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If Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is available, Carolina Panthers should take him and run

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (25) is fast and productive and finds the end zone, and if he’s available at No. 25 when the Carolina Panthers pick they should take him, Tom Sorensen says.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (25) is fast and productive and finds the end zone, and if he’s available at No. 25 when the Carolina Panthers pick they should take him, Tom Sorensen says. AP

When the Carolina Panthers make their first-round pick Thursday, they want to consider two or three and maybe four candidates, general manager Dave Gettleman says Tuesday.

But as the draft crawls as if on hands and knees toward the 25th pick, won’t they have one guy they desperately want more than the others? Won’t there be one player they hope the 24 teams in front of them ignore? Won’t there be one guy they silently or not so silently cheer to slide down the board to No. 25?

Will there be one player you want more than the others, I ask.

“Yeah,” says Gettleman. “Yeah. Yes to your question.”

Is that player an offensive tackle? Is he a defensive back? Is he a pass rusher? Is he a receiver?

Or is he a running back? Is he Melvin Gordon, the fine, fine running back out of Wisconsin? I think he might be, and I think he should be.

Last season Gordon rushed for more than 100 yards in 11 games, more than 200 yards in five games and more than 400 yards in one game. He scored 29 touchdowns.

Golden State has the Splash Brothers. If the Panthers take Gordon and the Charlotte Hornets select Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, they could have the Brat Brothers.

Sorry.

You ask if Gordon has weaknesses. He caught only 19 passes last season for 153 yards, and scored three touchdowns.

Do you know why he caught so few passes?

Gordon didn’t catch passes because he didn’t need to. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry. So if it’s third and 4, third and 7.4 or third and 7.5, why would you risk a pass? Hand the ball to Gordon. Next.

Gordon is 6-1, weighs 207 pounds and has the body fat of a 2 by 4. He ran a 4.5 40, slower than expected, at the combine. But the field was playing long that day.

Do the Panthers have more glaring needs? They probably do. So much depends on free-agent offensive tackle signee Michael Oher. He’s coming off two bad seasons. If he’s healthy, is he the solid blocker we saw for so long in Baltimore? If he is, Gettleman is free to draft anybody he chooses. He’s free anyway. Tackles can be drafted in the second round, too.

Other than a middle linebacker, a quarterback and a defensive tackle, Gettleman can pick any position he chooses. He’s put the team in position to do that.

The Panthers have running backs. Jonathan Stewart is coming off a fine season, and Fozzy Whittaker proved that he’s more than a guy with a great name. Don’t forget fullback Mike Tolbert. Defenses can’t.

We talk about how the Panthers need a No. 2 receiver. They also need a No. 2 running back.

Consider the position. In the old days a running back walked down the street and red carpets were unfurled, autograph lines were formed and drinks were on the house. A running back was as big a star as a quarterback.

Also, while the status of the quarterback has ascended, the status of the running back has declined. They’re like newspapers or something. But they’re still essential.

Gettleman says he’s familiar with the theory that running backs have been devalued. He doesn’t subscribe to it.

He quickly says running backs offer a lot of value. He says that if a “guy’s a first-round value, he’s a first-round value.” He says he could take a running back in any round.

Gettleman says there are several good backs in the draft.

But there are only two potentially great ones. If, as expected, Georgia’s Todd Gurley is the first back taken, Gordon probably will be there at 25. He might not; the teams that pick 17-24 could use one.

I know that many of you want additional protection for quarterback Cam Newton. Don’t you think last season’s first-round pick, 6-5 Kelvin Benjamin, helped protect Newton? When Newton needed to unload the ball quickly, there the rookie was.

Gordon will protect the quarterback, too. Defenses have to account for him. So, when in doubt, hand off. Gordon’s first step is extraordinary. Hey, where’d he go? Wow, he’s gone.

Let’s hope he’s still there when the Panthers make their pick.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

NFL Draft

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Round 1: Thursday, 8 p.m.

Rounds 2-3: Friday, 7 p.m.

Rounds 4-7: Saturday, noon

▪ The Panthers draft 25th in all seven rounds, plus they have two compensatory draft picks in the fifth round (169, 174).

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