Everyone needs to understand what is going on in the NFL and why the Panthers had Shaq Thompson valued so highly on their board. The defenses are evolving and there is a need for hybrid players who can play in multiple packages to present a challenge to an offense. The Panthers had games in 2014 where they operate out of their nickel subpackages on 80-90% of the plays.
"A competitive defense in this era must employ above-average coverage skills at most, if not all, of the seven of the linebacker/defensive back positions. You have to be able to cover. You've got to have guys that can cover. So you're looking at corners that can cover, linebackers that can cover and even safeties that can cover. And not only zone safeties but safeties that can go man-to-man. Because you have to be able to mix man in there.
"So I think that's the biggest thing, particularly the linebackers, because in the formations the linebackers are going to have to walk out and cover a tight end or a back that's out of the backfield, and if they can't move and they can't cover, offensively they find that matchup they like right now and they go right at it..." - Romeo Crennell
This quote is from an article last offseason on SB Nation that details this defensive evolution. An in-depth read that describes the position the Panthers have been unable to fill for 4 seasons under Rivera. Charles Godfrey manned it in 2011/2012. Munnerlyn manned it in 2013. Godfrey, Benwikere, and Jones manned it in 2014. This is a key role that needs to be filled.
Four seasons ago teams were running their nickel packages about 35% of the time. Last season teams were using their nickel subpackages more than their base defense approaching 60%, Read the article to understand what a player like Shaq Thompson means to a defense.
Everyone needs to understand what the modern day defense looks like. Then realize a team needs 5 to 6 key players on offense that will account for 60% to 70% of a team's offensive production for the game, including the QB. Meanwhile, in that same game a team needs 16 strong defensive players to be competitive enough to win a championship.
Thinking about football in terms of 4-3 and 3-4 base defenses is a thing of the past. The term 'starter' no longer holds the weight it did 10 to 20 years ago on defense, at RB, and at WR.
I hope this allows everyone a better understanding of the impact a player like Shaq Thompson can make for a team.
Welcome to the new era of defense.