CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Christian McCaffrey didn’t hesitate Thursday night when asked which position best fits him.
“I’m a football player," the former Stanford running back/receiver/return specialist said after the Carolina Panthers made him the No. 8 pick of the NFL draft. “I don’t put a title on what position I am.
“If you need me to go to wideout, I can go to wideout. If you need me to run power in between the tackles, I believe I can do that as well. There is a variety of different things I can do."
That explains why general manager Dave Gettleman rejected offers to trade down and resisted the temptation to draft one of several stellar defensive players available to select McCaffrey.
He targeted McCaffrey early as a player who could take the pressure to run off quarterback Cam Newton. And he stuck with it.
Friday, the Panthers will likely draft players with more defined roles. They have three picks -- two (No. 40 and No. 64) in the second round and one (No. 98) in the third.
He'll have solid options. Here are five players the Panthers could target, with the biggest needs at defensive end, offensive tackle, safety and wide receiver:
DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State: Carolina needs to get younger at this position with veterans Julius Peppers (37) and Charles Johnson (30) near the end of their careers. Walker (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) is solid against the run and an elite pass-rusher with 28.5 college sacks, including 16 this past season. He can play inside as well as outside, so he could develop into that every-down end the Panthers haven’t had since Greg Hardy. Just because the Panthers appear loaded at this position doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to the future. Gettleman has a history of loading up at key positions, and this is one.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: If you’re looking for a wide receiver who produced in college, the 6-2, 201-pound Jones is the player for you. In 49 games, he had 399 catches for 4,279 yards and 23 touchdowns. His career catches are a Football Bowl Subdivision record and his 158 catches in 2016 are a single-season record. Like McCaffrey, who is the son of former Denver wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, Jones has good NFL bloodlines. His father, Robert Jones, was a first-round linebacker out of East Carolina in 1992 who had a 10-year career and won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: Carolina still needs depth at tackle even after signing Matt Kalil in free agency to anchor the left side. Robinson (6-6, 322) was considered the top tackle when the draft process began and was projected a first-round pick. He has flaws, which is why he’s still available, but he’s also a three-year starter and could benefit greatly from Panthers line coach John Matsko.
Josh Jones, S, NC State: There also is a big need to get young here, with 36-year-old Mike Adams signed to a two-year deal during the offseason. Jones has the size (6-1, 220), speed (4.41 in 40) and physicality the Panthers look for, particularly against the run. He would add immediate quality depth.
Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston: Before Carolina outside linebacker Thomas Davis announced McCaffrey as the team’s first pick in Philadelphia, he jokingly said he would change the pick if it were a linebacker. Understandable. Davis, 34, would like to play forever. But he’s in the last year of his contract and the Panthers have to prepare for life after him. Bowser would be a good place to start. He has the size (6-3, 247) and quick first step to make him solid against the run and a threat as an edge rusher. He’s former basketball player, so he has the athletic ability Carolina likes at this position.