-- To follow the logic of how Joey Harris ended up with the Carolina Panthers, you need to look beyond conventional wisdom. In his world, the shortest route to an NFL roster isn't always a straight line.

After going undrafted in April, Harris was a free agent and could have had his pick of teams with short depth charts at running back. Instead, he signed with the Panthers, who have starter-caliber running backs in Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster and strong backups Rod Smart and Nick Goings.

Joining that mix might seem like a quick ticket to the waiver wire. But, maybe, Harris's logic has some merit.

"I knew exactly what the situation was and I felt like it was the perfect situation for me," he said. "They have three really good running backs to learn from and they run the ball a lot. If things don't work out, I could have a good preseason and move on to another team."

Harris has learned quickly from Foster and Davis, and he's been one of the early surprises of camp. Coaches and teammates have raved about Harris's speed and work ethic. The rest of the NFL will get a look Saturday night when the Panthers open their preseason at Washington.

Harris should get a fair amount of carries as the Panthers try to keep Davis and Foster fresh for the preseason. Maybe Harris will use the opportunity to move into competition for a roster spot with Smart and Goings.

Or maybe an impressive cameo in the preseason can earn him a spot on another roster.

"At the very least, I'll get some film that the rest of the league will see," Harris said.

Until he started making plays at the start of training camp, nobody had seen much of him for quite some time. As a junior at Purdue, Harris rushed for 1,275 yards and eight touchdowns and looked like a solid draft prospect for the following year.

But he failed a math class that summer and came up three credits short of staying academically eligible.

Without a showcase senior season, Harris tried to keep his draft hopes alive. On the advice of his agent, he went to Houston to train at a sports complex with other draft prospects.

"[Director of college scouting] Tony Softli gave me a big list of guys to cross check and then he said, 'Hey, check this guy out. He didn't play last year, but he's got the speed of a track guy,' " Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper said.

"I watched him and graded him and we were just hoping he'd slip through the cracks."

Harris slipped through the draft cracks, but he said several teams wanted to sign him the next day. Despite the talent stockpile in the backfield, he chose the Panthers.

The early results have been impressive, but Harris's real audition starts Saturday night.

"You have to make a name for yourself, especially when you're a free agent," Harris said. "You're not like the drafted guys. You have to try to open some eyes every time you go out there."