Carolina Panthers: What is a Nickel Worth?

Nov 8, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers (82) and Carolina Panthers cornerback Bene
Nov 8, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers (82) and Carolina Panthers cornerback Bene /

The Carolina Panthers have to decide what to do at the nickel position in the wake of cutting Brandon Boykin. Perhaps the answer was here all along.

When the Carolina Panthers cut Brandon Boykin, it was probably ignored by many people. Heck, when they signed Boykin it was probably ignored by many people.

Boykin was brought in to potentially be the team’s nickel back under a prove-it deal. Boykin had performed well in this role in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He was never brought in to replace Josh Norman.

Then he was cut in Rookie Camp. Boykin is not a rookie and did not play one scrimmage snap for the Panthers. The team decided to move on from him, just like that.

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The theory was that the Panthers were so pleased with the performances of rookie corners James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, and Zack Sanchez that they decided to give one of them the opportunity to gain the nickel spot. We will test that idea in a moment. First, let’s look at what it takes to play the nickel.

The nickel is the fifth defensive back. This defensive formation is used to help pass coverage in long yardage situations or to match up to an offense that is playing three receivers. The nickel is matched up against the extra receiver in the slot. This means the nickel has slightly different responsibilities than the two boundary corners.

First, the slot receiver is more likely to go into motion. The nickel has to be able to keep track of that and respond appropriately.

Second, slot receivers have a different make up than other receivers on the team. Whereas you want big corners on the edge to combat bigger receivers, the slot receiver may be a smaller guy with more speed. As a result the nickel can be a smaller cover guy with more speed to counter.

One of the reasons that Larry Fitzgerald was so dangerous in the slot last year for the Cardinals is because he was lined up against these smaller matchup guys.

Charles Tillman, a bigger physical corner, was not used in the nickel last year when he was needed on passing downs. Instead Bene Benwikere shifted over into that role. Benwikere’s injury last year did not force Tillman into that spot, instead the Panthers went and found Cortland Finnegan to come in and play that role.

Because the nickel needs to be a smaller faster guy, attention has come to Sanchez out of the three rookies has the potential replacement for Boykin in the position. Worley and Bradberry are bigger guys, so maybe Sanchez would better fit covering slot receivers.

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However there is another possibility for the position – the return of Benwikere as the part time nickel. Putting your best corner down in the slot may seem odd, but if the Panthers want their best players on the field then having Benwikere, Worley, and Bradberry out there together may be better than having Benwikere, Bradberry, and Sanchez out there at the same time.

If this is the route the Panthers take, don’t cry for Sanchez. He will be the dime back for those four wide receiver situations.

So this is my prediction for the Panthers secondary in its various formations as of 5/21:

4-3: LCB – Benwikere RCB – Bradberry

Nickel: LCB – Worley NB – Benwikere RCB – Bradberry

Dime: LCB – Worley NB – Benwikere DB – Sanchez RCB – Bradberry

Next: Panthers Update 5/18

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I am not forgetting Robert McClain, I just believe that he is the emergency guy. You may see more of him at the beginning of the year, but I would hope the rookies overtake him rather quickly.