Panthers coach Ron Rivera has made it clear he wants the Carolina offense to evolve to limit the hits on and prolong the career of quarterback Cam Newton.
If this were a deep draft for offensive tackles, the Panthers might look hard at that position with the No. 8 pick in the April draft.
But it’s not.
But Rivera has mentioned another way for the Panthers to take some off the pounding off Newton: Re-commit to the run game to set up play-action passes and slow down the opponent’s pass rush.
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And NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has the guy to help the Panthers do it: LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
Mayock believes the 6-1, 235-pound Fournette is a good fit for what Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula want to accomplish with Newton and the offense.
“He’s got to go to a team that’s going to commit to running the football and feeding him 20 to 25 times. And he’s not going to be much of an impact in the pass game,” Mayock said Monday during a conference call.
“But when you start talking about Cam Newton taking less hits, to me if you’ve got a big back like that, that you can commit for the next to six to eight years, ‘We’re just gonna feed the big boy, and we’re going after it in the run game and then play to Cam Newton’s strength off of play action,’ I think that would be a significant impact.”
Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are widely considered the top two running backs in the draft. Cook is faster than Fournette, but he’s also smaller (5-11, 213) and might not mesh with the power run game that figures to be a prominent piece of Shula’s attack as he phases out the zone-read package.
The Panthers already have a big, bruising back in Jonathan Stewart, although Stewart turns 30 next month and is entering the final year of his contract.
Other draft experts see the Panthers going after an edge rusher with their top-10 pick. But Mayock thinks Fournette makes a lot of sense.
“Obviously the edge guys are important and when you get on the clock you’re looking at a bunch of different things,” he said. “But I happen to think Fournette is a nice fit with what Carolina does.”