Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Dave Gettleman must draft speed – however he measures it – over all else

NFL Draft 2017: Panthers preview

With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of options to address several needs. Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue breaks down who the team might pick in the first round and offers other names to look out for.
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With the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of options to address several needs. Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue breaks down who the team might pick in the first round and offers other names to look out for.

Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, the two running backs most often linked to the Carolina Panthers with tonight’s eighth overall pick, both ran good 40-yard dash times at the NFL scouting combine in March.

Fournette blazed through his 40 in 4.51 seconds at 240 pounds, and the 202-pound McCaffrey posted a 4.48-second clocking.

To which Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman says ... whatever.

“I am not tied into 40-yard dash times that guys run in their underwear. What I am tied into is how fast does that guy play in his pads?” Gettleman said last week. “I learned that from the San Francisco 49ers back in the day in the ’80s with Bill Walsh when they had that incredible run of great football teams.”

Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice, a star on those 49ers Super Bowl teams, ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds before the Niners took him with the 16th pick out of Mississippi Valley State in 1985.

That was and is considered good, but not great speed for a wideout. But Rice was fast enough in pads to finish as the NFL’s all-time receiving leader.

Bottom line: The Panthers need to add some speed in this week’s draft, by whatever measure Gettleman chooses to evaluate it by.

The Panthers lost their fastest player on offense when wideout Ted Ginn Jr. signed with the Saints. Slot receiver Philly Brown, one of those fast-in-pads guys Gettleman was referencing, also left in free agency.

Damiere Byrd ran track at South Carolina and is a blazer. Byrd also is unproven and is coming off knee surgery.

The Panthers did re-sign reserve cornerback Teddy Williams, who at one point was the world’s fastest human when he held the best 100 time as a sprinter at Texas-San Antonio.

Williams’ speed to this point has not helped him win a regular spot in the secondary, although he’s a mainstay on the Panthers’ special teams.

With several of his picks this week – on both sides of the ball – Gettleman should feel a need for speed.

Fournette has terrific speed for a player his size, while McCaffrey’s quickness and elusiveness allow him to shake free and turn on the jets.

But what about other positions?

In my seven-round Panthers mocked, I have the Panthers taking East Carolina WR Zay Jones in the second round with the 40th overall pick.

Jones ran the 40 in 4.48 seconds in Indy – a respectable time but well off that run by John Ross, who broke the combine record with a 4.22-second mark.

But you know what records Jones broke? The ones involving running and catching during actual games.

Jones, the son of ex-Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones and nephew of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, set NCAA records for most receptions in a career (399) and a season (158 in 2016).

His career catches mark bested the NCAA record held by his former teammate Justin Hardy, a backup for the Falcons. So Jones definitely benefited playing in the Pirates’ pass-happy system.

But I watched Jones catch 22 passes last fall against an SEC defense, albeit a bad one in South Carolina. Regardless, Jones was the best player on the field and was fast enough to get open at least 22 times.

The Panthers should be looking to get faster at a number of spots throughout the draft, including with some of the late-round picks who will be slotted as backups and special teams contributors as rookies.

Feel free to Google the 40 times as the Panthers’ picks come in. But know the guy making them has little use for the times gleaned from the Underwear Olympics.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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