Like it or not, Leonard Fournette is the First Round Target

Okay, so I should have known NOT to try to communicate anything of any substance via Twitter. Explaining reasons for anything doesn't work well among that Short Attention Span Theater crowd, who would rather click and "like" a pretty picture than actually go click and have to truly READ WORDS, so I'll have to write this article to spell some things out.

For most you, you pretty much already understand the general gist of the draft. It's the Twits who think, for example, that Jonathan Stewart and Leonard Fournette are athletically the same guy, pretty much. They point to Combine results that are flawed tests for an athletic picture for people while not bothering to note that these combine drills largely remain unchanged since the very inception OF the combine back in the 20th Century. It's also amazing how some people go through all the trouble to "create a new stat" and then turn around and use decades-old measurement techniques to arrive at them. All the Combine is truly good for is comparing people at the same positions to each other in the same year.

It does serve its purpose there, though. Since teams are only immediately interested in the talent on-hand in a particular year, an event like the NFL Combine lets you see the top positional players and how they match up with each other on the same skills tests, but I think people try to do WAY too much projecting from the event. The NFL has a saying that "game tape trumps all," and that's the truth. What better way to evaluate a football player than to watch him playing football. For some, the Combine results and getting heated about "X is better than Y" from said results is almost like we've got another election coming up, not a draft!

Who are the Draft's Top Prospects?

We ALL (yours truly, included) tend to over-analyze the draft, the mocks, the whole bit. Part of it is the 6-week-plus interval between free agency signings and the actual draft. I get that and I'm not a mean-natured person, so let me break this down into the lowest common denominator.

There are, as I see it, perhaps seven top-tier or "elite" incoming rookies. That doesn't leave the Panthers much room for error. I see the following prospects as top-tier:

Garrett, Fournette, Adams, Hooker, Lattimore, Thomas, and Allen.

Bama TE OJ Howard had all of three TD catches and seven in his four seasons at Alabama, and no season with over 50 yards per game receiving, on average....hardly an 'elite prospect' from a production standpoint and besides, this draft is loaded with more freakishly-athletic TEs than any I've ever seen in my 50 years on the planet, so a "rush to buy" a TE, when second-best is a mere fraction lower on the draft grade, makes no sense to me. While Howard's draft grade ALONE might make him the eighth-best player depending on who you listen to, the fact is he has more company than at any time in history at that position, too. Evan Engram and/or David Njoku could be had in the latter half of the first, and yet another scary size/speed TE WILL be around at pick 40. Supply and demand economics work the same in the NFL...when there's an over-supply, nobody's in a rush and the prices are _low_ not high. Certainly not top-ten high.

So, excluding Howard, that's seven rookies, and we pick eighth. 

The problem is, should the draft break exactly the wrong way, that we'd wind up with Allen, the DE/DT from Alabama, as the board's "BPA." Allen also happens to be my "cusp" player this season in that he's (in my mind, at least) NOT an elite athlete or supremely technical with his moves, but I included him to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's really my "top second-tier guy" but let's not split hairs too much on it.

There's also one glaring name that jumps out as being different from the others.

That guy is Leonard Fournette, and whether YOU like it or not, he's the ONLY offensive player in that "top-tier" list. He's certainly the best fit in a power-running offense that we run, and fans' memories are also astonishingly short about this fact, apparently, as well. Christian McCaffey seems now to be "The Guy" at #8 overall and he is not a top-ten talent. The folks that don't think Fournette is a freak athlete among boys (the other RBs in this class) simply aren't paying attention, as I'll prove below with a few links. 

What does the team need more immediately than anything else? Help of some kind for Cam Newton. Fournette is the BEST pick in the draft on the offensive side of the ball, PERIOD! 

Straightforward enough?

It also happens that the Carolina Panthers are drafting higher than they ever have under Dave Gettleman, and being in "win-now" mode, with such need on the offensive side of the ball, the choice for our preferred first-round pick is pretty clear, although the Armchair Experts on Twitter look at data that paints a totally incomplete picture and come to a predetermined conclusion....that being whatever their "gut" tells them, or whatever some newfangled "stat" they concoct points to....yes, I even had someone using some stat nobody's heard of quote that stat as The Word. When I looked it up, the guy telling me all these things With Authority juuuuust happened to be the same fellow who "invented" the statistic or "metric" is the PC term now I guess. It was one based NFL Combine results, incomplete and unthorough as they are, to paint a "one size fits all" picture of a given prospect. That just doesn't work, since having a fast WR is a much more desirable trait in a WR than it is in, say, a defensive tackle. I also fail to see how a RB's height affects his performance on the field. Okay, so there's Barry Sanders and Earl Campbell. What's height got to do with....anything?

