A year ago at this time, the Carolina Panthers were preparing to face the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game and the draft was the last thing on the minds of Panthers’ fans.
This year with the Panthers holding a top-10 pick ... bring on the mocks!
ESPN draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. obliged Thursday with his first mock draft – a mere 14 weeks before the actual draft in Philadelphia April 27-29.
In his Mock 1.0, Kiper predicted the Panthers would dip into a deep crop of running backs and take LSU workhorse Leonard Fournette with the eighth pick.
“This is really the first spot I see that could be a good fit for Fournette, barring a trade up. He’s a special athlete with an incredible combination of size (6-1, 235), speed and power, but he won’t get a grade as high as I gave Ezekiel Elliott last year. Elliott went No. 4 in 2016, but backs have been devalued in recent years – he was the only back taken in the first round. Jonathan Stewart turns 30 this year and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry in 2016.”
Obviously, a lot can happen over the next four months. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman sets his draft board based on what he does (or doesn’t do) in free agency.
But for a team looking to evolve its offense to keep quarterback Cam Newton from taking so many hits, drafting a big, powerful like Fournette to pair with Stewart for a season makes a lot of sense.
Fournette is the first back off Kiper’s board – four spots ahead of Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (12 to the Browns).
Kiper has the Panthers taking Fournette one pick after the L.A. Chargers (that’ll take some getting used to) select Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson – the presumptive best player at a need position for Carolina.
Some scouts and analysts favor Cook over Fournette because of the Florida State star’s electric playmaking skills.
The Observer will take a long look at the Fournette-or-Cook debate – likely several times – in the days ahead. We have four months to do so.