The Carolina Pathers got better yesterday by adding Quintin Mikell -- there's no question about it. The team found a talented veteran with an aversion to training camp and moved quickly after cuts to secure his services. He's immensely talented at stopping the run and rushing the passer -- but there are some concerns that Sean McDermott will need to mitigate if he plans to play Charles Godfrey and Mikell together.
Mikell wins when he plays up around the line of scrimmage and is allowed to do dirty work. He doesn't allow his compact frame to be caught up at the line, using his speed to makes tackles in the backfield and laterally toward the sidelines. Last year his ability as a run stopper would have been a godsend, his +8.5 rating (from Pro Football Focus) in run stopping and pass rushing made him one of the league's best defensive backs in these areas. He would have mitigated the problems on the defensive line and taken pressure away from Luke Kuechly.
This season is a slightly different beast, but that doesn't mean he won't be effective. Rushing the passer from a safety position is something the Panthers practiced a lot in training camp. Mike Mitchell isn't terrible in this role, but he doesn't hold a candle to Mikell.
There is a drawback, and it's a doozy. If Quintin Mikell was on the Panthers in 2012 he'd be the team's second-worst defensive back in pass coverage. His -2.4 rating is worst than Charles Godfrey (-1.2), D.J. Campbell (-1.4), and worse than whipping boy Haruki Nakamura (-0.2). He graded positively in just six games, struggling in 10 -- and there's a pattern to his pass coverage struggles where he doesn't play well against deep passing offenses.
Mikell's best games in coverage came last year against teams who utilize quick routes and intermediate passing games. He played well against San Francisco (twice), Arizona and Green Bay -- but was a non-factor against teams who like to stretch the field. This is a concern in the NFC South where every team throws deep on a regular basis.
This isn't the end of the world, it just means Mikell can't be left on an island to defend against a crossing Roddy White -- otherwise he'll get burned just as Nakamura did a year ago. The pass rush should be enough to put Carolina over the top, helping to remove comfortable 7-step drops and shotgun passing. Adding Mikell's ability as a pass rusher will give McDermott excellent options on his third down package, and his run-stopping ability means Mikell's not a liability in the run game when he does play up near the line of scrimmage, something that can't be said about many safeties.
The move to sign Mikell was wise and there shouldn't be any buyer's remorse. However, there's a reason more teams weren't beating down his door. He's a true in the box safety who shouldn't be leaned on outside of it and most teams are looking for safeties who can be an extension of their cornerbacks, rather than their linebackers. More pressure will be put on the pass rushers to make up for the deficiencies in the secondary and that's not a bad thing. It plays to the team's strengths and helps establish a defensive identity -- something which has been sorely lacking.