Choosing #15 as a cornerback was almost as bad as Chiefs rookie receiver Skyy Moore choosing #24...almost. The former Jacksonville Jaguar didn't make much of an impact following a trade midseason involving tight end Dan Arnold and a 3rd round pick, but figures to turn that around with a full offseason in Carolina under his belt. When looking through Panthers history, it's not hard to see the success that Panthers cornerbacks have had when donning the #24 jersey.
CB Ricky Manning Jr (2003-2005)
Believe it or not, the 5'9 rookie Manning was instrumental in securing an NFC crown for the young squad led by quarterback Jake Delhomme. In the midst of the chaos surrounding a spectacular touchdown made by Steve Smith in double overtime, it is often lost to fans of how they were in that situation. Over those last two games, Manning Jr snagged four interceptions, three of which were thrown by Eagles QB Donovan McNabb. That is elite production in the playoffs, even more so for a rookie!
The next couple seasons weren't nearly as impressive which saw Manning take his talents to "Da Bears" where he was unable to maintain the same level of play he once displayed in Carolina. Retiring in 2009, the former UCLA third-round pick in 2003 played his best seasons with the Panthers and will forever be remembered as a hero in franchise history.
CB Josh Norman (2012-2015)
Heading into the draft riding the highs of being a combine standout, many believed that the homegrown Coastal Carolina alum would be a top-60 pick. Much to the eventual regret of thirty one other teams that day, Norman would slide to the Panthers at pick #143 in the fifth round due to character concerns. The 6'0 197 lb athlete was able to get immediate playing time across from a young Captain Munnerlyn in a relatively inexperienced secondary where he made significant improvements with his play.
As a member of Thieves Avenue, Josh Norman broke out in a big way during the 2015 season, to the tune of 56 tackles, three TFLs, four interceptions, eighteen pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries, locking down top receivers on the way to Superbowl 50. The stud defensive back was set to be a cornerstone on that defense after the front office slapped him with the franchise tag that spring. That was before then-GM Dave Gettleman rescinded the tag in one of the most puzzling front office moves in Panthers history, citing an inability to get a long-term extension done by the deadline.
Letting Norman go will still remain one of the biggest "What Ifs" in team history, in an offseason that saw him sign a big-money deal with Washington where he lived up to expectations until dropping off in the final years of the contract.
James Bradberry (2016-2019)
Following the departure of Josh Norman in free agency, Dave Gettleman thought it was a shrewd move to select three corners back-to-back-to-back in the 2016 NFL Draft; I would beg to differ. It's not reasonable or smart to think you could draft an entire secondary in one draft class, but that's exactly what the front office attempted with the selections of James Bradberry (2nd round), Daryl Worley (3rd round), and Zack Sanchez (5th round). With six years to look back on, it's clear that the former Samford Bulldog was the only hit; Bradberry recorded 279 tackles, seven TFLs, eight interceptions, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and 47 pass deflections in Carolina before signing a mega-deal with the New York Giants in the 2020 offseason (same year that Rhule was hired).
For most of his career, the young corner was underrated across the league when considering his ability to limit division rivals in Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Michael Thomas, to name a few of the top receivers during that time. He gained more notoriety after packing his bags for The Big Apple but was recently cut for salary cap relief. On May 18th, 2022, Howie Roseman scooped Bradberry up for a one year $10 million deal to pair him with Darius Slay in the secondary. I wish him the best in Philly!
As mentioned previously, Panthers corners seem to carry a little extra something when they adorn the #24 jersey in Carolina black and blue; I can only hope they left some of the swagger for CJ Henderson this year!
It seems that his season has already gotten off to a much better start, with Carolina Blitz co-founder Vashti Hurt tweeting, "CJ Henderson with a nice pass breakup. Hearing lots of good things about him from coaches and players." I'm expecting big things from Henderson this year. How about you? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below :)