This isn't necessarily because Norman has been the best player on the Panthers this year, although that certainly seems to be the case. The list of achievements is rather impressive as he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 4.
He is tied for the league lead in turnovers with five and is the only defensive players with two touchdowns. He also has had key plays in three of the four games this year that could be identified as the deciding factors in those games. The pick six against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped secure victories and the interception against the New Orleans Saints in the final two minutes protected the Panthers' lead.
So, is this the reason Norman is the most important player to the Panthers in 2015? Not exactly.
The reason Norman is vital to the Panthers' success this year is because there is no one on the roster that could step in and come close to doing what the fourth-year cornerback is able to. Over the past year and half, the Panthers have shown they can still be successful even if they lose key players.
On offense, Cam Newton missed two games last year but Derek Anderson stepped in and showed he can run this offense and was able to grab two victories. This year, the defense has had to play without middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for three and half games but has seen A.J. Klein step into the role and play well. The Panthers have been able to stay in the Top 10 of a number of defensive categories.
The Panthers don't have that kind of depth at cornerback to replace a player like Norman.
Norman has become a shutdown cornerback and it is getting close to the point that quarterbacks will refuse to look to that side of the field. This makes defense's job much easier because when a defense is able to put one player on an island and eliminate a major part of the opposing offense's gameplan.
The Panthers have quality cornerbacks but it would be hard to imagine Bene Benwikere or Charles Tillman able to shut down opposing number one wide receivers the way Norman has. The team would also then have to turn to Teddy Williams who is very unproven and has limited experience at cornerback prior to this year.
The Panthers are positioned very well to secure their third straight division title, even with the emergence of the Atlanta Falcons. There is no player more important to the Panthers' gameplan than Josh Norman and he will be key to that division title in 2015.