Shoe-horning rookies like this is a square peg/round hole approach to evaluating talent. Again, I'm no expert, but I've been an avid NFL watcher for the last 40 years, so I do have some experience to share, at least. 

For example, the NFL Combine does NOT measure things speed. I'm sorry, but one need go no further than MPH to figure out if "player A" can catch up to "player B." Fournette has THE TOP SPEED RECORDED OF ANY SCORING PLAY OVER THE LAST TWO SEASONS AT ANY LEVEL OF FOOTBALL! Instead of "fancy metrics," try using "Distance = Rate * Time." And how fast is that, you may ask?

22.9 MPH. Sport Science's John Brenkus has done not one but two segments on Fournette and the MATH and SCIENCE behind the things he can do, and all I can say is he compares favorably to guys like Adrian Peterson in things like change of direction (the same people gashed Fournette on not running the 3-cone drill; therefore he must "suck" is their "logic" and I'm not stretching things), POWER, and sheer physical force behind his blows. Fournette was also noticeably bigger than was Adrian Peterson during their respective 100-meter races.

The numbers say that a 217 pound defender, who would indeed be a very large defensive back even at the NFL level, would have to run the same speed as Usain Bolt and collide head-on with Fournette to EQUAL Fournette's momentum.

Now, I dunno about you, but I don't see it happening. 

I could get into it more, but I'll let Mr. Brenkus's reports here do some talking...

First, the physics behind Fournette's ~ 40% full power hit when he clobbered Deontay Anderson

(The "LBF" abbreviation in the above video means "pound-feet" which is a measure of know, the same thing pickup truck commercials tout regarding the truck's POWER, Hello?)

 Secondly, here's more on his ELITE agility I mentioned

The kid can redirect momentum by 60 degrees, cut in half the time it takes to blink your eyes and runs well above the 20.5 MPH Mr. Brenkus mentioned. Yes, Fournette bettered THAT mark since the segment was produced. I don't think I mentioned Leo's elite balance in this article; it was the previous one. Sorry about that, but at least now, you know if you didn't!

The lowdown is that Leonard Fournette is obviously the best single choice to help Cam and the offense. Forget the "experts" because I have never claimed to be one, nor do I act like I AM one. I simply have strong opinions and "pound the table" for my guy. 

Still not convinced? Here are a couple of other highlight links to check into:

Fournette's story and comparisons to current and past "Greats"

Yeah, I don't recall anything about Jonathan Stewart being banned from Pop Warner league ball. As an 8th-grader, Fournette ran over a senior on his high school football team. That senior?

Tyrann Matheiu.

Look at a straight-up scouting report that has the good and the bad here

The link above does indeed look at all aspects of his game. Fournette's certainly no polished pro and has some learning to do, but doesn't everybody at least to a degree? 

...and here's a news flash for those that say "Shula never adapts." Well, Ron Rivera openly admitted that the team looked at what Cam did well in college and incorporated more and more of that into the offense. Remember Jimmy Claussen running the read/option during Ron Rivera's first season in Charlotte? Yeah, me neither.

Why is it that suddenly, they cannot do the same thing when it comes to Fournette or any other personnel they get in the draft? This "not a shotgun runner" silliness misses the ENTIRE point! Again! It also negatives the age-old adage about how much harder it is to enter the NFL from a "spread offense." So, LSU wasn't running a spread offense; Fournette took 2/3rds of his snaps out of the "I" formation and it's variants (ie: weak/strong back). So the haters do the obvious (wrong) thing, and claim he's no good because he's not a spread-offense (shotgun) guy!

What's funny is I'm completely serious! People are saying these things!

Have we not been hearing how we have to protect Cam, get him some weapons/help, and not to run him as much as in the past? That all started LAST season, folks...just go check Cam's rushing totals from 2016.

So, we have pretty much the entire Panthers' organization saying they'll have to evolve the offense and "take some of the pressure off of Cam." Don't deny you've heard that because we both know you have.

We got two new WRs in free agency to fill out that area and it wouldn't surprise me to take another WR in the draft this season. But the two areas on the offense that have so far eluded Dave Gettleman in his attempts to improve are at the offensive tackle position and the running back position. Moves have been made for the tackles; nothing has been done for the running backs.

Gettleman can do as he has done in the past, and so far failed, and continue drafting RBs on the cheap in the latter rounds that have yet to be productive. Despite what some people try to say, and even with a straight face mind you, Leonard Fournette is by FAR a superior athlete to Jonathan Stewart, but that's not a knock on Stewie. It's just how much of a freakish athlete Fournette really is. There's no QUESTION Fournette's a superior athlete, having seen Stewart's once-good speed faceplant in recent years. He's still a very tough inside runner but one without any sort of burst. We've seen him get clear, then get hauled down from behind EVERY TIME in recent memory, no? He's lost some speed at the very least, but that's what Father Time does. 

