A couple days ago, the Carolina Panthers rescinded their franchise tag offer from star cornerback Josh Norman, making him a free agent. Norman is widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but Panthers GM Dave Gettleman thought he would be too expensive for the team to keep long-term. Because of this, the team is going to need one of their cornerbacks to step up and that will likely have to be Bene’ Benwikere.
Benwikere came into the league as a fifth-rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he has since developed into a solid overall cornerback. In 23 career games (10 starts), Benwikere has defensed 17 passes while recording 70 tackles and one interception. He was looking to be a very strong No. 2 corner last season before hurting his leg and missing the rest of the year.
Now, Benwikere will come into training camp as the Panthers’ top option at the cornerback position. It will not be easy for the third-year pro to develop into a top cornerback while coming off of an injury, but he is going to be pressed into the job. Benwikere absolutely needs to play well, or the Panthers’ stellar defense will suddenly find itself weak in the secondary, which could capsize their efforts to return to the Super Bowl in the very strong NFC.
Of course, the Panthers could look to the draft to address their need at the corner position, but it is uncertain who will be available with their late first-round pick. The team could possibly see Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III or Eli Apple still on the board, but there are no guarantees about who will be available.
However, given the team’s recent history of grabbing solid corners late in the draft, the team may elect not to address the corner position until the middle rounds. Both Norman and Benwikere were fifth-rounders, so clearly they are able to identify undervalued players. Perhaps the team would be better served addressing another position, like safety. The Panthers have reportedly shown a lot of interest in hybrid safety Su’a Cravens. He could be an excellent addition to the team and would be a great complement for Kurt Coleman.
Regardless of what the Panthers do in the draft, one thing remains clear: The team needs Benwikere to come in ready to play. If he cannot hold up as a No. 1 cornerback, the team could find itself in trouble and ultimately may lose to a stronger team in the NFC title game.