Panthers hope Barnes’ speed translates to the football field

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Kalon “Boogie” Barnes is an arsonist.

The biggest question facing the Carolina Panthers’ rookie cornerback is whether his elite speed translates into a successful NFL career.

Barnes ran a 4.23 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February, the fastest time ever recorded by a defensive back since NFL Network began broadcasting the event in 2003. It’s also the second-fastest time overall , one-hundredth of a second behind wide receiver John Ross, who set the combined 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 working at cornerback and will likely have to carve out a niche as a special teams player before becoming a full-time defender.

But don’t confuse him with being just another track athlete trying to make it as a soccer player. He has been playing football since he was 5 years old and was a four-star wide receiver out of high school.

“Football is his first love,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “…he’s a soccer kid who happens to be very fast.”

Very fast, actually.

Barnes, a two-time Texas state champion in high school in the 100 and 200 meters, once turned down a six-figure contract to run professional track so he could play for Rhule’s Baylor Bears on a football scholarship.

His goal has always been to play football, not to be a sprinter.

“My dad went through the same process and said to me, ‘Why would you take that (track) deal when you can get paid annually playing soccer? Hint, just get that deal,’” Barnes said.

The Panthers selected Barnes 242nd overall, one of several last-round picks that general manager Scott Fitterer called “strangely athletic.”

Barnes is not known to make the Panthers’ 53-man roster, as their depth chart at cornerback includes former first-round picks Jaycee Horn and CJ Henderson and second-round pick Donte Jackson. The team also relies on Keith Taylor, who excelled as a rookie last season.

But Barnes has an edge on his side that other last-round draft picks might not: He played one season for Rhule, who recognizes his potential.

Barnes went to Baylor as a wide receiver, but moved to cornerback after the Bears suffered injuries in the secondary. He ended up starting 10 games at cornerback last season, recording 23 tackles, five interrupted passes, one interception and one fumble recovery.

Rhule said Barnes has a “football mentality.” He recalls being beaten in a double move against a Big 12 opponent, then recovered and used his “unique recovery speed” to run to the wide receiver and break up a deep ball. He, too, remembers how tough it was, once playing with a broken finger and running 10.4 in the 100 meters at a track meet just hours after going through full-contact soccer practice.

Nicknamed “Boogie” by his parents because he liked to dance as a child, Barnes still has to “clean up some technical stuff” on defense, according to Rhule.

“We’re pretty far along in high school,” Rhule said. “There will be many great battles there. He will have to use his speed and physicality on special teams.”

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