When Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera attended Stanford’s pro day on March 24, running back Christian McCaffrey wasn’t the only Top 10 pick on his radar.
At the time, the Panthers also were considering Solomon Thomas with the eighth overall pick.
“We were zeroing in on both those young men,” Rivera said on Wednesday. “Based on what we thought was going to happen early in the draft, we thought that the guys that were going to be available for us could have been Christian or Solomon. And those are two young men that we really did spend an awful lot of time on because of that. … We thought both those young men would fit us nicely.”
A month later, of course, the draft pattern became more clear.
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Following a trade with the Bears, the 49ers ended up taking Thomas at pick No. 3. Rivera said the Panthers suspected the Jacksonville Jaguars would take running back Leonard Fournette at pick No. 4, and they did.
Which helped McCaffrey land with Carolina. Just as he did at Stanford, the Panthers have used McCaffrey at several spots in the preseason.
According to Pro Football Focus, McCaffrey lined up 32 times at halfback, once as a slot receiver and three times as a wide receiver. Like every other team, they’re undoubtedly saving more wrinkles for the regular season.
“We looked (for) a guy that could change and impact our offense,” Rivera said. “We really thought that was Christian. And if Christian wasn’t available, we would sit there and look (and ask), ‘What position else did we really want to look at?’ And defensive line was another one and Solomon Thomas was a young man that fit exactly what we do.”
The Panthers certainly didn’t waste their time talking to Thomas in the run-up to the draft. He and McCaffrey were roommates at Stanford who remain close friends today. That is, in interviewing one, they found out a lot about the other.
“You start talking about one and you can’t help talking about the other,” Rivera said.