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Daryl Worley had it rough from the start. Expected to be the #2 corner of a decimated Panthers secondary, it's certainly no easy task for any rookie coming out of college. The typical rookie corner would fail under these conditions. It's just hard to be a good corner right out of the gate. Even so, Worley took the challenge head on. Putting his best on the field, he showed growth week after week; his play getting better by the minute. What started off as a roller-coaster of horror ended in a steady stream of potential and growth. It's not far-fetched to say Worley is not that far behind Bradberry's game at this point. So, what made Worley's 2016 season so special? Are people overlooking just how good Worley is? Will Worleybird and Beastberry be making headlines in 2017 as one of the NFL's premiere CB tandems? Take a look at Worley's film. The answer is in his own play. Daryl Worley's 2016 Rookie Season In Review Coming in as a rookie, Worley needed all the help he could get. It's hard to expect Worley to be able to handle NFL receivers on his own. McDermott's solution was to have Worley give a lot of cushion to wide-outs in coverage. This helped Worley have an advantage against deep routes and getting burned, as he has more room and time for error. However, this often put him at a disadvantage at defending short routes and passes. Players gained good chunks of yards on Worley by exploiting this weakness. Hyde gets an easy reception for a good 6 yards on a simple short route. Although Worley does close in and show good tracking and tackling, he still had a whole lot of empty space in front of him begging for an easy reception. Granted, Bradberry also had the same issue of giving up a lot of cushion to wide receivers. Nevertheless, it still proves how limited Worley was as a new rookie. It was also common to see Worley let up on simple first downs. Worley often had a lot of help surrounding him, but to no avail. Worley's hips didn't flip as fast as they should've, giving the 49er wideout plenty of room to work with. Running his route, the 49er receiver had just the room he needed to make an easy first down reception on a 3rd and long. Worley didn't stand a chance at preventing the inevitable. To top it off, Worley was part of the reason Vance McDonald went for a long TD. During Worley's life alert moment, McDonald was able to weave through the Panthers defense for a rather easy touchdown. Without Worley being there in prime position to stop him, it was just a matter of out-running everyone to the endzone. The 49ers elected to do a sail concept in this play. TE McDonald takes a vertical release and cuts on the 7 route. Chip dialed up a cover 3 beater as he noticed the Panthers defense hinting towards that formation. Worley would've been in position to prevent this from being a touchdown, but tripping up nullified his role. Even with all these rookie mistakes, Worley still flashed potential. Discounting the McDonald touchdown, Worley never gave up a huge play all day. He showed he could deflect and defend passes with solid coverage in certain instances. Knowing that his receiver would go for the first down on an obvious 3rd and down situation, Worley sits and waits for him to come right into his trap. Having the 49er covered right during the turn, Worley comes in to break up the pass on a solid play. It's stuff like this that became more common as the weeks went by. Worley's start was rough. He'd occasionally whiff tackles, give up first downs, and hand over a lot of yards. As @CPantherKing said, Daryl 'Whiff' Worley gave up a lot of plays due to his inexperience. However, this incompetence didn't last long. Unlike popular opinion, I believe he showed starter level consistency beginning week 6. In fact, the amount of flaws in Worley's game dropped dramatically since then. Sure, the 3-4 yard chunks occasionally came due to McDermott's scheme, but rarely did Worley appear as the prime culprit of mishaps. After the Julio debacle that Worley partly contributed to, our secondary was the laughingstock of the NFL. Worley's game was like night and day as he went up against Mike Evans. With a little help from Coleman, Worley was able to lock up Mike Evans step by step. This forced Evans out of the play. It would take a picture perfect pass from Jameis - which he's not usually able to do deep - in order to give Evans a chance. Worley was in prime pass-breakup position the whole time, so even that possibility was low. Worley showed dominance he never did a few weeks before against Julio. It was night and day with his performance, stepping in for an injured Bradberry. Although he did give up one TD to Mike Evans that was all on him, Worley did real well for most of the night. It was this night when Worley made it clear he was learning