One also can't argue with CERTAIN played and yards per carry, for example. Pretty straightforward stuff. Well, Jonathan Stewart hasn't played in all 16 games in a season since 2011. He has topped a thousand yards only once in his career, but that's as much due to the presence of DeAngelo Williams splitting carries in Stewie's younger days as anything, but the past few years Stewie has had no such excuse. It's the QUARTERBACK - or was - until last season.

Stewart's production has been on a steady decline over the past three seasons as well. In 2014, he averaged a very good 4.6 ypc. In 2015, the Super Bowl run season, that went down to 4.1 ypc. Decent, but not as lofty when you consider at any time, there were in effect TWO starting runners on the field as Cam counted for one, but Stewie's average fell a long way....half a yard per carry IS a big drop from one season to the next while he had the tough-running QB Cam in full tilt both seasons. In fact, Cam was healthier in 2016 than in 2015, yet, Stewart's average per carry dropped that half-yard.

Last year, that production dipped below 3.8 ypc. It was 3.78 to be precise. That is NOT good and coincides not only with Cam's sharply decreased role in the running attack, but also Stewart's then-pending 30th birthday. However, 3.8 ypc was acceptable to yet another Twit, saying 3 X 3.78 = 11.34, as if all running backs make exactly their average yards per carry, no more, no less, on each and every run, and all we DO is run. That's the only way that figure could EVER be "acceptable." 

That, in a nutshell, is why I HATE TWITTER SOOO MUCH! The 150-character limit not just encourages but MANDATES shallow thinking, and football is a tad more complex than sound bytes or "liking pictures" because you're too distracted or intellectually incurious enough to actually look into things. That goes to a much larger cultural issue and laziness by the part of the average person that I won't further go into here....but it IS very frustrating. I think it's also telling that they're often unable to reply at ALL to the most cursory of comparative looks when it comes to the running back position, and especially the better Adrian Peterson.

People are too quick to be programmed so that they don't have to think for themselves these days, and about a three-minute Google check uncovered this little morsel:

If you go back and look at the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson's career, the team has made the playoffs four times during his tenure. If you go back and look at Peterson's statistics, you'll see that his best seasons were the SAME FOUR SEASONS that the Vikings made the playoffs. Or is that yet another......"coincidence?"

It seriously doesn't take long for the haters to contradict themselves, either. One pointed out "the second-leading rusher in the NFL last year was a 5th-round guy with an average offensive line." Fine, I took his word for it, then looked up the TOP RECEIVER for yards in the NFL. That would be T.Y. Hilton, a third-round pick. I'm not sure what game this guy on Twitter was playing, but he claimed that "I just made his point." Sounds to me like we should have been drafting centers and guards with the top few rounds all these years, doesn't it? RBs don't matter and WRs don't matter. Ooookaaay.

Apparently, there's some third "secret" method of moving the ball on offense since it was I who pointed out to the particular hater the exact error of his OWN logic. If you're not running the ball, you're passing it, right? 

No answer, unsurprisingly.

As for the incumbent runner, Stewart has had a nice career in Charlotte, and it likely won't be over at least until after 2017. Even then, I bet he takes a lesser role either with the Panthers or someplace else, but the point remains that Cam needs HELP.

The Skinny

Fournette is the top-rated offensive player in the entire draft. Argue all you want to about other things, but I'm simply astonished that anyone can look at any of those runners and claim they are on-par with Leonard Fournette athletically. It simply isn't true. Some may have more polish, like Ezekiel Elliott would have had last year over Fournette this year, but such is the nature of the game.

There's a simple, albeit expensive, way to solve this, and again, I don't necessarily believe in the "coincidences" that some self-important armchair "draft gurus" seem to think to exist en route to making excuses as to their over-analysis of this kid, and I don't think it's yet another "coincidence" that there have been persistent rumors of trade talks between San Francisco and Carolina.

Signs point to me that the target never was Solomon Thomas. It has always been Leonard Fournette. Yes, injuries could make him a bust just like anyone else. Nobody is perfect, but Fournette is the "most perfect" RB to come along since Peterson, including Todd Gurley. He's also the only top-tier offensive player in the draft. The dots aren't hard to connect here, folks! Leo's biggest worry to me is that ankle issue, but surgery could solve that. It's true that Fournette is a transcendent talent that you've heard about for a few years now and watching his games at LSU only reinforces that idea in my mind, at least. He does have things to learn and grow into while Stewart's experience could help bring Leo along in that arena.

The haters don't have to worry though. If the Panthers stay put at number eight, the choice of whether or not to draft Leonard Fournette will be out of Gettleman's hands. 

As for me, I guess it's Facebook or nothing because I just do not like having in-depth conversations using sound bytes and shorthand, not to mention the brevity, obviously....just look at this long article!

Ken Dye