Luckily for the Panthers it isn’t a major need with veteran Roman Harper still on the roster and at the very least has one more productive season in his career as a full-time starter. The team could look at some players who may not have a lot of experience but have potential to become full-time stars at the position.
The player who is going to generate the most interest, and most likely the biggest contract, at the position is New England Patriots’ Devin McCourty. While he is a good player, he may not be the best fit for the Carolina Panthers, both in terms of their need as well as financial.
The Panthers are going to be in the market for a run-stuffing safety, one who is tough against the run and can play up near the line of scrimmage. This will allow Boston to be more of a centerfield type safety and take away the deep passes down the field. These are four safeties who could be a perfect match with Boston at the safety position.
If the Panthers want to find a young safety who excels against the run they need to start with Da’Norris Searcy. The Buffalo Bills drafted Searcy in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft but wasn’t until the 2013 season that he got a chance to get playing time on a consistent basis.
Former Bills’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine started to use Searcy in sub-packages and had him playing a LB/S hybrid type role. At 5’11” and 207 pounds, he is big enough to play on the line of scrimmage and disrupt run plays but also has the coverage ability to line up with some of the more athletic tight ends, like Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.
After the departure of Jarius Byrd last offseason, Searcy finally got to start at the safety position and started 13 games for the Bills. Last year did he not only show off his ability to stop the run (Pro Football Focus rated him the seventh best safety against the run) but also showed he could defend the pass with three interceptions.
At only 26 years of age, Searcy has a lot of football ahead of him and could create a young, dynamic combination with Boston at the safety position.
The Panthers may be hesitant to try and bring in another Falcons’ safety but what Dwight Lowery brings to the table is what the defense needs at the safety position. Similar to Searcy, Lowery is an excellent tackler who can play up near the line of scrimmage. He started 15 games for the Falcons a season ago and finished with 79 total tackles on one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
There are some concerns with Lowery and the biggest one being if he is able to stay healthy. Last year was the first time since his rookie season in 2008 that he was able to play in all 16 games. In 2012 and 2013, while a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was placed on injured-reserve both seasons.
The biggest concern for Lowery when he is on the field and is healthy is whether or not he is a liability in pass coverage. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 18th worst safety in the NFL a season ago and opposing quarterbacks had an NFL rating of 80.1 when they threw at him.
Unlike last year, the Panthers could afford to take a gamble on Lowery because they would still have Harper on the roster and could step in if Lowery was to go down with an injury. When he is healthy though, there is no question about the fact that he is an excellent tackler and as long as he is not asked to drop back into coverage too often, he could be a good piece for this defense.
The scouting report on Kendrick Lewis is very similar to Dwight Lowery in that he is an excellent tackler (84 total tackles last season) but struggles in coverage (rating of -2.6 in coverage according to Pro Football Focus). The one benefit with Kendrick Lewis is that he is three years younger than Lowery at only 26 years of age.
Lewis was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft and saw playing time almost immediately starting 10 games his rookie season. He actually started 10 or more games in three of his four years as a Chief with 2012 being the only season missing that mark due to a shoulder injury. He spent the 2014 season with the Houston Texans and could be playing for his third team in six years.
This is probably the most intriguing name on this list because when healthy Tyvon Branch is the arguably the best safety available this offseason. The problem is that he isn’t always healthy and has had the last three seasons ended due to injury and played only a total of five games the past two years.
In 2013, Branch’s season was cut short due to a neck injury and he seemed to be recovered from that with 30 total tackles in the first three games of 2014. However he broke his foot in that third game and was sidelined for the remainder of the year.
The Panthers’ could be the perfect situation for Tyvon Branch and vice versa. After spending his career with the Oakland Raiders he would be joining a team that is expected to be in the playoff hunt in 2015, which is something he has not had in his career.
For the Panthers, they would be getting a Pro Bowl caliber safety, who is one of the top tackling safeties in the NFL when healthy. If he is not able to stay healthy the team still has Roman Harper on their roster who could step in and help the secondary continue to play at a high level.