Over the next few weeks, Brandon Croce will be ranking the NFC South by position. The team with the best position group, based on their starters as well as their depth, will receive four points all the way down to one point. The points will be totaled up to determine who has the best team heading into 2015.
Nickelback: Bene Benwikere
The Panthers have arguably the number one cornerback in Josh Norman, who had a breakout season last year. He became the Panthers starting cornerback in Week 5 and played like a lockdown cornerback. He was regularly asked to go up against some of the top wide receivers in the game like Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Jeremy Maclin. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a QB rating of 53.9 when throwing Norman’s direction, which was the fifth lowest among cornerbacks. He also only allowed one receiving touchdown all season.
The question mark for the Panthers lies in who is going to step in as the starting cornerback opposite Norman. Last year’s starter, Bene Benwikere, is expected to move inside to nickelback which is a position he is much better suited for. For that to happen, veteran Charles Tillman will need to rebound and prove he can stay healthy. He has only played in nine games over the past two seasons due to a tricep injury.
The team does have some depth and if Tillman struggles they could turn to Melvin White or even Chris Houston, who is looking to revitalize his career after sitting out the entire 2014 season. There are question marks with this group but the front office has added plenty of depth to hopefully eliminate those questions by the season starts.
Nickelback: Leonard Johnson
The Bucs have a well-balanced depth chart at cornerback led by Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks. The Bucs signed Verner in free agency last offseason to replace Darrelle Revis. Verner was coming off an impressive five interception season with the Titans but that number dropped to only two last year.
While Verner was thought of as the number one, Banks was actually the more impressive cornerback. He is only entering his third season in the NFL and already has seven career interceptions. At 6’2” Banks has the size to match up against some of the bigger wide receivers in the NFC South like Kelvin Benjamin and Julio Jones.
Similar to the Panthers, the Bucs have quality depth after their starting two with the addition of Sterling Moore, who is expected to compete for the nickel position. The question is can Mike Jenkins stay healthy. The veteran cornerback only played one game last year before ending up on the IR. If Jenkins comes back healthy, this is going to be a solid group.
Nickelback: Delvin Breaux
The Saints hope the addition of Brandon Browner will help stabilize the cornerback position. However, that responsibility is going to fall on Keenan Lewis, who was inconsistent for a majority of the season. He saw all his stats drop from his first season in New Orleans in 2013 to last season.
Lewis wasn’t awful the entire season and did have some quality games. Panthers’ fans don’t need to look any further than Lewis shutting down Kelvin Benjamin in Week 9. This defense is going to need him to bounce back in 2015 and play at a high level every week.
After Lewis and Browner, there is some serious concerns at cornerback and they lack the depth that the Panthers have. The Saints signed Kyle Wilson in free agency to be the team’s nickelback however he has struggled. He has been passed on the depth chart by Delvin Breaux, who spent the past few seasons in the CFL.
Starting Cornerbacks: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Nickelback: Phillip Adams
The Falcons have at least one solid cornerback in Desmond Trufant, who played pretty well on a bad defense last year. Pro Football Focus rated him as their fifth best cornerback with a rating of 13.5 and at only 24 years of age his best years could still be ahead of him.
After Trufant, the rest of the position doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence. Right now Robert Alford is penciled in as the team’s starting cornerback opposite Trufant. He started nine games for the Falcons last year but broke his wrist in Week 11 and missed the remainder of the season.
The Falcons did draft Jalen Collins in the second round who could push Alford for that starting cornerback job. Collins was considered a first round talent but he failed multiple drug tests in college and started only 10 games. He dropped into the second round and the Falcons could have found themselves a steal.
If Collins is able to win that job, it would allow Alford to slide inside to nickelback and this position would be significantly stronger. However, with Collins lack of experience at the college level that doesn’t seem to be a likely scenario and that’s why the Falcons are ranked as low as they are.
|Carolina||Tampa Bay||Atlanta||New Orleans|
Depth Charts courtesy of Ourlads.com
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.