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Dayton Fliers: Digging for gold


It remains to be seen whether there is a gem in the list of college free agents announced Monday by the Panthers.

If betting the odds, the percentages are stacked against the dozen players on the list. If betting history, pick your long shot and go for it.

Unlike the draft picks, who were analyzed and dissected by the experts until the final name was announced, these men might as well be invisible. Overlooked in the selection process, they will now try to catch a coach's eye when they report for rookie mini-camp next week.

They are unproven or incomplete talents or they would likely have been drafted, but that doesn't mean there isn't a diamond to be uncovered.

Three former free agents - Fred Lane (1998), Brad Hoover (2000) and Nick Goings (2001) – are among the Panthers' top 10 career rushers. They are reminders that the draft is an imperfect process in an inexact science.

Last year it was a free agent, tackle Byron Bell, who provided a life preserver to the offensive line when Garry Williams, Jeff Otah and Geoff Schwartz all went down - and out - with injuries early in the season.

While the draft has the glitz and glamour, the time and effort spent when no one is looking can also provide benefits. Bell had a crisscrossed college career at New Mexico that left his name uncalled at last year's draft.

However, he had caught the eye of Carolina assistant line coach Ray Brown, who developed a relationship with Bell. When the free agent frenzy broke out at the end of last year's draft process, that association helped point Bell in the Panthers' direction.

A strong preseason found him on the opening day roster when the Panthers played at Arizona, where he alternated with Otah. Forced into the starting lineup a week later against Green Bay, Bell acquitted himself quite well and ended up starting 12 games for the Panthers and solidifying the offensive line.

Another free agent, defensive end Thomas Keiser, took longer to surface, starting the season on the practice squad. But by the second half of the year, had played himself into the defensive line rotation, tying for second in sacks with four.

For the majority of free agents, the NFL experience means training camp and a few preseason games. They were stars in high school and college and for the first time, find themselves in a situation where they have to beat the odds.

Could defensive tackle Nate Chandler, guard Will Blackwell, or running backs Princeton McCarty or Tauren Poole be "that guy"? Right now they are names on a rookie free agent roster.

Whether they become more, like Hoover or Bell, time will tell. The odds may be against them, but history says it can be done.

Director of Communications Charlie Dayton has worked 34 years in the NFL. Before joining the Panthers in 1994, he was VP of Communications for the Washington Redskins. Dayton has worked on the NFL media staff for 25 Super Bowls, is a past winner of the Horrigan Award and the National Association of Black Journalists Merit Award.

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