This is one of the times of year, after the Super Bowl and before free agency for veterans, when fans and analysts alike take a look at the incoming rookie class and attempt to project where these kids get chosen and try to figure who is likely to go where.
However, historically speaking, most "mock drafts" do well to get more than 4-5 picks out of the first round correct. It's the nature of the beast. With a top-ten pick this season, the Carolina Panthers' #8 overall selection falls close to the area where you can at least narrow down the field to a few likely choices, given the team's needs vs. talent entering the league.
This year's draft class is deep in productive pass-rushers, running backs, and higher-end safeties. The Panthers need an infusion of talent at ALL of these positions, and GM Dave Gettleman has four choices in the top one hundred picks....the last of which is a compensatory pick due to losing CB Josh Norman to free agency last year.
It's also the FIRST year that the compensatory picks can be traded.
I mention this because Gettleman has shown a propensity to trade up over his tenure thus far in Charlotte, and it's quite possible he might make another splash, despite the nice position of having 4 picks in the first 3 rounds, and a high pick due to the 6-10 finish at that.
My own thoughts are that the team needs to do whatever it takes to get LSU RB Leonard Fournette in the first round, which would mean trading up from #8 to #3 at most. If he waits for draft day to roll the dice, Gettleman possibly could get away with trading up to #5, if the Jacksonville Jaguars decide to select strong safety Jamal Adams...Fournette's teammate.
All the usual arguments about Fournette being an RB don't really apply as far as I'm concerned. Running backs in recent drafts have tended not to be drafted as highly as they used to be. It's what I call "positional value" during the draft....some positions have been elevated due to the pass-happy NFL, such as QB, WR, LT, and pass-rushers. Defensive back positional value seems somewhat less enhanced, but is still higher than, say, 10 years ago.
What positions have suffered? Well, the very RB position we need (I'll get to that in a moment), ILBs, and run-stuffing DTs (ie: Star) to a lesser degree. Pass-rushing DT (ie: Short) value has increased.
LSU's RB Leo Fournette is, in my humble opinion, the biggest impact-player in the entire draft, bar none. He may or may not be "rated" highest among all players, but he's the guy who has reminded me more of the most physically gifted player ever to play the game at ANY position....a guy I went to college with named Bo Jackson.
Fournette doesn't have Bo's top-end speed, but he's only a couple of notches below it while being 15-20 pounds heavier than Bo was at his playing weight of 222 pounds. He's also not quite as strong as Bo was, but that gap is somewhat narrower as Fournette's size and speed combination is unparalleled at least since Adrian Peterson.
Why Leonard Fournette instead of Dalvin Cook?
The guy's last name is Cook, folks, not Cooks. Cooks is a small WR for the Aint's. Dalvin Cook will NOT be drafted by Gettleman due to repeated off-field issues & I personally think he'll go to Indy at 14, depending upon their GM's propensity for taking risks with troubled but talented young guys. Cook is more of a "lightning" style player who excels in catching passes and is more versatile than Fournette in many ways, although Fournette is a better blocker & pass-protector in max-protection plays or other plays that hold in the RB on a pass play.
Fournette brings a power running style with breakaway speed that fits our scheme like a glove, unlike Cook. He also has no off-field issues, unlike Cook. Some question his durability, but I don't think Fournette's injury history is unduly marred because of the brutal nature of the position.
Why go up to #2?
The earliest mock drafts had Fournette indeed "falling" to Carolina at #8, but I do NOT think he'll get past the Jets at #6, assuming the Jags go with SS Adams at #4 to put together potentially the most ball-hawking, covering young defensive backfield in the NFL when you consider Jalen Ramsey's draft last season. However, it's also as likely (and probably a bit MORE likely) that the team wants to take pressure off of struggling young QB Blake Bortles, and there's really no better way to do that than to jack up the other half of the offense....the ground game.
Pre-draft, that's why I think the Panthers would have to hit #3 to be all but assured of having Fournette on the board as the top 2 picks (Cleveland and San Francisco) have multiple needs pretty much everywhere on their roster.
Cleveland is all but assured to take Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett, the premier pass-rusher in a deep class. They have to build their team to win the division first, which means getting after Big Ben before he and Antonio Brown can gash you through the air. Cincy has a rather potent offense with WR A.J. Green, TE Tyler Eifert, and will possibly add another blue-chip WR in Clemson's Mike Williams in the draft. Then, there's rocket-armed Joe Flacco in Baltimore, so Cleveland really has to do something about an anemic pass rush. Garrett's the guy to do it.
