He comes to Carolina from a very adept Chicago secondary, looking to find a place as a starter. DJ Moore has said himself he can still play free safety, but it remains to be seen whether or not this is true. Still, his ball hawking ability and background make him a tough choice to cut outright. One would hope that he can find a place on the roster, most likely splitting snaps with Munnerlyn. But he could win the starting job outright as well, if he can continue to force turnovers. He's played some special teams in Chicago, and in this competition, every ounce of value is going to count for the roster spots.

Chance to start- 25% Chance to make roster- 75%

Drayton Florence

Some members of the CSR were scratching their heads saying "who?" when we signed this guy. If you were one of those guys, take a look. Others remember his time in San Diego and Buffalo prior to his injury in Detroit. Florence's 11 years in the league make him easily the most veteran of the group, and he may be the week one starter because of this. Florence played some pretty good football in San Diego, but his best years came in Buffalo from 2009-2011 (not that long ago I might add). Florence spent 2012 on the Detroit roster. He suffered a broken arm, and was put on IR with a designation to return. Florence now sits at the age of 32, engaged in a heated cornerback battle. In my opinion, Florence could easily start week 1, but I don't see him completely locking down the position. Most likely we will see a lot of rotation unless one corner separates himself from the rest. Still, with Florence's experience he's the most ideal guy to start until a younger player steps up and proves they can play better.

Chance to start- 35% Chance to make roster- 75%

James Dockery

Dockery's stats from 2012 don't jump out on paper, but for a 3rd year UDFA corner, the performance against New Orleans in his first true start (started at left corner, logged a start against San Diego when the Panthers opened with 5 d-backs) was impressive. He made 7 tackles and 5 solo as the Panthers won a shoot out. Dockery was a solid corner who didn't consistently get beat. He was good, but not great. This season he looks to keep developing and try to win the starting job against the plethora of other corners here in Charlotte. He definitely has a shot. But if he doesn't step up and differentiate himself at the corner position, the value of the other nickels like Munnerlyn and Moore might end up leaving him jobless. Its an odd situation for the corners here, any of them have the potential to start but they could just as easily not make the roster. It depends on how many corners we roll with (most likely 5, maybe 6) and if any of them suffer an injury.

Chance to start- 25% Chance to make roster- 50%

Melvin White

White was expected to get drafted, but ended up falling to the UDFA list. The Panthers may have found a nice gem from the UDFA signings here. White has been impressive during OTA's (I've seen a few Twitter updates about plays he's made). White however has to contend for the 5-6 cornerback spots where other players have more experience and can contribute sooner. Don't be surprised if we stash him on the Practice Squad, especially in case of injury.

Chance to start- 5% Chance to make roster -50% Chance to make PS- 100%

Nick Hixson

Hixson spent the latter part of the 2012 season on the PS before being signed to the roster in late December. Honestly, Hixson will probably get a few looks, but I don't expect him to be more than a camp body. He may find himself on the PS yet again if White were to make the 53 man roster (or get injured), but other than that, I don't see it.

Chance to make roster- 15% Chance to make PS- 50%

There you have it folks. On a side note, the Panthers will likely go with a heavy rotation unless one or two guys really get ahead of the pack. It will be the most interesting battle of camp, and I wouldn't be shocked to see any of the guys listed cut. Which pair do you think will start? Who has the best chance of all of them to start?

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