CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Running back Kenjon Barner plans to use being chosen in the sixth round of last month's NFL draft as motivation heading into his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers.
Barner, who rushed for 1,767 yards and scored 23 touchdowns (21 via the run) as a senior at Oregon, was one of 59 players who participated in the first day of a Carolina rookie minicamp Friday. He said he immediately went about the business of attempting to prove he should have been drafted sooner.
"You know, in my mind I knew nothing was guaranteed," Barner said. "So I never hung my hat on what I heard, because I knew on this stage that anything could happen. I didn't want to get stuck on being a fourth-rounder or anything like that, because I've seen in years past what can happen — and what has happened to guys who were supposed to go earlier and then didn't.
"So was I disappointed? Yeah. But it just gave me something to work for. I'm here now. Every day is a work day. I've got to play with a chip on my shoulder. Every day I'm going to remind myself that 181 people went before me."
Barner worked not only out of the backfield Friday, but also as a kick returner. He caught coach Ron Rivera's eye both on film before the draft and during Friday's workout.
"It's interesting when you watch him," Rivera said. "He's got some quickness. But he's also a very smart young man. He was a fifth-year senior who graduated.
"I think he's shown that he has some ability. He's going to be a guy where we're going to have to find a spot for him. If he continues to grow and improve and flash like he's been doing, he's got a real good chance to help us."
Rivera admitted he was pleasantly surprised to find Barner still available when the Panthers' turn came in the sixth round. That's why the team did not hesitate to select him, despite the fact the Panthers appear to have a crowded and talented backfield, including veterans Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
Stewart, incidentally, was a first-round pick out of Oregon back in 2008.
"I didn't quite get it, but when he was sitting there and listening to (general manager) Dave (Gettleman) and the scouts talk about the value we got with that pick, it made perfect sense to us and perfect sense to me that we took him," Rivera said of Barner. "The guy's stats speak for themselves. Twenty-one touchdowns. (Seventeen hundred-plus) yards rushing. Return ability on both kickoff and punt. He can come out of the backfield and be effective as a receiver."
Barner certainly sounds confident he will contribute right away, despite the veterans sure to be listed in front of him on the depth chart. Part of the reason he may have slipped in the draft was his height, listed at 5-foot-9 but maybe not quite so tall. He goes a solid 195 pounds.
"Besides my speed, I bring versatility," Barner said. "I can affect the game on the field from many different aspects: offense, special teams, whatever the case may be. I can make a play.
"It's just going to take hard work. In any crowded (roster) area, hard work stands out."
Barner was one of the team's five draft picks who participated in the first day of minicamp, including defensive tackles Star Lotulelei from Utah and Kawann Short from Purdue,who were chosen in the first and second rounds, respectively. Also participating were 18 undrafted free agents and 36 tryout players.
While making it clear he is pleased to be with the team, Barner also stressed that he's eager to press his agenda.
"You can't be picky when it comes to this stage," he said. "You're fortunate to get your name called by any team, period. But there's no doubt about it: You always want to make people eat their words."