The debate going on amongst Carolina Panthers fans these days is who should the team select with their No. 8 overall pick in the NFL Draft? On Friday, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman didn’t give the media any hints on which direction the team may decide to go, but he talked highly about two players, in particular, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.
“Christian is a different style from Leonard,” Gettleman said. “A completely different style. And by the way, Leonard has really good hands. He catches the rock now. So, I mean, they both fit with different styles.”
Many believe if LSU running back Leonard Fournette is still available at No. 8, the Panthers would select him. Some scouting services have listed Fournette as the No. 1 running back in this year’s class and for a good reason.
Fournette has a body like a defensive player with the speed of a receiver as he ran 4.51 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. As a sophomore at LSU, Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns as he was a consensus All-American in 2015.
Questions about his durability have been a concern as an ankle injury limited his production in 2016 to 843 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games played. There have also been doubts about if Fournette can be an every-down back, but Gettleman said he wasn’t worried about that part of his game.
Fournette’s weaknesses appear to be strengths of McCaffrey as he has been praised for being an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. During his three seasons at Stanford, McCaffrey recorded 99 receptions and 10 receiving touchdowns. Where doubts come in about McCaffrey is can his 5-11, 202-pound body withstand the every down punishment in the NFL despite rushing for 2,019 yards in 2015 and 1,603 yards in 2016?
Gettleman doesn’t believe McCaffrey small frame will be a problem.
“The last two years, he’s rushed the ball for 650 and he’s caught another 90 balls,” Gettleman said. “So that right there—he can run it, he can catch it—I guess that’s three downs. He’s certainly shown he can carry the load at Stanford.”
If Fournette is off the draft board and the Panthers decide to go in another direction, there are a number of talented running backs available in the second and third rounds. Gettleman feels like they’re other running backs that could fit the Panthers scheme outside of Fournette and McCaffrey.
“About a half-a-dozen,” Gettleman said in regards to three-down backs in the draft. “There are three-down running backs and there are three-down running backs. Not everybody is equal. But this is a very good running back draft.”
During the offseason, the Panthers did re-sign 2016 leading rusher Jonathan Stewart to a one-year extension worth $8 million in base value. But with Stewart turning 30 last month, that probably won’t keep the Panthers from selecting a running back in the draft.
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 overall in last year’s draft and he helped the team 13-3 and won the NFC East division. Fournette or McCaffrey could provide a similar boost to the team while improving an already solid Panthers rushing attack that finished 10th in the NFL in 2016.
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