Speculation has been widespread in recent weeks regarding the possibility of the Carolina Panthers drafting Georgia running back Todd Gurley in the first round. Since others have so much to say about it, I thought I'd add my own two cents worth and attempt to quantify their chances of winding up with him in the 2015 NFL draft.
Carolina Panthers General Manager David Gettleman is once again up to his now-old tricks at the Dollar Store as he has picked up some quality role-players on the cheap during free agency, including needed offensive tackles in Michael Oher and most recently, embattled tackle Jonathan Martin of "Race Gate" fame, among others. What impact do these signings have on his draft strategy?
Obviously, that's hard to say with much certainty, and our resident draft guru, Mel Mayock, probably has better insight into this than I do. However, I have never let things like that get in the way of a good opinion, so I'll share it with you!
Fan consensus is that he's eyeing Georgia running back Todd Gurley. Mr. Mayock has said he's a "transcendent player," and not being a complete idiot myself (I hope), I tend to agree. There's quite a bit of evidence that DG has wanted to inject some needed youth at the position for years now....let me refresh your memory as to why:
In the 2013 draft, he picked up former Oregon star Kenjon Barner. Barner didn't catch on in Carolina, so Dave chose RB Tyler Gaffney out of Stanford; in fact he is an ex-teammate of Jonathan Martin, but Gaffney got injured early in camp, was placed on waivers in hopes he could be put on the practice squad, but New England deflated that idea by claiming him. That's okay, because they got theirs when they wanted to do the same thing with WR Kenbrell Thompkins, but the Raiders claimed him. Suddenly, they're my favorite AFC West team. Imagine that!
Anyway, Gettleman wasn't finished; he picked up former Packer WR Jarrett Boykin from waivers as well, knowing that he and the tackles will provide not only some depth but some production as well.
Waters Muddy for Gettleman's First-Round Intentions
What these signings mean other than helping positions of "need" for Carolina is that the previous thought that we HAVE to take an offensive tackle at #25 is no longer valid. Certainly, the Panthers could take a good left tackle prospect with that pick, or perhaps even a right tackle prospect if the targeted player seems to be a good fit, but the team has other needs that could be every bit as urgent as that left/blind side tackle position, considering recent signings.
The other thought is to pick up a big, fast wide receiver at #25. How quickly people forget that the team already has one in the form of Stephen Hill. Granted, his time with the Jets was uninspiring, but Hill has been in "ground and pound" offenses his whole life.
Ron Rivera said he thinks Stephen can help, and at 6'4" and a 4.36 40-time, he has prototype physical skills. He has been working with receivers coach Ricky Proehl, whom I think is one of the best in the business, so the "need" for an early pick for a different person with his skills is at least slightly less than most people think. Only the Panthers know how much they may still need a big, fast "outside" guy to pair with the Kelvinator.
With the history of late-round fliers on running backs not working out, DeAngelo Williams being a cap casualty as well as on the down-slope of his career, and Jonathan Stewart's injury history, the team is getting desperate for some quality youth at tailback.
Enter Todd Gurley
Enter Todd Gurley, who has a bit of a history of injuries in his time at Georgia. Every draft has a "wild card" or two, and once again, consensus is that Gurley is That Guy this year.
The problem here is that there really is no consensus as to where in the draft he will be selected. Had he been healthy in college, Gurley might easily be a top-ten pick and perhaps even a top-five pick.
However, he likely will slide down the board as a result and the best "guess" pundits have is that he likely will be selected somewhere after about #12-ish, with the middle picks being the most probable, but I think he probably won't get past New Orleans at #13. At least, if I had Gurley in my sights, I would be looking to trade up to #8 with Atlanta.
Exit Todd Gurley
If you look at the teams and consider the fact that political correctness has entered the NFL like never before, and it's quite possible that Gurley could go as high as #9 to the New York Giants. Yes, they picked up Shane Vereen, but he's more of a 3rd down guy while Rashad Jennings averaged only 3.8 yds/carry and had 639 rushing yards with 4 TDs.
Certainly, the Giants have other needs, but so does everybody.
If the Panthers think Gurley will get by the Giants, here's how I see the next few teams' outlooks:
The Rams don't need him at #10 as they took former Auburn runner Tre' Mason last season and he got better as the season progressed. Without Sam Bradford for certain now, they could be looking to take Mariota if he's still around.
The Minnesota Vikings is the team up here that I feel could step in and snatch Gurley. Things are quite fluid right now, but Adrian Peterson is on-record for saying he doesn't think playing in Minnesota is in his best interests. He is under contract for the next three seasons, and moving him at age 29 with a big salary could be difficult. On the negative side for the Gurley-to-Vikings theory, he would provide exactly zero "leverage" for the Minnesota GM to use against Peterson. I think the club will not budge whatsoever, forcing Peterson to play or just sit out. Peterson looks to be in Minnesota this season but that's not necessarily a given. They likely will move to help young Teddy Bridgewater succeed as WR Cordarrelle Patterson didn't make that leap that was expected from his rookie season, where he led the NFL in receiving during the last four weeks of the 2013 season.
