If there’s one thing for certain in this offseason of smokescreens and speculation, it’s that Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman still loves his “hog mollies” – his big men.
But with a weak offensive tackle class, it might be time to change that definition – or, pun intended, widen it to include a position group the Panthers will pluck from early – maybe even at No. 8.
Not only is this year’s running back class thick with talent, some of the top players are thick, period.
In fact, the projected top back in the draft – possibly gettable for the Panthers with the No. 8 pick – is Leonard Fournette, who weighed in at the NFL scouting combine at a whopping 240 pounds. Fournette is still expected to run a low-4.5-second 40-yard dash, potentially causing a seismic event in Indianapolis and in the minds of NFL teams.
Big running backs are nice. They tend to run people over better than 180-pound running backs.
Dave Gettleman, on Leonard Fournette
When he held his podium session with media on Thursday, Fournette maintained that he weighs 235 pounds, and that the extra 5 was water weight.
“It was surprising. I drank a lot of water before I came in. It was water weight, so it went away completely,” Fournette said.
He said he expects to run a 4.4-second-range 40-yard dash. Seriously.
Fournette might be the quickest of the thickest – but there are other big backs.
Pitt’s James Conner, another talented prospect projected in mid-to-late rounds, weighed in at 233 pounds. Texas running back D’Onta Freeman, who rushed for 2,028 yards in 2016, also weighed 233 pounds, as did talented Oklahoma back Samaje Perine. North Carolina’s Elijah Hood, a Charlotte Catholic graduate, tipped the scales at 232 pounds. Hood is expected to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds.
It’s no secret the Panthers, behind veteran running back Jonathan Stewart, love the ground-and-pound style of back – bigger and stronger, but maybe less elusive. Carolina is presumably looking for its future back, so a player similar to the 5-10, 235-pound Stewart would be ideal.
Gettleman grinned wryly when asked specifically about Fournette.
“Big running backs are nice,” he said. “They tend to run people over better than 180-pound running backs.”
But size is not all a Panthers running back needs.
“You're looking for blitz pickup,” said Gettleman. “I've said this before, one of the toughest things for these running backs coming in is the blitz pickup stuff. And it keeps a lot of them off the field, because you can't go out there and he waves his hand like, ‘I'm out here, running the ball and that's it.’ It doesn't work like that.”
Gettleman likes players who can block – especially important to the team when considering how porous the Panthers offensive line became last year. Fournette’s tape shows he can be extremely effective in pass protection.
“It’s not hard,” said Fournette. “My freshman year in college it was hard because it was new to me. But with the practice and the coaching I got, I know it now.”
Combine that with his size and speed?
Well, that’s a heck of a hog molly.