There was never a point last weekend when Corey “Philly” Brown thought he wasn’t going to be drafted.
Brown, a former Ohio State receiver, was projected to be a third-day selection in the NFL draft, but after the end of the fifth round, he was hoping he wouldn’t be taken at all.
“Just so I can take a good situation for myself and just so I’d be able to go down to Carolina,” Brown said of his Saturday afternoon wish. “You not getting drafted, that’s just more fuel for this offseason and when I go into this camp.”
Brown headlines the nine-player class of undrafted free agents the Carolina Panthers signed in the days after the draft, and they will be joined by a few dozen tryout players and younger players on the roster at this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said he and his staff would target three or four undrafted free agents this year after striking it big last year with safety Robert Lester, cornerback Melvin White and defensive end Wes Horton.
Brown and Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen are two of those players. According to a league source, Brown earned a $15,000 signing bonus with the Panthers – commensurate with other top undrafted free agents around the league.
Brown led the Buckeyes in receiving yards each of the past two seasons. He caught 123 passes for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final two years with Ohio State. His 10 touchdowns last season were second in the Big 10.
“I wouldn’t walk across the street from him last year,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told the media in October. “Now he’s a guy (who is) an incredible leader.
“He’s an absolute leader of this team, unchallenged, unquestionable.”
Named second-team All-Big 10 in his final two years, Brown was solid for the Buckeyes in the intermediate passing game. He said one of his best attributes is his sure hands.
“I played four years. I’ve been through it all,” said Brown, who was at Ohio State during the impermissible benefits scandal that rocked the program and ultimately led to coach Jim Tressel’s resignation. “I’ve seen the ups and downs at Ohio State. I pride myself with my hands. If you say this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, you have to commit to it.”
Though he has good hands, he doesn’t have the ideal size or speed at receiver. Brown is 6-foot and weighs 185 pounds, though he said he likes to play at 192.
He expected to run a high 4.3 or low 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine, but he turned in a middle-of-the-pack 4.51 in Indianapolis.
“I’m not worried about that. That’s in the past,” Brown said. “I know what I’m capable of running, and I know what I’m capable of running on the field. All I’m worried about is the opportunity I have and how blessed I am.”
Still, Brown’s fall out of the draft was mildly surprising. Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, who worked out Brown at Ohio State pre-draft, texted Brown during the late rounds and told him to keep his head up.
All along, Brown said, he wanted to be in Charlotte.
Brown said he looks at the receivers depth chart and sees a spot for himself learning under veterans such as Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery. But he knows he’ll likely have to make a name for himself on special teams.
The Panthers will be without Ted Ginn Jr. on kick and punt returns in 2014, and receiver Kealoha Pilares and running back Kenjon Barner are projected to battle for the open spots.
Brown had two punts returned for touchdowns in his junior season – the second-most in the NCAA in 2012 – and he averaged 12.3 yards per return.
At Ohio State, Brown, who is from Upper Darby, Pa., adopted the nickname “Philly” because there was already a Corey Brown on the roster.
The Panthers play the Eagles on Monday Night Football in Week 10, and Brown plans to not only be on the roster, but be a key contributor by then for Carolina.
“Oh yeah, we’re going to Philly, which is good for me,” Brown excitedly said. “That’s one game I got circled.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9