Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey or Fournette? Carolina Panthers GM offers clues in pre-draft news conference

Panthers GM Dave Gettleman on drafting a running back early

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman talks about his philosophy for drafting running backs early in the NFL draft.
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Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman talks about his philosophy for drafting running backs early in the NFL draft.

We still don’t know many specifics about who the Carolina Panthers will select with the No. 8 overall pick next week, but we know this for sure:

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman really likes LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

Oh, and he also really likes Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

Does that help clear things up? No?

How about this: Gettleman and assistant general manager Brandon Beane think Fournette’s power-run style is a great fit for Carolina.

“Obviously Leonard is a big power back. His skill set is hard to match,” Beane said. “He put up some crazy numbers and he’s going to be a heck of a talent.”

Oh, and they also think McCaffrey’s Swiss-Army-knife versatility is a great fit, too.

“They both fit,” said Beane in Friday’s pre-draft press conference. “McCaffrey, you’re going to throw the ball to him a little bit more.”

Added Gettleman, “Christian is a different style from Leonard. A completely different style.”

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FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2016, file photo, LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) hurdles an Auburn player as he carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Auburn, Ala. Butch Dill AP

Both running backs are projected as top-10 talents, and both might be available at No. 8 (although many analysts believe Fournette will be selected at No. 4 by Jacksonville).

And while it was hard to gauge the preferred back of the front office and scouting department from Friday’s press conference, both have been vetted extensively by the Panthers – a source recently told the Observer that Fournette and McCaffrey both had visits and meetings with the team.

Through their scouting process the team disproved the popular (and false) myth that McCaffrey can’t be an every-down back in the NFL.

“Well, the last two years he’s rushed the ball for 650 (carries) and he’s caught another 90 balls. So that right there, he can run it, he can catch it. ... I guess that’s three downs. I don’t mean to be a wise guy,” Gettleman said, slyly. (McCaffrey actually carried the ball 590 times and caught 82 passes in his final two years at Stanford, but Gettleman’s point remains accurate.)

“He’s certainly shown that he can carry the load at Stanford.”

They also apparently disproved the popular myth that Fournette could not be a threat in the passing game. He was not used as such at LSU and caught just five passes at his pro day workout last month, but Gettleman made it sound like he’s seen a little more from Fournette in that department.

“Oh, by the way, Leonard has really good hands,” Gettleman said. “He catches the rock now.”

There is also an overall theory held by some that drafting a running back in the top-10 – or even in the first round – is too high. Gettleman, who is sitting at No. 8 in this year’s draft, doesn’t buy into that.

“Really and truly, I just think that there was a period of time where there just weren’t any great running backs coming out,” he said. “I’ve heard ‘the NFL has devalued running backs.’ ... But you have to run the ball to win in this league. You’re not going to win if you can’t run the rock.

“The classic line in scouting is, ‘Oh, don’t worry. He’ll be there in the next round. That’s the classic line. And I’ve seen that blow up in people’s faces a number of times. If the guy is sitting there that you know can help you win, don’t worry about perception.

“My philosophy is to get the best player.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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