In the later rounds of the draft (in theory) you find a guy whose skillset says "this is why he can be on an NFL roster", rather than in the first three rounds where you look at reasons why he wouldn't be a longterm contributor. Today I take a look at where Bene Benwikere wins, and how he's going to fair in an average but crowded cornerback group in Carolina.
For the purposes of this review, I used DraftBreakdown (hat tip to TXPanther and others for the advice). and watched 4 games.
note: I'm not really sure why both these games were combined
This is by far Benwikere's weakest part of his game. There were times where he made excellent open field tackles, but many times the ball carrier would just run right by him or shrug him off because he didn't break down and wrap up. Often times I just saw Benwikere throw his body at the ball carrier and it didn't usually get him anywhere. He's quite ginger of getting mixed up in the box with the film I saw, and that's a habit that needs to be killed quickly.
Benwikere also needs to work on reading the run a bit faster. Oftentimes he was still back pedaling long after the ball had been handed off and passed the line of scrimmage. He needs to read his keys and react faster to this. He also allowed himself to be completely blocked out of many plays by the wide receiver. As a nickel corner (which will be his role most likely in Carolina) he's going to face a lot of blocks from slot receivers and tight ends. He needs to get better at getting off the blocker.
Blitzing wise he has good closing speed, He takes good angles and turns the corner fast off the edge. When he does decide to mix it up in the box he's not half bad making a tackle or slowing down the ball carrier. He was also good in screen support and was able to read and react quickly to screen passes.
In sum, when he decided to mix it up in the box and form tackle he wasn't terrible in run support. But he needs to become more consistent in run support and be more committed to stopping the run. Captain Munnerlyn was tasked many times with stopping the run and playing in the box, and I believe Charles Godfrey is a better fit at this point in time as a nickel cornerback in our defense.
This is by far the strength of his game. Benwikere demonstrates excellent ball skills and positioning consistently in pass coverage. I saw many one on one situations where he jumped at the right time and made the play on the ball that was necessary to stop the receiver from catching the football. He usually stays in good position even when the quarterback has scrambled or the pocket holds up for longer than it should against the pass rush. He works the sideline quite well on fades/back shoulder throws and doesn't give the receiver as much real estate as they would like.
He still needs to work on a few things however. Sometimes he would be delayed out of his back pedal causing the receiver to run by him, and his hips are a bit too stiff for press man coverage. He played mostly off coverage and his strength lies in zone coverage. He needs to be a bit more aggressive with underneath routes (could have been the zone coverage scheme), and reminds me a lot of Josh Norman in this sense. He lacks great speed or quickness so I believe he played off coverage by necessity. He also struggled with getting himself turned around too fast when a stop, curl, or out route was coming.
He's not a perfect prospect in this sense, but pass coverage is where he wins and what will keep him on an NFL roster.
How He Fits
Benwikere will likely get the OPPORTUNITY to compete for the nickel cornerback spot right away. The reason "opportunity" is capitalized is because I just don't see him coming in and getting many snaps in his first season as a nickel. The Panthers defensive scheme calls on many things from the nickel corner, and I just don't see him excelling at it without proper coaching. The Panthers made a position switch and put Charles Godfrey at cornerback full time. Godfrey played in the box and did well in 2013 and was a decent strong safety in 2012, I see him as a better option in the nickel. Antoine Cason also has experience in the nickel, and may play the number one cornerback spot but kick inside in nickel formations as Munnerlyn did in 2012 and 2013. Based on my review, I just don't know if I can see Benwikere excelling in the nickel. I believe he may be better as an outside off coverage cornerback, where he wouldn't be tasked with playing the run as much as our nickel corner usually is. The Panthers would likely adjust the scheme accordingly should Benwikere be thrust into the starting role, but the joker/box defender that our nickel was last year is not at all a good fit for him in my eyes.
Benwikere also demonstrated good special teams play and should be able to contribute here right away in punt and kick coverage. The Panthers defensive backfield is crowded, but it's hard for me to sit here and say a guy like Josh Thomas or Josh Norman will get a spot over him. There's quite a few on roster, but after some discussion (hat tip to Crawford) it's highly possible the Panthers don't plan on him seeing the field much if at all on defense. The kid can be coached and has some solid reasons to be on an NFL roster. We just need to see if we can coach him out of the reasons why we can't.
BENE for your thoughts, Panthers fans?