and growing, and it showed. Later in the season, Worley stepped it up. The Panthers knew Worley was getting the hang of things, and it showed in their new playcalls for Worley. For instance, take a look at this defensive formation: Notice Daryl Worley in press man with the other half of the field in zone. This usually happens when the team is comfortable in your abilities to play one on one with receivers and win match-ups, which basically means the team considers you a solid corner. It was clear the Panthers began to trust Worley more and more as a viable starter. When playing press, Worley showed more comfort and fluidity than in the beginning of the year. His hips flipped at a much faster rate than normal and his timing impeccable. Against the Rams WR, Worley stands in press coverage and stands step by step with him. Turning and flipping his hips in rapid fashion, Worley ensures that his receiver does not get the upperhand. Don't downgrade his impact going one on one against receivers. In man coverage, Worley held down his man in picture perfect technique. Given his one on one chances, Daryl Worley really showed up. Unlike prior weeks, Worley was given more of a chance to go after receivers on his own without the need of having much help surrounding him. However, that doesn't mean he didn't make mistakes. Take for instance this play: For one, it's a weird defensive formation that got two Cardinal wide receivers wide open on opposite ends of the endzone. Worley and Coleman have some sort of miscommunication, leading to Worley's receiver being wide open for an easy touchdown. Without Coleman and Worley switching, the result was them getting jammed on the wrong guy. However, Worley showed tremendous growth from this learning experience. Take this other play from the SD game: Bill Voth explains it best here: Worley learned from his past mistake on a very similar play involving Antonio Gates. This is the type of stuff you just love seeing from rookies, and the pace Worley is learning the ropes is staggering. Daryl Worley's coverage kept getting better as the weeks went on. No longer did he whiff as much as he used to, nor did he seem to be as scared of going up against an NFL wideout. In his first interception of the year against SD, Worley was stuck like glue on his WR. Although a tad underthrown by Rivers, Worley was never beat the whole play. No matter if Rivers placed it perfectly or not; Worley was going to make a play on that ball. Later in the year against the Raiders, Worley and Bradberry got a taste of going against two of the league's hottest WRs in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Worley played lights out and had himself a really nice game. Going against Amari Cooper in the endzone, Worley stayed locked on and deflected a sure touchdown. Cooper had no chance with Worley draped all over him, contributing to one of Amari Cooper's worst games of the season. Worley actually went against Amari Cooper a lot more than originally thought and did really well. Going up against Cooper is no easy task, but Worley stayed put and did his job. Cooper would try everything to take advantage and get something out of these corners, but no one let up. First of all, Amari Cooper's footwork is a thing of beauty. It's not often you see NFL WRs carry out such beauty in their feet, but Cooper does this flawlessly. Worley counters by staying safe and not biting, forcing Cooper to retreat to the left for just a small gain. The thing with this is the fact there was a play just like this the prior week that led to a touchdown in Oakland's favor. The fact Worley negated this to just a small chunk is quite impressive. Worley's coverage was nowhere short of impressive. Against these dangerous WRs, Worley was unhinged. He stood strong and played his role down to the letter. In this particular instance, Worley finishes up with an impressive pass breakup. Staying step by step with his receiver and covering him up like a blanket, it's not that far off to say his play looks just as good as Bradberry's. His run defense is nothing to scoff at either. PFF was not kidding when they said Worley's one of the best rookie run defenders in the league. Worley comes in at blinding speed towards the edge, stonewalling the Raiders RB to a halt. With proper tackling form, Worley pretty much eradicates @CPantherKing's "whiff" nickname as he hones in on his target; taking him out swiftly and effectively. Worley continued to look better and better as the weeks went by. When faced with new challenges and situations, Worley took them head on and came out on the winning side. Against DeSean Jackson - Tampa's new WR - Worley stayed with him. When a Washington WR attempted to set up a pick against Worley, he simply brushed right past that attempt and forced Jackson to go vertical. The result was an