The Carolina Panthers see multiple players in the running backs group who could fit what they want in the NFL draft, general manager Dave Gettleman said Friday.
That includes either LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, among others.
Those two have been the players most often connected to the Panthers with the eighth overall pick, but Gettleman stressed that he is in a better position than a year ago.
“We’re in a position where we want to be, where I can take the best player available,” he said. “Free agency should set you up so you can take the best players available.”
That wasn’t the case in 2016, when the release of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who signed with Washington, left the Panthers in need of cornerbacks. They drafted three – James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez. Two of them were starters by the end of the season.
“Last year was an abberration, and we came out of it well,” Gettleman said. “We didn’t over-evaluate players.”
In this season’s evaluations, it was clear Gettleman came away impressed by the running backs class, particularly Fournette and McCaffrey – despite the devaluing of running backs in recent drafts.
Gettleman said that devaluation was about circumstance.
“Really and truly there was a period of time when there weren’t any great running backs coming out,” he said. “You’ve got to run the ball if you’re going to win in this league. The concept of devaluing a position ...
“We were in one of those lulls, and Dallas jumped up and took (eventual rookie of the year) Ezekiel Elliott, and he was very deserving.”
Gettleman said what others think won’t play into what he does.
“If a guy is sitting there and he can help you win, don’t worry about perception,” he said.
That could be the bruising Fournette or McCaffrey, who is also a player in the passing and return games.
“They both fit, they’re just different styles,” Gettleman said.
Asked if McCaffrey is among the “half dozen” three-down backs he said he sees in this draft, Gettleman replied: “He can run it. He can catch it. I guess that’s three downs.
“(McCaffrey) has certainly shown he can carry the load at Stanford.”
Assistant general manager Brandon Beane said he was also impressed by Dalvin Cook, who he noted was very productive in both the run and pass games at Florida State. “His game will translate well to our level,” he said.
Gettleman said the team will rely on its own evaluation of game speed, not the conventional wisdom.
“If there is a guy there who fits our profile, on and off the field, we’re going to take him,” he said.
Gettleman on ...
▪ The depth of this draft. “This is a good draft. This is the full Ben and Jerry’s, Howard Johnson, 56-flavor draft. This is a heck of a draft to have a lot of early picks.”
▪ The number of prospect visits the team used: “You’re only allowed 30, and we don’t schedule 30 from the jump,” he said, explaining that there might be a player the team has a question about late and wants to bring in. “We had 29.”
▪ Whether the Panthers would consider trading up: “At No. 8, there are going to be some really good players looking at us.”
▪ The strongest groups in the draft: Defensive end, secondary and running back.
▪ On what he focuses on in evaluation, he said he’s more interested in how fast players are in their pads and not tied to “how fast a guy goes 40 yards in his underwear.”
▪ In a preemptive strike, he said he wouldn’t discuss where guys are on the Panthers’ draft board, or even if they’re on the board or not.
▪ The five-year deal signed by defensive tackle Kawann Short: “We’re excited to get KK,” he said. “We use the term around here ‘earn the right,’ and KK has earned the right. When you’re going to sign off on an $80 million deal, you better feel good about it. ... He’s a helluva player.”
▪ Quarterback Cam Newton is “on schedule” in his recovery from surgery for an injury to his throwing shoulder.