CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Ben Boulware was in the middle of everything for Clemson's national championship defense. Fred Ross was one of the most productive wide receivers in the SEC.
Neither heard their name called in the 2017 NFL Draft, and both signed with the Panthers as undrafted free agents.
"It's a very humbling experience going to the very top to now being at the very bottom," Boulware said after the first rookie minicamp session.
Boulware and Ross have impressive resumes as productive players who played against top-notch competition. But scouts and evaluators questioned if they had the athletic ability needed to succeed at the next level.
All Ross can do is smile and shake his head when asked why he went undrafted after posting 160 catches for 1,924 yards and 17 touchdowns in his two seasons as a starter for Mississippi State.
"It's not any of my business. God has a plan, and I'm just going to trust this process," Ross said. "I'm very motivated. I have a big boulder on my shoulder."
Ross had a feeling the Panthers were interested in his services during the pre-draft process. They hosted him on a visit, and he got good vibes from the coaching staff.
"When I didn't get drafted, this is one of the first places I thought about," Ross said. "I'm glad they came after me and had me join the team."
Ross describes himself as a versatile receiver with big-play potential. He ran precise routes and displayed sure hands during the first rookie minicamp session.
"I can play inside, I can play outside. I can be explosive after the catch and I can also make those contested catches. I bring a lot to the table," he said. "I'm very confident. I played against the best week in and week out (in the SEC). I don't think catching on and learning will be too big of a problem for me."
Making the 53-man roster as an undrafted player is no small task but it's not an impossible one, especially in Carolina. Last year, linebackers Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris earned a spot on the active roster and wide receiver Keyarris Garrett landed on the practice squad.
Boulware and Ross are among five total undrafted signings who have their foot in the door. Are they justified in their confusion and frustration over not being drafted? Time will tell.
"I just want to prove myself right and everyone else wrong," Boulware said. "I can play at this level. I know the NFL is a whole new level, but I'm up for the challenge."
View photos of the Carolina Panthers during the first day of Rookie Minicamp.