CHARLOTTE - Deonte Brown left January's Senior Bowl with no guarantees, but a reason for optimism.
The former Alabama guard wasn't promised anything, but said he "hit it off" with head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers staff during a week of practice, and got the sense it was mutual.
"Okay, well, at least I got the Panthers that like me," he recalled thinking.
Three months later, Brown was taken by the Panthers in the sixth round of the NFL draft, and will now look to bring both his talent and championship pedigree to Carolina.
The 6-foot-3, 345-pounder was the second offensive lineman drafted by the Panthers in 2021, following BYU's Brady Christensen in the third round. Hailing from Decatur, Ala., Brown was part of a Crimson Tide offensive line that steamrolled opponents en route to a national championship last season.
The first-team all-SEC selection started all 13 games for the Tide at left guard, allowing half a sack, one pressure, and just five quarterback hurries. He projects as a solid in-line power blocker who can thrive in the run game, which works here with Christian McCaffrey.
For Brown, the biggest obstacle to a productive pro career could be his weight - but he believes it's a nonissue if he continues on the nutrition plan he adopted in Tuscaloosa.
"People are gonna see real soon," he said, "that my weight isn't a hindrance on my ability to play, and to play at a high level for a really long time."
One of the most memorable games of Brown's college career, he said, was going up (and holding his own) against Auburn's Derrick Brown in 2019. Now, he'll get more than a few chances to do battle with the 2020 first-rounder.
"It's gonna be a lot of fun seeing him in practice," he said. "Better seeing him in practice than in actual games."
In January, Brown had little more than the word of one coach. Now, he has a pro contract, NFL draft experience, and a shot at a promising career in Carolina.
"Definitely a dream come true," he said. "Anywhere I got picked, I was going to be happy. But I'm glad that Matt Rhule and the whole organization had faith in me and took a shot."