Tom Sorensen

Real-world arguments for and against LSU’s Leonard Fournette to the Panthers at No. 8

LSU running back Leonard Fournette to the Carolina Panthers at No. 8? Many NFL mock drafts say so, but they’re all guessing.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette to the Carolina Panthers at No. 8? Many NFL mock drafts say so, but they’re all guessing. Associated Press

A sportswriter I know once asked an NFL team official about mock drafts. The sportswriter was serious. He believed mock drafts were credible. The official did the only thing he could. He mocked the draft and, in a gentle way, the reporter.

Most mock drafts are usually little more than guesses. But sometimes you know, or at least think you do. I’ve only done one mock draft for the Observer.

I had written long before the draft and, OK, before anybody else, that the Carolina Panthers would use the No. 1 pick on Cam Newton. The choice might feel obvious now, but the Panthers were criticized at the time and, because I liked the pick, so was I.

I also wrote that the Denver Broncos would take Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller with the second pick. Most prognosticators had the Broncos taking Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The Bills took Dareus third.

I picked Miller only because he was a version of the Carolina Panthers’ Julius Peppers. Then Carolina coach John Fox loved what Peppers did for the Panthers. Like Peppers, Miller was fast and instinctive and could undo an offense.

After Newton, Miller and Dareus, I think I missed the next 30 picks. With the fourth pick Cincinnati selected A.J. Green of Georgia and Summerville, S.C. Before Newton, Green was No. 1 on Carolina’s draft board.

I don’t know whom the Panthers will take with the eighth pick this season. If you read me you know I want Louisiana State running back Leonard Fournette, and if Fournette is gone, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Fournette was bigger than he was supposed to be at the NFL scouting combine, and faster, too. Cook was slower than expected.

The draft doesn’t begin until April 27, which offers us a lot of time to assess our picks. By late April, Fournette will weigh 280 pounds and run a 4.3.

But will Carolina invest the No. 8 pick on a running back?

The Panthers' first draft was in 1995. They’ve participated in 22 drafts and taken 11 running backs.

They've selected three running backs in the first round, two in the second, one in the fourth, two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh.

Those first-round picks: Tim Biakabutuka was selected eighth in 1996, Jonathan Stewart 13th in 2008 and DeAngelo Williams 27th in 2006.

So, the last time Carolina took a running back as high as No. 8 was in 1996, the team’s second draft.

If you work under the supposition that the GM isn’t out there alone and that the head coach and owner also play essential roles in the draft, a running back is unlikely to go as high as No. 8.

If you work under the supposition that general manager Dave Gettleman makes the pick, a running back is unlikely to go as high as No. 8.

Gettleman was hired in 2013, so he’s been involved in four drafts. In his first three he selected a running back.

In 2013 he took Oregon’s Kenjon Barner with in the sixth round, in 2014 he took Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round, and in 2015 he took Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne with in the fifth round.

Artis-Payne is the only back still with the Panthers. Barner plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Gaffney has bounced around the New England Patriots’ roster. He’s been cut, signed to the practice squad and promoted to the roster. He leads all Panthers running backs in Super Bowl rings with two.

The Panthers could deviate this season and, if Fournette is still available at No. 8, seize him. This is a skilled big man for whom defensive coordinators will have to account, which will greatly benefit Newton.

I’m optimistic they take Fournette for several reasons, the foremost of which is that I want them to. It’s all I have.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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