CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kurt Coleman doesn’t get much attention when it comes to the top safeties during Pro Bowl voting, but his 11 interceptions over the past two seasons speak volumes.
That brings us to the 10th of an 11-part analysis of the Carolina Panthers roster.
Next up: Safety
2016 grade: B-minus. Coleman led the Panthers in interceptions this past season with four and finished third in tackles with a career-best 95 after moving from free to strong safety to replace Roman Harper. His 11 picks over the past two seasons are the most in the league by a safety. The only thing keeping this grade from being higher was the inconsistency of Tre Boston at free safety.
Under contract (2017 salary cap number): Kurt Coleman ($3,650,000), Tre Boston ($791,367), Dean Marlowe ($620,000).
The good: Coleman is locked up through 2019 after signing a three-year extension before last season. He’s led the Panthers in interceptions in each of the past two seasons and has become a solid leader of the secondary. Boston played better as the season wore on, particularly after taking a step back as the starter, so if he continues to progress, that back end of the secondary is set for at least a couple of years. Marlowe also will return after spending the season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Expectations were high for him coming into this past season.
The bad: Depth is the major issue here as long as Boston continues to improve. Marlowe could be the answer. Veteran Michael Griffin simply was a stopgap because of injuries. Adding a younger player seems to be a must.
The draft: The depth at safety is strong with five players possibly worthy of a first-round grade. At the head of the class is Ohio State’s Malik Hooker should the Panthers opt to go in that direction with the No. 8 pick, which seems unlikely considering their more urgent needs. LSU’s Jamal Adams, Michigan’s Jabril Peppers and Texas A&M’s Justin Evans also could go in the first or second round. There are 15 or so bona fide players who will be available from the second to fourth rounds, including Alabama’s Eddie Jackson. The Panthers haven’t taken a safety in the first three rounds since Charles Godfrey in 2008, so if there’s doubt about Boston, this could be the year to pull the trigger.
Final thought: The Panthers have filled the safety position by piecemeal the past three seasons, but that won’t be the case heading into 2017 with Coleman and Boston back. Adding a young player in free agency or in the middle rounds of the draft makes the most sense to shore up the depth.