incompletion. Finalizing his rookie campaign, Worley had his rematch against Tampa once again. Without missing a beat, Worley stood up to the challenge and played phenomenally. In this instance, the Buccaneers call 2 seam verticals. Carolina opts into cover 3. Worley does a beautiful job reading the play and causing a pass breakup against the Bucs receiver. Not an easy play for any normal corner to make, but Worley does it beautifully. Worley's physicality grew more intense as the year went on. He wasn't afraid to go up and get rough with anyone when need be. That was no exception against Jameis' offense. Worley goes inside and roughly pushes down the Tampa WR, disrupting the throw. Worley prevents a TD by getting physical and ensuring that the receiver had no chance of holding on to the ball. A very smart and savvy play by Worley. Man coverage was something Worley really got the hang of as the season hit its twilight stage. He stayed on his man consistently and locked him up well. Now, don't let my boy Bradberry's amazing lockdown of Mike Evans distract you from Worley. Worley was able to stay step by step with his man even when the WR put a move on him and turned around. Worley trailed and stuck on him like glue, eliminating him as a possible target. A lot better than the beginning of the year where a play like this would leave Worley in the dust. Worley's performance against Tampa was fantastic. It brought hope to many Panther fans about the future, and shut up the doubters for a moment. Worley shined and played like the premiere corner he was. Conclusion Daryl Worley had a very underrated 2016 campaign. He had a steeper learning curve to climb in comparison to Bradberry, but he showed up real well. For a rookie, you couldn't ask for better growth and development. Worley looked like his own by the year's end, and I'd even argue he's nearly on the same level as Bradberry right now. PFF gives a good review of Worley. After starting the season off in the 80s-90s, Worley finished off the season as the 55th ranked cornerback. His 75.4 grade put him above the likes of Revis, and fan favorites Trae Waynes and Delvin Breaux. He exceeds the likes of rookie Eli Apple who seems to be the media's other rookie darling. While his coverage is considerably lower than Bradberry's, his run defense of 79.7 puts him in the top 15 of cornerbacks. With Steve Wilks now manning the defense, it's not far-fetched to assume Wilks will be far more aggressive than McDermott was. With Worley and Bradberry both coming into their own, our defense will no longer have to compensate our linebackers or scheme to give our corners cushion. Add in Munnerlyn and this defense is sure to be scary good. Don't count out Daryl Worley. He isn't far behind Bradberry at this stage of his career, and he's only scratching the surface.
Devin Funchess. After a stellar 2016 training camp, Devin Funchess looked prime and ready to have a breakout season. With his fluid route-running and ability to beat DBs, everyone thought Funchess was ready to take the next step and become a huge threat. Sadly, that scenario never panned out. Coming off a disappointing 6-10 season, WR Devin Funchess had 23 receptions out of 59 targets for a total of 371 yards. He accounted for 11 failed receptions on accurate throws, and the 4th worst in the NFL at getting separation. His only bright spot was gaining YAC, as he was 11th most productive in the league. Not a very good look for any NFL WR's resume. With stats like these, many are ready to write Funchess off as a bust. After showing promise and hope during his rookie season & during practice, he disappointed where it mattered. Even so, I believe Funchess still has a lot of potential. Out of all our WRs, he has the most WR1 potential. He's still a very good route-runner, has fantastic measurables, and does well at finding ways to get YAC. Although he still has to be more consistent, I think Funchess will eventually pan out as our best WR in the future. Why am I confident in this idea? Well, take a look at his film and you'll see why. What Funchess Needs To Work On Consistency. That's the main issue. At times, Funchess will show up any DB with his size and route-running ability. At other times, he may get beat at the snap and never find a way to separate/catch the ball. One issue he has is an issue I have with OJ Howard. With Funchess' size, he needs to learn to press and beat smaller defensive backs. He will occasionally let the smaller guys beat him and force needless interceptions. On the play above, the Panthers designed a play to exploit what should've been a mismatch between Funchess and the Saints. Cam Newton locks onto Funchess, expecting him to win his assignment. As it turns out, Funchess was beat right at the snap, letting the DB grab an easy INT. Another issue is consistency at