Inside the Panthers

If LSU’s Leonard Fournette goes before No. 8, should Panthers still go RB?

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey offers versatility as a running back, slot receiver and punt returner – and the Carolina Panthers need all three.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey offers versatility as a running back, slot receiver and punt returner – and the Carolina Panthers need all three. AP

LSU running back Leonard Fournette has been viewed as a good fit for the Carolina Panthers for so long that at times it seems like a fait accompli, which of course doesn’t exist when it comes to the NFL draft.

With Fournette set to visit Jacksonville, which has the No. 4 overall pick, on Friday, there’s a real possibility he could be gone when the Panthers select eighth in three weeks.

Which begs the question: Would Dave Gettleman still want a running back?

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. addressed that scenario Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

In dueling mock drafts this week, Kiper projected Fournette to the Panthers at No. 8, while his colleague Todd McShay had Fournette going to the Jaguars. McShay predicted the Panthers would take Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett in his mock.

But Kiper said Wednesday he thinks the Panthers could turn to Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey if Fournette’s off the board.

McCaffrey checks a lot of boxes for the Panthers, who could use a game-breaking slot receiver and also are looking for a punt returner following the departure of Ted Ginn Jr.

The Panthers’ No. 1 punt returner at the moment is Damiere Byrd, who is untested and coming off knee surgery.

McCaffrey’s not a power back in the mold of Fournette and Jonathan Stewart. But he would offer a change of pace to Stewart and give defensive coordinators matchup issues, first and foremost determining where McCaffrey’s lining up.

Kiper is not convinced Fournette and McCaffrey are at the same level as Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. But like those two backs, Kiper believes Fournette and McCaffrey could both go in the top 10.

“I don’t know if Fournette will be as consensus as a super-elite back as those two were. But I still think he’s a top-10 back,” Kiper said. “McCaffrey’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I think two running backs in the first (round), maybe three.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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