The Carolina Panthers patchwork secondary better come together quickly this year. According to CBS Sports the NFC South as a division has the best starting quarterbacks in the NFL and the division also boasts the league’s best wide receivers.
The combination for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady with Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be tough to stop. The New Orleans Saints feature future Hall of Famer Drew Brees with All-Pro Michael Thomas and the always capable Emmanuel Sanders. The Atlanta Falcons have future “Hall of Pretty Good-er” Matt Ryan (okay, he was the league’s MVP in 2016) with perennial Pro Bowler Julio Jones and 2018 first round pick Calvin Ridley.
Here’s how CBS Sports described the NFC South’s wide receivers, including the Panthers very own DJ Moore:
This division is hilarious. The two best receivers in the league right now are both here: Thomas and Julio. Evans and Godwin are each top-10 guys, with the talent to break into the top five. Moore is probably somewhere in the back half of the top-20, and Ridley and Sanders aren’t too far behind him.
“Hilarious” is one way to describe the wealth of receiving talent. “Terrifying” is another way to frame it up if you’re the defensive backs who will be facing those combinations of wide receivers and quarterbacks six times this season.
It could be a long, long year for the Panthers secondary. Cornerback Donte Jackson had a promising rookie season in 2018 but struggled at times last year. He’s definitely young enough and talented enough to develop into a strong corner, but the trend line was point in the wrong direction after last season. New arrival Eli Apple will be joining his third team in five seasons after being the No. 10 overall pick in 2016 and has yet to flash Pro Bowl potential. The Panthers corners are rounded out by the underwhelming holdovers Corn Elder and Cole Luke who are joined by unproven rookies in Troy Pride Jr. and Stantley Oliver-Thomas III. I honestly don’t know how these guys are going to stay in front of the murderer’s row of NFC South wide receivers, but I hope they prove me wrong.
The Panthers safeties are in a little better position than the corners. Tre Boston has sneakily been solid in coverage with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s best coverage free safety over the last three seasons. Free agent addition Juston Burris probably won’t be the best cover safety in the league which is why he has only started 11 games in four seasons. Intriguing rookie Jeremy Chinn earned a solid 82.4 coverage grade from PFF and only allowed 200 receiving yards on 340 coverage snaps, but he also played against inferior opponents at Southern Illinois. We have no idea how he will hold up when marking Julio Jones on a deep post route.
The Panthers secondary is going to get tested in their six divisional games this year. It will be a baptism by fire for this relatively new group. Let’s hope they don’t get burned.