The Carolina Panthers caught the nation off guard when they drafted cornerback James Bradberry out of Samford in the second round of the 2016 draft. Bradberry was under the radar and projected no where near the second round. Since then, Bradberry has exceeded expectations. From rookie camp to OTAs, training camp to preseason, Bradberry has not only claimed the starting left cornerback position, but has done so in convincing fashion.
Bradberry is a tall, long, physical corner in the mold of Richard Sherman and Josh Norman. The perfect candidate for the Carolina Panthers zone defensive scheme.
James Bradberry’s physicality was on display against the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday night. On one particular play, Bradberry was lined up across from 6’6 wide receiver turned tight end Darren Waller. Waller tries to simply push Bradberry to the side as the ball was snapped. Bradberry, however, was not having it.
James Bradberry is physical, no question about that. Look at him do battle with 6’6″ Darren Waller here. pic.twitter.com/HExHQIeOwc
— Ethan Young (@NFLDrafter) August 15, 2016
I spoke with Bradberry about this play recently, and about how he has caught on so quickly this year for the Carolina Panthers. He was quick to credit lining up against Carolina Panthers receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess as the fuel that accelerated his learning curve.
“He is probably one of the strongest receivers I will probably go against” Bradberry said of Kelvin Benjamin. “And probably one of the most technically sound ones. He knows how to use his arms and his weight to box me out.”
And just how do you cover a guy like Benjamin? “With Kelvin, I try to get physical with him and try to deter him from his spot where he wants to go” Bradberry answered. In other words, try to take Benjamin off course. If Kelvin gets where he wants to be, it won’t end well for the defense.
“Funchess is a little bit quicker, he tries to get a quick little jab here and there and get around you”. James Bradberry confirms what many of us have suspected for a while now. While Benjamin and Funchess are both tall receivers, their game is very different. Funchess is more of a slashing receiver who can cut and change direction more quickly to get open.
Covering a player like that requires a different technique.
“Basically, you have to use your hands and feet with Funchess” Bradberry said. Simply being physical with Funchess won’t work, he is too slippery. Instead, Bradberry needs to use his athletic ability, his feet and his hands, to keep up with Funchess and challenge the reception.
Using his hands and his feet has been a common theme instilled into Bradberry by Panthers defensive backs coach Steve Wilks. I can remember at this year’s rookie camp Wilks yelling to his corners “it’s about your feet!”
James Bradberry has apparently taken his coach’s words to heart and in turn has displayed those skills on the field. For instance, on the last day of training camp in Spartanburg, Bradberry reached in with his extremely long arms and knocked away a sure completion from Devin Funchess. An incomplete pass for Cam Newton, a pass broken up for James Bradberry.
In James Bradberry the Carolina Panthers have the new NFL prototype for a zone corner. A player who can not only be physical with the strongest receivers in the NFL, but also quick enough to cover a large area against the faster receivers. Once the ball is thrown, Bradberry has the needed length and wingspan to compete for the ball.
So what happens when you take a guy with those physical traits, pair him with one of the best defensive backs coach in the league, and then have him cover two extremely tough and talented wide receivers every single day?
Answer: Expect big things from James Bradberry.