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Panthers Position Reviews: Cornerback

A run down of the Carolina Panthers’ cornerbacks from the 2016 season.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Since Ron Rivera took over as head coach in Carolina, the cornerback position has experienced heavy turnover on a year by year basis. Heading in to 2016, the team appeared to be in good position with Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere as incumbent starters. That all changed when Norman’s franchise tag was shockingly rescinded, a story we’ve gone over ad nauseum.

The Panthers made their picks in the draft, and ended up with their top two drafted corners as their starters ending the 2016 season. Will they be the incumbent starters next season? Or will Gettleman make another move? Let’s try to make some early sense of it.

James Bradberry

Stats: 13 games started, 59 total tackles, 10 pass deflections, 2 interceptions

For an in depth look at Bradberry, you can read my offseason impressions piece here.

For some cliff notes, Bradberry was pretty clearly the best cover corner for the Panthers in 2016, and the unit showed quite noticeable drop off when he was out with his toe injury. Bradberry displayed solid instincts and was clearly further ahead in the mental aspect of transitioning to the NFL. While his stats aren’t the flashiest, there were several occasions where the quarterback would take a shot into single coverage, and the ball would hit the dirt untouched because Bradberry’s coverage was so excellent. He was named Pro Football Focus's number one rookie cornerback.

Bradberry has a lot of the same physical traits that made Norman an elite corner without the mouth that came with it. I think Bradberry will surprise some people within the first few years of his career, and should come along quicker than Norman did. Will he be on the same level as Norman? That I don’t know, mainly because Norman worked so hard at his craft to become what he is now. Bradberry certainly seems like a stand up guy, and will have the benefit of continuing to work with Steve Wilks in 2017. He should be the Panthers number one corner, barring a situation where the Panthers end up drafting a guy who falls into the early second round.

Daryl Worley

Stats: 11 games started, 88 total tackles, 1 sack, 9 pass deflections, 1 interception

For an in depth look at Worley, you can read my offseason impressions piece here.

And for some cliff notes on that one, Worley wasn’t immediately thrust into a starting role. He didn’t really get that chance until Bradberry went down and the Panthers cut ties with Bene Benwikere after the travesty that was the Falcons passing statistics in their first tilt of the season. Worley pretty much stuck around as a starter after that, and played pretty well as the season went on. The Panthers cornerback unit was at it’s best with the two rookies manning the outside. Worley also showed (in my opinion) that he is currently a better run defender than Bradberry as he is way more physical with blockers and showed more willingness to stick his nose in and get involved. He also had three or four plays I can recall where he made an excellent play on the ball on third down in the endzone, only for it to be nullified by a penalty on somebody else.

Worley is also currently slated to be the other starter on the outside. I could see the Panthers bringing in some veteran talent for competition and depth there, but I think Worley will have a leg up due to familiarity with the system and a hope for continuity. If the Panthers start week one off with these two, I think they will be fine.

Leonard Johnson

Stats: 10 games played in, 0 starts, 30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass deflection

The Panthers defense really needed a spark midway through the season, and Leonard Johnson’s return from injury certainly provided that. Johnson entered the 2016 season as a relative unknown, but clearly the coaching staff saw something with him as they kept him around til week 8 of the regular season. Johnson didn’t force any turnovers, but he played well enough as a nickel to make Robert McClain expendable. The energy Johnson brought to the field when he came back helped the unit play with more motivation despite plenty of reasons to be demotivated.

Looking forward, Johnson is probably the most viable option on the roster CURRENTLY to play nickel. That said, the Panthers have been looking for a nickel ever since Captain Munnerlyn left, and he just so happens to be a free agent this year. I would be shocked if the Panthers didn’t throw some more darts at the wall hoping to truly nail down that position.

Zach Sanchez

Stats: 5 games played, 1 start, 9 total tackles

Sanchez came in with some higher expectations due to his 5th round tag, but he had to make the move from college outside corner to nickel in the NFL. Unfortunately he just wasn’t ready, as he was involved in just about every major meltdown when the Panthers were thin at corner. Sanchez is a risk taker with good ball skills, but his size doesn’t help him much. He’s got some work to do, but it seems that teams aren’t clamoring to grab him if they decide to place him on the practice squad once again. I expect Sanchez back, but I don’t know if he will be on the 53 man roster or not.

Teddy Williams

Stats: 3 games played, 6 total tackles, 2 pass deflections, 1 interception


Williams really only played at corner out of necessity. While he did have one turnover, he was a lot better at making boneheaded penalty causing plays both on special teams and when he was forced to play. Williams has played decent in preseason action at corner, but I don’t see him coming back as anything more than a special teams guy, if at all.


Lou Young is the only name left who played a snap for Carolina in 2016, but it was primarily on special teams. Tyler Patmon played about 22 games for the Dallas Cowboys for the first two years of his career, playing special teams and some nickel corner for them before bouncing around the league. The Panthers likely brought him in for a look as a nickel. They also signed CFL cornerback Jeff Richards in January of this year, who primarily played special teams there. He also played some Arena Football in 2015.

In sum, the Panthers front end looks pretty good, but they could stand to add some back up depth, preferably some veterans. They also should really pursue a more viable nickel cornerback, which they could do in the draft. But I have a feeling we will see them bring in a free agent to push Leonard Johnson. What are your thoughts?