Carolina Panthers

Could Panthers' answer for offensive line help be local product hiding in plain sight?

North Carolina A&T tackle Brandon Parker

The Carolina Panthers need offensive line help in this year’s NFL Draft, and Kannapolis native and North Carolina A&T tackle Brandon Parker could be a fit.
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The Carolina Panthers need offensive line help in this year’s NFL Draft, and Kannapolis native and North Carolina A&T tackle Brandon Parker could be a fit.

Imagine overlooking a man the size of a house.

A tiny house, granted, but still, gargantuan. Brandon Parker’s belly button lies where an average man’s shoulder’s might. You could easily nuzzle the top of your head into his armpits.

And somehow, he still flew under the radar.

Parker is a 6-foot-7, 314-pound offensive tackle out of North Carolina A&T. He was twice named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year, and has started 36 games during his four seasons with the Aggies. He’s also a certifiable NFL draft prospect, projected to go as high as the late second round in April’s draft.

Four years ago, none of that seemed possible.

Back then, Parker was just another nobody high school player. The Kannapolis native and A.L. Brown graduate had no FBS offers, no accolades or glamorous hype tapes, and no real path to the NFL.

That’s a little different from now, huh?

“It is,” Parker said Monday at A&T’s pro day. “Especially out of high school, (I) didn’t get any accolades or even an all-conference wink. So going from that to being in front and in the center, it is a little different.

“But I like it.”

As he well should. At Monday’s pro day, Parker was the main attraction. With 17 scouts in attendance, he bench-pressed and ran the 40 and went through his own offensive line drills.

Yeah ... his own drills.

A crowd of A&T fans and students and the rest of the pro day participants all lined up and watched as coaches worked out Parker. He practiced pulling, something more common in NFL offensive schemes, and showing off the length and flexibility that make him a unique prospect.

“It wasn’t until about halfway through it that I looked to the side and I realized everybody was lined up,” Parker said, “and then I was like, ‘Wow, it is just me out here.’”

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The 40-yard dash is not where N.C. A&T offensive lineman Brandon Parker is going to shine. “They understand I’m not going to be the fastest guy,” Parker said. Greensboro News & Record Joseph Rodriguez

Could the Panthers take Parker?

One of the teams with a scout in attendance was the Carolina Panthers, who need offensive line depth.

All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. Also gone are tackles John Theus and Dan France, replaced by Zach Banner at tackle and Jeremy Sirles at guard. The team is expecting a leap from 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton, but more young developmental players are needed.

Who better than the hometown kid hiding in plain sight?

“It would be nice,” Parker said of potentially playing for the Panthers. “I try not to entertain (the idea of it) because I try not to show favoritism, but that would be nice, especially for the people back home in Kannapolis. I’m sure they would be rushing to get tickets if I go there.”

Parker admittedly did not grow up a Panthers fan, pulling for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers instead. “Everybody in my family was a Panthers fan, so I had to go against them,” he said.

But there’s at least a chance Carolina could select him. Parker is scheduled to work out for the team later this week in Charlotte, following workouts Tuesday with the Buffalo Bills and Wednesday with the New York Giants.

A ready-made NFL connection

Parker has one other thing going for him as a potential NFL draft selection — the guy he used to block for.

This time last year, NFL scouts flocked to Greensboro for a peek at diminutive N.C. A&T running back Tarik Cohen. The Chicago Bears ultimately selected the 5-foot-6 runner in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, and Cohen made an immediate impact as a runner, receiver, and return man.

“While (scouts) were coming to look at Tarik,” Parker said with a smile, “they were also noticing the people blocking for him.”

Monday, Cohen got to make his feelings about Parker known.

As Parker shuffled all over the field, Cohen was calling out to the scouts in attendance that they “better draft BP.” Or that, “my boy BP gonna be a first-rounder.”

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Former Kannapolis A.L. Brown player Brandon Parker went from two-star high school player to second-round NFL draft prospect at N.C. A&T. Greensboro News and Record Joseph Rodriguez

Cohen drew chuckles, but his point remains. Parker is absolutely good enough to be selected.

At the next level, Parker won’t be the fastest blocker or even the strongest one. But his combination of incredibly long arms and ability to bend to catch defenders make him a solid NFL project .

“They understand I’m not going to be the fastest guy,” Parker said. “Even up to today, they said I had good measurables. Didn’t really have a chance to talk to them about the overall day, but I feel like it’s been pretty good.”

For now, there isn’t much left for Parker to do. His tape speaks for itself. So too do the accolades he never could have dreamed of earning. All he can muster now is following along with the draft process — and maybe catching the eye of his hometown Panthers.

“It’s still kind of surreal because you don’t realize you’re living the dream as you going through it,” Parker said. “I probably won’t realize it until the draft or even a little bit after that, when I realize I went the route.”

Brendan: 704-358-5889; @BrendanRMarks

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