CHARLOTTE, NC (Jourdan Rodrigue/CharlotteObserver) - Here's a revolutionary thought: The Carolina Panthers should invest in their secondary.
And not with mid- to late-round picks or development projects, either.
On April 26, the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft, Carolina should take a defensive back at No. 24.
A day-one starter. A leader. The infusion of youth and speed parroted often this offseason as hole after hole appeared in the secondary. This type of player literally clogs the pick-point. Josh Jackson. Justin Reid. Isaiah Oliver. Mike Hughes. Jaire Alexander.
It is Carolina's greatest need on a laundry list of many. And it's an investment they've largely avoided for almost three years.
After the muddled fiasco of losing starting cornerback Josh Norman in the spring of 2016, the Panthers picked three — three — cornerbacks in that year's draft, but none in the first round. That pick was used on backup defensive tackle Vernon Butler.
One, Daryl Worley, a third-round pick, was traded to and then cut by the Eagles in recent weeks. Another, fifth-rounder Zack Sanchez, has struggled with injury and largely has spent his NFL tenure on the practice squad or injured reserve.
And James Bradberry, that year's second-rounder, remains the starter in the hot seat after hitting a plateau during his second season. Bradberry faces a crucial development year, and has the physical and mental gifts to be a top corner in the league. But he needs a counterpart who can push him.
There is no clear starter opposite Bradberry. There is no clear starter to replace safety Kurt Coleman, who was released this spring and signed with New Orleans. No safety net opposite 37-year-old Mike Adams.
The NFL is a league more dependent than ever on the pass. Receivers and tight ends are faster and more versatile, creating mismatches along the line of scrimmage. Pass-catching running backs have flooded rosters, particularly in the NFC South.
Speaking of the NFC South, each team boasts a franchise quarterback who can sling. Each team that Carolina will face twice a year has at least one big-name receiver and multiple mismatch players who require excellent athleticism and savvy in coverage.
And Julio Jones isn't going to drop 'em like he did last fall.
My counterpart, the esteemed Joseph Person, will argue that a pass-catcher is needed at No. 24, another weapon for quarterback Cam Newton. I agree that more receiving help is needed, and perhaps even an heir to tight end Greg Olsen, but not with a first-round pick.
See, opposing teams know all too well that the Panthers' defensive weakness is containing the pass. The Panthers gave up 229 passing yards per game last season, No. 19 in the league. Against NFC South opponents in the regular season, they gave up 266 passing yards per game.
So I say get players in the secondary who can contain an aerial attack, and force an opponent to try to punch through a front that includes defensive tackles Kawann Short and Dontari Poe, and linebacker Luke Kuechly (yeah, good luck with that).
Then, Newton won't have to perform the miracle of mounting a comeback using a toolbox with a few bolts missing.
Carolina's secondary is currently in danger of being woefully under prepared to handle the year ahead.