I had to get right with the idea of drafting Shaq Thompson. I still haven’t seen their justification of the move in action, partially because of the injuries that made the move so brilliant.
I could’ve argued that AJ Klein was good enough to be the 3rd linebacker. That he’s been a great fill-in at MLB, along with some coverage deficiencies that come up from him being used so often, seem to correctly justify what happened with Thompson versus a less talented, less able pick at linebacker.
Similarly, while Thompson himself was justified in the nickel-type conversation – and I could’ve argued that the nickel defense itself was just fine – the additional ability that Charles Tillman brought to the outside, and the feathering in of Bene Benwikere inside or outside, has been beneficial. The team is doing good work again bringing last year’s nickel, Colin Jones, back into the mix with Davis banged up. They’ve used Tre Boston effectively as a part-time safety as well. No one would’ve blamed them for not pushing Boston and Roman Harper.
They could’ve held still with Jones, Boston. Klein as an OLB. They didn’t, they kept improving themselves, where I’m fairly certain some fans would’ve drafted five wide receivers in a row.
With injury, yeah, wide receiver has some challenges. But in this team concept, I struggle to think where this team would be with a depleted back seven.
Separately, it’s worth noting that Carolina heavily adjusted its defensive line early this season – dropping Colin Cole for Ryan Delaire, adding Jared Allen, dropping the run-situational Wes Horton – and that it doesn’t only do so in desperation moments. The team benefitted from midseason cuts of vets, like Antoine Cason and Jason Avant, and while they were moves that worked, there was a feeling of legitimate desperation from them.
But they make these type moves without that desperation, too. Cutting Cole, part of a four man rotation at DT for three years, for Kyle Love’s resurgent role at NT has aided a defense in need of a boost. That brought them Delaire, who made some fleet footed plays against Tampa’s lead-footed line that the more physical Allen wasn’t going to make. Losing Horton wasn’t necessarily something they wanted to do, and it might not be permanent, but they have good run-stopping ends now that they have Allen and Kony Ealy on the edges. That’s where Delaire and Mario Addison get to feather in, once you have a lead.