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Panthers GM doesn't adhere to philosophy of devalued running backs

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Fournette on par with some top NFL backs (1:25)

The Sport Science crew explains how former LSU running back Leonard Fournette stacks up against NFL running backs like Adrian Peterson. (1:25)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Only four running backs have been selected in the top 10 picks of the NFL draft since 2010. Only 10 have been selected in the first round during that span.

So has the position been devalued in the NFL?

Not if you ask Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, who is considering LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 draft pick Thursday night.

"Really and truly, there was a period of time when there weren't any great running backs coming out," Gettleman explained in why he believes there is the perception that backs have been devalued.

While teams have been reluctant to select running backs in the first round during the past six drafts, the success rate has been strong. Stats bear that out. Of the 10 taken since 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information, seven have made a Pro Bowl in their career.

Statistically, that's strong. There just hasn't been an abundance of strong backs. That, along with the passing game becoming a bigger part of NFL offenses during that span, also contributes to the appearance backs have been devalued.

From 2000 to 2009, 32 running backs were first-round selections and 16 (50 percent) made the Pro Bowl at some point.

Between 1967 and 2010, when the passing game wasn't as prevalent as it is now, 174 running backs were taken in the first round and 72 made the Pro Bowl (41 percent).

But while the running game isn't as predominant now as it once was, it is a necessity for success. Super Bowl champion New England ranked seventh in the league in rushing last season and runner-up Atlanta was fifth.

Six of the 12 playoff teams ranked among the top 10 in rushing and eight were among the top 15. Among the four teams in the conference championship games, only Green Bay (20th) ranked outside of the top 14.

And the Packers were using a wide receiver at running back because of injuries.

"You're not going to win if you can't run the ball -- plain and simple," Gettleman said. "That concept of devaluing a position ... I've said it a million times, football is the truest of all team games. At the end of the day, I just think we were in one of those lulls. ... Dallas jumped up and took Ezekiel Elliott, and he was very deserving.

"He's a big-time back. I don't adhere to that philosophy [of devaluation]."

Elliott was selected No. 4, only the second time since 2010 that a back was taken among the top five picks. He led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and Dallas made the playoffs with an NFC-best 13-3 record.

Elliott also caught 32 passes for 363 yards, which emphasizes the importance of the back being a dual threat.

That's one reason McCaffrey could be the best pick for Carolina, even if Fournette drops to eight. McCaffrey caught 82 passes for 955 yards in his final two seasons at Stanford.

Fournette caught only 34 passes for 399 yards the past two seasons out of LSU's ground-oriented offense.

The biggest question on McCaffrey: Can he be a three-down back at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds? Gettleman said there are only about a half-dozen three-down backs in the draft, and McCaffrey is one of them.

He reminded that McCaffrey had 590 rushing attempts to go with his 82 catches the past two seasons.

"He can run it. He can catch it. I guess that's three downs," Gettleman said. "He has certainly shown he can carry the load at Stanford."

Gettleman also reminded that Fournette is a better receiver than he gets credit for.

"Leonard has really good hands. He can catch the rock," Gettleman said.

Fournette has been projected to be picked before the Panthers are on the clock, so they likely won't have a shot at him without trading up. Such a move seems unlikely.

But Gettleman won't let recent history on teams drafting running backs have an impact on his decision, should he think the best player at No. 8 is a back, even though it is a deep draft at that position.

"The classic line in scouting is, 'Oh, don't worry, he'll be there in the next round,'" Gettleman said. "I've seen that blow up in people's faces a number of times. If a guy is sitting there that you know can help you win ... don't worry about perception or whatever."