the catch point. Funchess will sometimes show little effort when trying to draw in the ball. On the play depicted above, Funchess is able to gain a step on Xavier Rhodes for the deep ball. Cam Newton throws a picture perfect pass, but Funchess was unable to haul it in. Rather than attempt to leap or put forth much effort to catch the ball, Funchess lets the play slide. This issue and Funchess inconsistency need to be fixed. Sure, Funchess needed far more opportunities than what he got, but stuff like this shouldn't be happening. Even so, I think there's a lot to get excited about Funchess, and a lot pointing to the amount of missed opportunities for Funchess. Funchess' Potential & CAR's Missed Opportunities Now for the good stuff. Funchess has a lot of athletic potential. His metrics prove he's a guy who can do it all. With very good athleticism, Funchess shows he is very capable of taking WR1 duties. He can thank his athleticism for his fluid route running and flexibility. One thing people seem to miss is how young Funchess is. He's currently 23 years old entering his third year in the NFL. That's about as young as some NFL rookies this year. Being young means learning to grow in a bigger frame and having a steeper learning curve. Nevertheless, Funchess has flashed enough to convince me he's capable of going far. Funchess' bread and butter happens to be the Bang 8 route. A very complicated process, this route style requires the quarterback and receiver to be quick and precise. The receiver must shoot out of his break and cut at an angle to get leverage on the defender. If he doesn't get leverage, a safety can nail him over the middle or jump the route for an interception. On the play above, watch as Funchess runs the bang 8 route. Derek Anderson throws with the accuracy, quickness, and precision he's well known for while Funchess runs the route fluidly. The safety is unable to meet up in time when Funchess catches it. Funchess turns this into a big play as he shakes off two defenders and goes for the YAC. Funchess' route-running is stellar. He runs with fluidity and technicality. The Bang 8 route is no simple route, yet Funchess runs it effortlessly. He has very high potential as an elite route runner in the future. On another play shown above, watch Funchess run his route and beat the Saints DB once again before the safety showed up. He runs with fluidity and accuracy and hauls in the ball for a touchdown. Against tougher competition, Devin Funchess still shines. Against one of the NFL's best corners in Marcus Peters, Funchess finds his way against him. On the play shown above, watch Funchess run his route, gaining separation against CB Marcus Peters. Cam throws a perfect ball downfield for an easy reception by Funchess and walk in touchdown. Not many WRs get their way against Peters, yet Funchess finds a way. Once again, Funchess' routes are often fluid and precise. He has the ability to gain YAC, as evidenced by him being the 11th best in the league. On the play depicted above, Funchess looks inside, then snaps his head to the out route. He proceeds to run and stiff arm the defender for YAC. The result was a solid 28 yard gain by Funchess for the first down. Funchess is a very flexible WR. He can play in the slot or on the outside and perform really well. On the 3x1 formation, watch Funchess cut inside from the slot. He's able to beat the defender going deep for a solid gain and play. He gets a little bit of YAC even with the defender draping him afterwards. Funchess shows he can make big plays. With his route-running and style, he beats defenders regularly for good chunks and plays on his limited opportunities. However, now the big issue: missed opportunities. No, not Funchess causing those "missed opportunities." More often than not, the Panthers offense let Funchess down in one way or another. Whether it be Cam Newton, playcalling, or just not even given the chance of a read, Funchess showed he could've been part of a play but just wasn't given the chance. For instance, what if I told you we could've sealed the Oakland game on 4th and 10 with an easy FG or possible TD? What if I told you the Khalil Mack strip sack could've been prevented? Well, guess what? We could've done both of both of these things if Funchess wasn't an afterthought. On the play above, rewatch our disappointment once again as Turner gets beat by Mack for a Cam Newton sack. At the time, it appears like Cam Newton had no opportunity to get rid of the ball, or that no WR was open in time. Further analysis digs up a much deeper problem. Everyone knows me as a Cam Newton apologist. I consider him a top 3 QB even with last year, and most of our offensive woes came directly from inefficient WR play. I've explained that subject again and again in the past. However, if I'm going to criticize him for