One of the keys to the turnaround for the Carolina Panthers’ defense in the second half of the 2014 season was the addition of Josh Norman to the starting lineup. The fifth round pick from 2012 became the starting cornerback in Week 8 and was the first step in turning around the secondary.
Norman has been a popular pick to breakout in 2015, like in this video with NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks. However, with the way Norman played in the second half of last year the question is has he already broken out? Should he be considered a Top 10 cornerback entering this upcoming season?
Football Outsiders this past week identified the top cornerbacks from 2014, dividing the position by No. 1 cornerbacks and then the rest of the position. Norman finished fourth in the NFL in Adjusted Success Rate, ahead of players like Richard Sherman, Brandon Flowers and Patrick Peterson.
He also finished tied for first in the NFL with the Denver Broncos’ Chris Harris in Adjusted Yards per Pass, giving up only 5.1 yards per pass. Add these numbers to the fact that he gave up only one touchdown reception and 29 total receptions on 62 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, and you can start to appreciate just how good he was last year.
One of Norman’s best games came in Week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons. He was tasked with the job of shutting down Julio Jones and he did an excellent job. Jones finishing the game with four receptions for only 58 yards. There was two plays that stood out while watching film from that game that showed just how well Norman played.
On this play, Norman expects Jones to run deeper than he does and is out of position. However, the Panthers pass rush forces Ryan out of the pocket and it gives Norman a chance to come back to the play and break up the pass.
He also was quick to diagnose plays quickly, like on this screen pass to Harry Douglas. Once the Falcons wide receiver went in motion, Norman switched responsibilities to Jones who was running a slant to the middle of the field. However, once he saw the pass to Douglas he was able to get to the ball carrier before the end zone. He did a great job making this open field tackle and being sure to get his hands on the ball to stop Douglas from reaching for the goal line.
The play of the year for Norman came a week earlier when he was able to make this interception against the Cleveland Browns. The play did end with him giving the ball back to the Browns with a fumble but it was still a remarkable play.
Based on how Josh Norman finished the 2014 season it would be safe to say that he already had his breakout year. He regularly went up against some of the top wide receivers in the game like Jones, Mike Evans and Jeremy Maclin over the second half of the season and usually came out the winner. If he plays this upcoming season like he did last year, there will be no question about whether or not he is a Top 10 cornerback.
All .gifs courtesy of NFL Game Rewind
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.