CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Kalon “Boogie” Barnes is a flat burner.
The biggest question facing the Carolina Panthers rookie cornerback is whether his elite speed translates to a successful NFL career.
Barnes ran a 4.23 40-yard sprint at the NFL scouting combine in February – the fastest time ever by a defensive back since the NFL Network began broadcasting the event in 2003 It’s also the second fastest time overall, one-hundredth of a second behind catcher John Ross, who set the combine record (4.22) in 2017.
Of course, speed doesn’t always equate to a long career at the NFL level.
Barnes, being a seventh-round pick, still has some technical issues to work out as a cornerback and will likely need to carve out a spot as a special teams player before becoming a full-time defenseman.
But don’t confuse him with another raw track athlete trying to make it as a football player. He has been playing football since he was 5 years old and was a four-star rookie as a wide receiver out of high school.
“Football is his first love,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “…He is a footballer who happens to be very quick.”
Really fast, indeed.
Barnes, a two-time high school Texas state champion in the 100 and 200 yards, once turned down a six-figure contract to run on a pro track so he could play for Rhule’s Baylor Bears on a scholarship of football.
His goal has always been to play football, not to be a sprinter.
“My dad went through the same process and he said to me, ‘Why would you take this deal (on track) when you can get paid on an annual basis playing football? Watch, you only get one deal,” Barnes said.
The Panthers selected Barnes 242nd overall, one of several late-round picks that general manager Scott Fitterer called “frequently athletic.”
It’s uncertain whether Barnes will make the Panthers’ 53-man roster as they’re overcrowded at cornerback, including former first-round picks Jaycee Horn and CJ Henderson and second-round pick Donte. Jackson. The team is also high on Keith Taylor, who stood out as a rookie last season.
But Barnes has an advantage on his side that other late draft picks might not have – he played a season for Rhule, who recognizes his potential.
Barnes went to Baylor as a wide receiver but moved to cornerback after the Bears were injured in the secondary. He ended up starting 10 games at cornerback last season, recording 23 tackles, five pass breakups, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Rhule said Barnes had a “football mentality”. He recalls getting beat on a double-hit against a Big 12 opponent, then hunkering down and using his “unique catch-up speed” to run down the wide receiver and smash a deep ball . He also remembers his tenacity, once playing with a broken finger and running a 10.4 in the 100 meters in a track meet just hours after taking part in soccer practice full contact.
Nicknamed “Boogie” by his parents because he loved to dance when he was young, Barnes still needs to “clean up some technical things” on defense, according to Rhule.
“We’re really far into high school,” Rhule said. “There will be a lot of great battles there. He’s going to have to use his speed and his physicality in the special teams.
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