At #12, the Cleveland Browns could also pick Gurley and they have a stronger case to take him. First, they have two first-round picks (the other is #19 via Buffalo), so they may be able to "afford" to pick Gurley at twelve just to make sure nobody at 12-18 jumps on him, and frankly, seven picks later, the Browns will be able to pick up a second quality player to help perhaps to pair up with CB Joe Hayden. Time will tell, but the Browns have two chances to take Gurley, and not having a solid or proven quarterback makes jacking up the running game a very attractive prospect especially considering the division they're in. "Shortening" games should be Cleveland's scheme in 2015.
Then we have the Saints at #13, speaking of Wild Cards. This pass-heavy and happy offense is looking to turn to a much more balanced approach as they've had fire-sale-level revamping of personnel this season. The second thing is that they've got much worse salary cap issues than the Panthers do - Carolina is coming out of Dead Money Hell while the Saints were up against it. RB Mark Ingram finally proved he can help carry the load but adding a presence like Todd Gurley would really transform the team into a very difficult offense to game-plan for with Drew Brees still hanging around. I think game-planning for the Saints used to be fairly simple...stop Drew Brees. However, with their radical shift in philosophy brought about by money concerns actually gave them the freedom, such as it is, to try to become more balanced on the offensive side. It should also help Brees face fewer defenses with the back-end stacked with five or even six defensive backs, making life easier on him.
The next few teams have much bigger needs than running back, as the Dolphins have Lamar Miller as well as a rising second-year kid that I think could explode if he has the chance in Damien Williams. The Niners lost Frank Gore, but have a good-looking young RB in Carlos Hyde as well as Reggie Bush to be the 3rd-down back. They've lost so much in the offseason that I don't think Gurley is on their radar. Houston is up next, but with Arian Foster still having some tread on the tires and having lost WR Andre Johnson, they won't be looking at Gurley.
#17, San Diego. Well, well, well. This is the spot I absolutely believe Gurley won't slide past. They've lost RB Ryan Matthews to the Eagles, and Phillip Rivers could use a young, fresh set of legs behind him for balance. I can easily see them snatching him up.
What does this Mean for the Carolina Panthers?
I think it means that the Panthers will have to ask themselves the question "How badly do we want Todd Gurley?" Nobody outside of a few people in the organization really can answer that question, but whatever the answer is will dictate what they do.
Scenario One: Gurley is the one person that can help take pressure off Cam with this roster.
What this would mean is Gettleman is satisfied with the offseason acquisitions of Oher and Martin as well as WR Jarrett Boykin along with the current presence of Mike Remmer at right tackle. Oher projects to start on the blind side while Martin gets up to speed as the top reserve off the bench to play either side. While not an ideal mindset, they know a lot more than I do about the 2015 picture on offense. If Stephen Hill can help more than people think, Gurley would inject a dynamic style of running and brings at least as many tools as Jonathan Stewart does. Stewie can pretty much do it all - including having excellent hands for an RB. The one thing he lacks is being that breakaway threat. Gurley can do everything Stewart can as well as bring that home-run threat that we currently lack in the backfield. Given the fact the Panthers have the "biggest" backfield in the NFL, with Stewie and Newton both hitting the scales around the 240-245 lb. mark and FB Mike Tolbert being north of 260 lbs., a slasher with some "wiggle to his game" that can also run with good power would really give enemy defenses cause to worry while injecting the youth the Panthers so desperately want and need into the backfield.
This would mean trading up from #25 all the way to #8 if they "want to be sure," but could roll the dice and wait until #11 to get in front of Cleveland's first-of-two first-round picks. As I said earlier, I can easily see the Browns' reasoning behind picking Gurley there. The problem is that the cost in draft capital would be prohibitive...likely forking over our first, second, fourth, and two fifth-round picks just to get him....as well as possibly a second or third next season. I think the price here is too high and Gettleman would roll the dice and wait.
Scenario Two: Gurley's sliding, we want him, but don't think he'll make it past the Chargers.
This would mean trading up from 25 to 16 - nine very expensive positions - in order to get right in front of the Chargers in the line. The Panthers do have nine draft choices in this draft; however, the two extras are in the fifth round. I'd see having to fork-over our first, third, and two fifth rounders at best. Are the Panthers prepared to to trade up in this scenario?
Again, unlikely, unless Gurley is even more of a beast when he's healthy than I think he is. Gettleman's approach, once again, is one of "BPA" and value rather than making a lot of "moves" to get what he wants. He never seems "married" to any one guy, possibly other than Luke Kuechly, and while such a trade would leave the second-rounder intact, DG would have to "hit" on pretty much every remaining pick to fill the holes on the team. If he has THAT much self-confidence, or perhaps even arrogance, he might well do it. I think it's unlikely:
Scenario Three: We already have an injury-prone running back!
True, Stewie is injury-prone and the fear is of "wasting" a top pick on someone whose ability to stay healthy is the biggest variable in this equation. Since I've already covered this part, I won't beat it to death but will add that Gettleman doesn't strike me as a big risk-taker, so I think a "no-trade-up" scenario is in place regarding Gurley. I'm not ruling out a trade-up for a different player, however.
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