Former Ohio State captain earns another NFL shot in Carolina

Pete Nakos4 months
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C.J. Saunders by Birm
C.J. Saunders has signed with the Carolina Panthers. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — C.J. Saunders is still chasing his NFL dreams.

The former Ohio State captain and walk-on turned undrafted free agent has signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers.

Even when the NCAA didn’t grant Saunders a sixth year of eligibility following an injury-riddled senior season, he joined Ohio State’s coaching staff and worked out on his own time. The wideout prepared for Buckeyes Pro Day, too, making one last-ditch effort to draw some attention from NFL scouts.

The extra effort has worked. Earlier this month, Saunders signed on with the Atlanta Falcons for rookie minicamp. And now he has another shot, this time with the Carolina Panthers.

“To me, he’s a guy that I use as an example a lot — whether it be taking tests in our room, whether it’s overall effort in our room, he does a great job and that makes it really hard for me to find a bad rep on film,” Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said in 2019. “It’s really hard for me to find lack of effort on a test.

C.J. Saunders-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State wide receiver C.J. Saunders lost his senior year to an injury. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“It’s not like I’m trying to put him on a pedestal … but our expectation is trying to be different, trying to be great. I can’t find a half-speed rep on film of C.J. Saunders. It’s impossible. He’s doing a great job of leading the room by example.”

Hartline knew he could trust on Saunders as a coach, but he also had confidence in him during his playing days for the Buckeyes. A Dublin native, he joined the program in 2016 as a defensive back before switching over to wide receiver. He then impressed Ohio State’s coaching staff enough to earn a scholarship before the start of the 2019 season. To top off his remarkable walk-on story, he was named team captain for the 2019 season. He caught 27 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown in his career at Ohio State.

C.J. Saunders will continue chasing after his NFL dreams now with the Panthers, trying to make a 52-man roster or impress Carolina enough to sign a practice squad deal.