Fournette could possibly go to San Fran at #2 overall, but one of their better players is RB Carlos Hyde, which says a lot about the state of their roster overall. It's possible new HC Kyle Shanahan could snag Fournette to stabelize the offense, buying time by shortening the game and keeping the score closer, but with so many good players available after Garrett, it may come down to "grades" 100%.
As you can see, Leonard Fournette is tied for 2nd in overall draft grade. If the draft goes straight "best available," then Fournette gets taken either by SF or by Chicago, but we should also know that every team has their own system for grading players.
Any way you cut it, Fournette is a transcendent player the likes of which don't come around very often. If a bust like Trent Richardson can be taken third overall by Cleveland, Cleveland could fix that error by taking Fournette to kick things off and I wouldn't be surprised.
Won't Trading Up that High be Expensive?
Very....just look at what the Washington Redskins gave up for the rights to draft bust QB "RG3." Where is he now? Cleveland.
That's why I don't think a trade-up will happen before draft day itself. If Fournette is who Gettleman REALLY wants, and I think he is, to trade up to #2 would likely take at least 3 of the 4 top-100 picks we have this year, plus a few decent choices in 2018.
Leonard Fournette is also the ONLY player in the draft that could actually make such a deal work out in the Panthers' favor. The reason for it is the impact a guy who touches the ball 25+ times per game is greater than those who don't. Not many RBs do that these days with the committee approach many teams use, but the few that do (Bell & Johnson for instance) control the pace of the ball game when used that way.
What are the Odds Carolina can Land Fournette?
As things stand now, I'd say about 15%, but everything would have to fall into place in order for it to happen without a trade. If Fournette's 40-time winds up being sub-4.4, he won't get past the Jaguars. The Jets at #6 have many needs, but RB isn't one of their most pressing ones especially with the recent news on CB Darrelle Revis, but he's well-known these days for otherwise being on the downward slope of his career. The Jets will be up against the New England Patriots within the division, however, so a guy like Fournette could really stymie enemy defenses and possibly almost single-handedly win some close games for them.
That's the ability a transcendent player has.
As such, the only place Carolina could be CERTAIN to land him is to trade up to #1 with Cleveland, who is apt to listen to offers at least, given their recent history. They have the #1 AND the #12 overall picks, and with their gaping needs, they'd likely be content to have the #8, #12, and a bushel-basket-full of 2nd-4th rounders. That would instantly improve their squad starting like 38 rookies or something, but they're needing a lot of turnover and trading back would give them additional ammunition for just that.
Even Cleveland knows they're more than one player from contending, unlike Carolina. With 2 made field goals that were missed by Graham Gano last year, the Panthers go 8-8. If they won only ONE of the remaining three games decided by a FG or less, Carolina could have been 9-7 and in a tiebreaker situation with the Detroit Lions, so the Panthers were a LOT closer to contention than their record would indicate.
Five losses by a total....a TOTAL of 13 points. Winning all five of those would have put us at 11-5 and in the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, ANYTHING can happen.
Fournette would have very likely made that difference last year. Stewie's aging with declining skills, and with Fournette's being like a "young" Stewie AND MORE, I'd say having Fournette would have been worth at least 2 TDs over 16 games better than Jonathan Stewart.
No knock on Stewie, but facing facts, he's going to be in that 30 & over crowd at RB, which means he's old. His injury history is well-known to everyone, and in fact, he's had only one thousand-yard season rushing in his career...two if you go ahead and include the 989 yards from 2015. Behind Stewie, Cameron Artis-Payne hasn't been given much of a chance to show what he can do, for whatever reason, and the stable is pretty much empty (Whittaker, Wegher) behind those two.
So What Happens, Then?
Unfortunately, I just don't see us paying the steep price in draft capital to ensure landing him. The only way I can see that we can is a hurried trade ON Draft Day.....and then, only if the Leo gets past the Jags.
I'd think the much lessened price of hopping from 8 to 5 would be quite a bit less than going up to one or even two, so I think Gettleman will be shrewd and let the draft start to play itself out. If Fournette's there at 5, we might well go ahead and make the move. If not, I think the Jets pick him up. As of this writing, I just don't see any way he falls to eighth.
If not Fournette, then Who?
That's a discussion for another day.
-- Ken Dye AKA The Commish
You can NOT follow me on Twitter anymore because its become a cesspool of political hatred and "fake news."
GREAT JOB, people...