CHARLOTTE – Zack Sanchez's belief that the Carolina Panthers would select him in the 2016 NFL Draft proved accurate – even though that belief was tested after the Panthers picked two other cornerbacks Friday.
But Saturday, Carolina made it three in a row, selecting the Oklahoma product early in the fifth round. "Yes, I know that," Sanchez said when asked if he was aware that the Panthers had previously picked corners in the second and third rounds. "I'm just ready to work my tail off and get on the field, regardless of where I'm drafted, whether I was the first or the last corner taken."
Sanchez had bigger numbers and a bigger reputation than second-round pick James Bradberry of Samford and third-round choice Daryl Worley of West Virginia, picking off 15 passes over three seasons for national power Oklahoma.
He said he was a little surprised he lasted into the fifth round, but was happy to be a Panther and excited about competing against the two other draft picks, both of whom Sanchez knows.
"Carolina showed me the most interest of any team throughout this process. I didn't know when it would be or how I would get there, but I just had the feeling that this would be the landing spot for me," Sanchez said. "I'm a competitor. I understand that they're my teammates, but I'm here to compete with anybody. And the better they compete, the better I'll be. That will make us all better in the long run."
The Panthers have never before selected three players listed as cornerbacks in team history. In the team's inaugural draft in 1995, armed with extra picks as an expansion franchise, Carolina selected one corner and two players it listed as defensive backs.
Last season, while helping Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff, Sanchez tied for fifth in the nation with seven interceptions (Worley was seventh with six). He picked off six passes the previous seasons with an aggressive playing style that some would call risky.
For Sanchez, though, and hopefully now for the Panthers, it was rewarding.
"I was just blessed with natural instincts, with the ability to make plays and put myself in position to make plays," said Sanchez, a 5-11, 179-pounder who had one year of college eligibility remaining.
"There are things that obviously I still need to work on and fix, but I was born with the ability to make plays and have better instincts than a lot of guys.
"It's also about me knowing the game and then attacking than me just guessing every time and taking risks. I had a lot of good safeties behind me that allowed me to do that."
He now brings that style to one of the top defenses in the NFL, one that expressed confidence in him even before investing a pick in him.
"This is a top-10 defense, and I want to do my best to be a part of it and be a guy who makes plays for it," said Sanchez, who recalled a conversation he had with head coach Ron Rivera on his pre-draft visit to Carolina. "He told me he believed in me and thought I could be a good player in this league. Obviously he didn't know what the draft would hold and if I'd end up in Carolina, but he wished me the best of luck.
"To hear that from Coach Rivera and now be a part of this team is real rewarding."
View photos of the Panthers' fifth-round draft choice, Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez.