Sixth-round pick Gaffney a hit with Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Running back Tyler Gaffney spent the week in the classroom, but not the kind the Carolina Panthers had wanted for their sixth-round draft pick.

Gaffney is back at Stanford. Because the university is on a quarter system, he will miss almost four weeks of offseason classroom and field instruction with the Panthers while he completes his double major in sociology and psychology.

Many wonder why the Panthers took Gaffney at all, because they have a crowded backfield with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and 2013 sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner.

Here is why: Williams, 31, is on the wrong side of 30 for a running back, and Stewart has had a combined 141 carries the past two seasons because of injuries. Tolbert is more of a fullback and Barner is still in the developmental stages.

Plus, Gaffney can hit.

I'm not talking baseballs, although he is pretty good at that as he showed when he took the 2012 season off from football to focus on a professional baseball career. In 38 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class A team he had a .297 batting average.

But it's the kind of hitting a running back does as a blocker that impressed Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman, who said before the draft that fewer backs were being selected because they couldn't pick up blitz packages.

"That year I took off for minor league baseball, I knew when I came back [blocking] was something I needed to strengthen in my game," Gaffney said. "I took advantage of it."

The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Gaffney also likes to hit as a runner. In Stanford's power rushing game that is similar to Carolina's, he rushed for 1,709 yard and 21 touchdowns on 330 carries last season.

"Three hundred and thirty carries and he's as healthy as a horse," Gettleman said. "He just really fits. Again, the biggest problem with young running backs is with the blitz pickups. I was up in New York and Ahmad Bradshaw struggled with it. Brandon Jacobs struggled with it early.

"It takes time. This kid knows it now. He's smart."

That is one reason Gettleman isn't in the panic he normally might be in because Gaffney is missing OTAs.

It's not ideal, but Gaffney will continue to work in the weight room and has all of the Carolina playbooks.

"I know their philosophy of running the ball is what we did at Stanford, and it's what I'm all about," he said. "They picked me for a reason. I'm just trying to find my spot and where I fit in."

And no, Gaffney has no plans to return to the minor leagues, where he set a team record and led the New York-Penn League in being hit by a pitch 20 times.

"I might try to throw out a first pitch," he said jokingly. "I’m happy with where I’m at."

And so are the Panthers, even though they would prefer he was back in offseason workouts.