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Panthers' undrafted pickup Keyarris Garrett: 'I was the best wide receiver' in draft

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Keyarris Garrett was the best wide receiver in the April NFL draft.

Don’t believe it? Just ask him.

“I say that all the time," Garrett said this past weekend at the Carolina Panthers rookie minicamp. “That’s just how I feel. I had the best numbers out of any of the receivers. My numbers don’t lie.

“That’s why I felt like I was the best wide receiver."

Here’s the punchline, although it isn’t funny to the 6-foot-3, 220-pounds Tulsa star.

Garrett wasn’t drafted. The Panthers signed him as an undrafted free agent.

Some would argue Garrett wasn’t even Carolina’s top undrafted free agent signing, giving the nod to Duke safety/linebacker Jeremy Cash.

Garrett doesn’t know about that. But he’ll flat out tell you there’s no way the 34 receivers selected in the draft -- including four in the first round -- were better than him.

“Oh, yes," he said. “If you look at the stats."

Garrett’s 1,588 receiving yards on 96 catches led the nation. But if you consider receiving yards the measuring stick for being drafted, then the top six receivers in college football last season were snubbed.

Baylor’s Corey Coleman, the first receiver taken at No. 15 by Cleveland, ranked ninth in receiving yards with 1,363. He also had 22 fewer catches than Garrett.

“I haven’t gotten like a really good reason as to why I wasn’t drafted," Garrett said. “I have no idea. I’m not really concerned about that anymore. That’s in the past."

Garrett may say it’s in the past. But in the same breath he’ll tell you his goal is to “prove to coaches that I should have been drafted."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera and wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl are as puzzled as anybody as to why Garrett was available.

They’re just glad he was.

“I’m surprised. I really am," Rivera said. “I got messages, emails, phone calls saying, ‘Hey, you guys got a steal. This guy should have been drafted.'"

Proehl had a fifth-round grade on Garrett.

“I can’t explain why he wasn’t drafted," he said. “He was productive in college. ... You look at what he did at Tulsa. That’s production, man. As a wide receiver coach, that’s what you’re looking for. Did he make plays on Saturday?"

So why wasn’t Garrett drafted? It’s not like he was a trouble-maker or failed drug tests, things that sometimes drop a player’s draft status.

He didn’t play for a power conference. But if you buy into that theory then Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick out of Western Michigan, never should have succeeded.

Brown tied Atlanta’s Julio Jones for the NFL lead with 136 receptions in 2015. He finished second in the league in receiving yards with 1,834.

Proehl flew to Tulsa before the draft to give Garrett a personal workout. It was a cold day with winds swirling 30- to 40-miles per hour.

“That ball was dancing all over the place, and he was catching everything," Proehl said. “He ran good routes. He came off the ball. I liked him."

The personal relationship Proehl and Garrett developed during that visit made it an easy decision when Proehl called offering a roster spot following the draft.

“He understood me and I understood him," Garrett said. "They were the first team to call so I went with them just because of the connection I had with coach."

Garrett fits the profile that general manager Dave Gettleman looks for in wideouts. He is tall like 2014 first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin (6-5), 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess (6-4) and Stephen Hill (6-4).

“He’s a big target," Proehl said. “We like big wideouts to the outside, and that’s what he brings to the table. He’s got a huge upside."

Garrett’s biggest negative in college was a horrific broken left leg suffered in the second game of his third season. He fractured the tibia and fibula that required a titanium rod and screws to repair.

The leg later got infected, leading to several more surgeries.

Garrett wasn’t 100 percent the following season, but still managed to catch 47 passes for 698 yards and five touchdowns.

The leg wasn’t an issue this past season in which he averaged 16.5 yards a catch and had eight touchdowns.

“Going through all those surgeries and all that, there were some times when I wanted to say, 'Man, forget this; it’s too much,'" Garrett told the Tulsa World prior to the draft. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to be another guy who had all that talent and didn’t do anything with it.’ I didn’t want to be that guy."

Some pundits had Garrett going as high as the third round. Few had him going undrafted.

Going undrafted drives Garrett. The Daingerfield, Texas, native won’t hesitate to use the Rodney Dangerfield catchphrase, "I don’t get no respect," to motivate himself.

“My expectations?" Garrett said after Saturday’s final rookie camp session. “Just to prove to the coaches that I felt like I should have been drafted and I can help this team out -- a lot."