Inside the Panthers

Do Ron Rivera’s comments, travel schedule offer clues to Panthers’ draft plans?

Ron Rivera on talk with Roger Goodell

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera spoke briefly about his discussion with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the hits that Cam Newton takes.
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Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera spoke briefly about his discussion with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the hits that Cam Newton takes.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera will attend LSU’s pro day next week to scout Leonard Fournette, the Tigers’ 240-pound running back who continues to be a popular pick for the Panthers in NFL mock drafts.

Rivera’s presence in Baton Rouge is a strong indicator of the Panthers’ interest in Fournette with the eighth overall pick.

“There’s a few of (the pro days) that I wanted to go to specifically,” Rivera said Wednesday at the owners meetings. “His is one of them.”

Rivera was at Stanford’s pro day last week to watch defensive end Solomon Thomas and running back Christian McCaffrey, a smaller back than Fournette who ran receiver routes at his pro day and could be effective in the slot.

As for Fournette, some analysts view his big build, punishing running style and his ankle issues last season as red flags for a back who could break down. Rivera said Fournette’s medical history will be a big part of the Panthers’ evaluation.

“I think it’s always a concern with a big back. There are a lot of big backs that have come into this league and done well, and some have struggled,” Rivera said. “Part of it is when you take the hits that you’ve taken. It’s a very physical game. But he is a young man that we most certainly want to get to know as best as possible.”

Besides Fournette, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard is another prospect often linked to the Panthers.

But Rivera did not sound like he views picking up a second tight end as a priority – at least not high in the draft. The Panthers have a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen, with Ed Dickson, Chris Manhertz, Scott Simonson and Eric Wallace behind him.

“You look at what we’ve got, it’s a very deep position for us right now,” Rivera said. “We like the young guys that are trying to be developed. They’re all young guys that fit what we do, know what we do. They’ve been around. So we feel pretty good about that ... but you never know.”

Whatever the Panthers do at No. 8, Rivera is confident they’ll get a good player. Rivera said he wishes the Panthers had another first-round pick, which could be an indication they’ll be trying to trade up on draft night for a second selection in the first round.

“We’re going to be in a great position at 8,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a number of positions that we feel that we’ve got an opportunity to help and there’ll be a number of players available.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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