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In the weeks leading to the draft, we are going to be taking a look at some players the Panthers might be targeting. With the team having so many needs on defense, there's a lot of players who Carolina might be interested in. The purpose of this series is to help you, the readers, become more familiar with these picks and determine if they are a good fit for the Panthers or not.

To start things off, we are going to look at one of the somewhat local favorites, Stephon Gilmore from the University of South Carolina. Anyone who watched the Panthers last season knows that the team needs to strengthen their pass defense. Outside of Chris Gamble, they don't have any corners that are starting material. Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler would make good nickel and dime options but their play last season showed that they are not starters. Opposing quarterbacks could easily make Gamble not as much of a factor by picking on one of these two instead, which is why a #2 corner is needed. Gilmore is one of the players the Panthers have shown interest in and is projected to be a late first/early second round pick, so it's very possible that we could see him in Charlotte next year.

Is Gilmore a right fit for the Panthers, though? After the jump, we'll take a look at Gilmore's strengths, weaknesses and attributes to determine if he is someone the Panthers should target.

Gilmore is a stout, physical corner who has decent ball-hawking skills and was selected to the all-SEC first team. He has been very successful throughout this entire college career and has started 40 games during his time at South Carolina. He was very impressive at the NFL Draft Combine as he placed second among cornerbacks with a 20-yard shuttle time of 3.94 and had an unofficial 40 time of 4.40. He had 46 tackles and four interceptions in 2011 season and decided to forgo his senior year to enter the draft.

Gilmore has the size, strength and athleticism to be a starting corner in the NFL but the scouting reports, combine notes and stats can only tell you so much. To me, finding out how effective a player is in a game situation is more valuable than anything and the best way to judge that is by studying game tape. Stats are great, but I always like to have visual evidence to back-up the numbers to judge prospects, especially ones that are projected to go in a higher round. The college football stats available online are also less than idea, so I put a lot of though into game film when looking at potential draft picks.

For Gilmore, I watched South Carolina's games against Nebraska, Arkansas and Clemson to get an idea of what kind of player he is. All three teams have very strong offenses, so his performance in these games can help us project how Gilmore will perform as a pro. After watching these games and Gilmore's performance more closely, I have a few opinions on him.

One thing that sticks out to me about Gilmore is how quickly he converges on the ball-carrier and how he always seems to get involved with helping stop the run. Run support is a very important attribute to have in a corner and Gilmore always seemed to be one of the first guys to go after the ball-carrier if they went to the outside. I noticed this a lot against Nebraska, who ran the ball a lot in the Capital One Bowl. Gilmore is big and physical enough to be an effective run stopper, so I think this will definitely help him as a pro, but something else I noticed is that he was blocked very easily, especially in the Nebraska game. Nebraska's tight and and wide receivers were able to hold off Gilmore for at least 5-6 seconds which allowed them to push the play downfield before Gilmore could get to the running back. That's something which could be a problem when he takes on bigger and stronger tight ends and blocking receivers in the NFL. 

As for his coverage skills, Gilmore is very, very good in the zone coverage scheme that South Carolina uses. He is great at jumping routes and taking advantage of bad throws, which is a skill welcomed in every defense. Gilmore is also solid at blanketing receivers in short yardage routes and if he does allow a catch, the receiver never gains much after the play. He was particularly good in goal-line situations against Arkansas and Tennessee. His play reminds me a lot of Bengals' corner Leon Hall.

A problem that arises here is that the Panthers do not play zone coverage and utilize more of a man-to-man system instead. Gilmore has the tools to be a successful man-to-man corner but I haven't seen enough from him to say if he will be effective as one in the NFL. The few instances where he was forced into man-to-man coverage weren't terribly promising, though. The most glaring instance came in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska where the Nebraska wide-out had a step on him and Gilmore panicked at the last second by electing to tackle the receiver even though the ball was overthrown. That showed poor decision-making skills on his part and it doesn't reflect well on his man-to-man coverage skills either.

The other flaw I noticed in Gilmore's game is that he has a tendency to go for the big play instead of taking a more safe approach. Case and point, in the Nebraska game he had perfectly defended an attempted end-around and had an opportunity to wrap-up the ball-carrier for a loss but instead, he went for a big hit, which was evaded, and the Huskers got a first down in the red zone. I saw this again in the Clemson game when he had solid coverage on one of their receivers, but he tried to go for the INT and allowed a first down as a result. I call this "Aqib Talib Syndrome." These are all correctable mistakes and Carolina's coaching staff can definitely help fix the problems that Gilmore has in his game, but is he the right corner to take for us?

Here's the big issue with the Panthers taking Gilmore. Carolina is picking in the top 10 and there is going to be better talent available there. Corner is a big need for this team, but they have other issues that need to be addressed, as well. From what I see, Gilmore is not worth picking in the top 10, even if he is the best corner available then. He might be available in the second round, but it's possible that he might be gone by then because of how impressive he was during the combine. I also have some questions about whether or not he can fit with Carolina's defense because he played a completely different system in college. South Carolina also had one of the best pass rushes in football, which definitely helped Gilmore's play a lot. QB's make more bad throws when they are under pressure and one of Gilmore's strongest asset's is his ball-hawking skills. He probably won't have that luxury in Carolina.

I think Gilmore has the skills to be a solid man-to-man corner but it'll require some coaching/training for him to be one, so I'm not sure if the Panthers should take him if there are better players available in the second round.


Here's a video showing some highlights from Gilmore at the Capital One Bowl including his blocked extra point return.