(Leading up to the start of free agency, Panthers.com is looking at the state of each position group. The series wraps up today as the new league year kicks off.)
POSITION REVIEW: The secondary struggled statistically and with establishing an identity for much of 2017, and change is on the way as a result. Second-year player James Bradberry led NFL cornerbacks in tackles with 85 based on press box stats, but neither he nor the two primary corners opposite him (Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour) recorded an interception until Week 14. Nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn had an up-and-down season in his return to Carolina, as did veteran safeties Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman. The Panthers released Coleman last month and traded Worley to the Eagles for wide receiver Torrey Smith.
STATS OF SIGNIFICANCE: The Panthers did pick up the pace late in the season with six interceptions in the last seven games, but only five teams ended the season with fewer than Carolina's total of 10. And while touchdown passes allowed can't be put entirely on the secondary, only 10 teams surrendered more than the 25 the Panthers yielded.
WORTH WATCHING AGAIN: Three of the Panthers' interceptions came against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 15 (Bradberry, Worley and safety Colin Jones), but a takeaway of a different variety sealed the victory and Green Bay's playoff fate. After the Packers kept hope alive by recovering an onside kick, Bradberry stripped receiver Geronimo Allison and Adams recovered the fumble.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES: The secondary is set to undergo a seismic shift with the departure of Coleman and Worley. Jones (a special teams player first) is now the only safety on the roster outside of Adams with notable experience, and Seymour has experience opposite Bradberry and did push Worley last season but didn't truly unseat him.
HOPE FOR 2018: Munnerlyn will look to have a bounce-back year at nickel, with two youngsters with nickel notions (Corn Elder and Cole Luke) back after rookie seasons wiped out by injuries. Adams, 14 seasons into his pro career and one year into his Panthers tenure, will be the new leader of the secondary at age 37, and perhaps Bradberry takes on more of a leadership role.
In free agency, safeties worth noting include Kenny Vaccaro – last of the Saints – plus a pair that previously spent time with the Panthers: 2012 practice squad member Ron Parker and 2014 draft pick Tre Boston. As for the draft, targeting defensive backs the Panthers might pick would be an exercise in futility because there are so many options. At least one safety and at least one corner were selected in each round of last year's draft – 56 were drafted all told – including eight in the first round and 21 on the second day (Rounds 2-3).
View photos of the defensive backs in action during the 2017 season.