anything, it's locking on to his "go-to" WRs too much. Cam focuses and lock on to Benjamin or Olsen far too often, leaving other WRs with little opportunity to shine. Even Cam Newton acknowledged this was an issue: Looking at the play above, there was a potentially game-saving opportunity missed. In these two pictures, look at Funchess going against a LB. He has clear leverage against the Raiders linebacker and was wide open for a play. Cam Newton had enough space in his pocket when Funchess got open (see bottom right of top picture) to make a throw without any issue to prevent the strip-sack. However, look at Cam's eyes in the first picture. Cam's locked on to Kelvin Benjamin the whole time, not even bothering to see if Funchess beat his one-on-one against a linebacker. Perhaps it's part of the play design, but Cam should have been able to read that Funchess was up against a LBer for an easy completion. That's probably why Ron Rivera said they didn't use Funchess enough: On another play, Cam Newton once again locks on to Kelvin Benjamin: Possibly a half-read, he looks at KB's way the whole time and fits a very good deep ball in his hands. On the other side of the field, Funchess gets the Raiders DB to trip up and get himself wide open on what could've been another touchdown opportunity. Most likely, this play was designed to get the ball in KB's hands the whole time. This goes back to Ron's comments about not getting Funchess enough opportunities. Although this play ended up a touchdown either way, Cam probably could've fit an easier deep ball in Funchess' hand for the sure touchdown. Cam Newton is a very accurate pocket passer. He normally hits the deep ball really well and better than most QBs in the league. However, he's not infallible. On the play above, watch Funchess run a really nice route against the Rams corner. He gets the upper hand and gains nice separation on the play. Cam Newton has one of his rare overthrows on what should've been a walk in touchdown. The sad thing for Funchess is how he just never gets many opportunities. When he does, it seems that more often than not something else was the primary factor for Funchess not hauling something in. On the play above, Funchess beats a 4.41 speed Saints DB on the snap and has clear leeway for a possible touchdown. He gains a step on the defensive back and gets downfield towards the endzone. However, Cam Newton underthrows the ball when targeting Funchess. Cam rarely does this, yet it seems Funchess has some "bad luck" charm around him. Funchess is forced to slow down to compensate, allowing the Saints DB to catch up and turn this play into a dud. Finally, Funchess could've helped prevent the catastrophe of KB and Cam tearing his rotator cuff all in one play. On the play shown above, watch on the bottom right corner of the screen. Funchess goes against the SD corner and gets open going right. If Cam threw his way, Funchess would use likely use his ability to box out for an easy TD reception. However, Cam threw to KB instead, leading to the "no effort KB" catastrophe and near pick six. So, how does this play prevent Cam's torn rotator cuff? Well, take a look at what happened while the SD corner brought the ball back: Cam Newton rams his right shoulder on the SD defender, then trips and falls on the ground hard on the same shoulder. The accumulation of these hits in that game likely was the reason Cam's rotator cuff was torn. With KB's mistake, Cam Newton had to be the big man and show the effort Benjamin didn't show at the cost of his own shoulder. Nevertheless, if Funchess was given more opportunities, this event likely could've been prevented. Funchess is a very good receiver. However, so many opportunities were missed on what would've been big plays for the offense. Funchess needs far more attention. His play shows he's capable of being a big piece of this offense. Conclusion Devin Funchess has a lot of potential. From his metrics to his ability on the field, Funchess has shown he has the ability to become Carolina's WR1. His potential exceeds Kelvin Benjamin's, and his youth shows he still has a lot of upside. The only big issue with Funchess is his consistency. Funchess needs to start using his body and frame to beat the smaller DBs and not let them get the best of him. He needs to win more contested catches and exert more effort at the catch point. However, what Funchess really needs is more opportunities. A lot of what was seen in practice last off-season was showing on the field, yet Funchess was often not part of the read/not even targeted. The Panthers have already admitted their mistake of not using Funchess to his fullest, but they need to show it on the field rather than just talk. Funchess has a lot of potential to be our best WR. However, it's up to the Panthers to unlock and tap into that potential.