Former Carolina Panthers tight end Wesley Walls sees NFL tight ends lining up in the slot, being used and getting paid like wide receivers, and thinks he played the position two decades too soon.

“I wish I was 23 again in this league,” Walls said.

Walls is 48 now, 11 years removed from his last NFL season. He’s a successful businessman, an empty nester and a soon-to-be member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Walls was one of 16 selections to the hall, announced last week by the National Football Foundation.

He’s certain to be the only Hall of Famer whose touchdown celebration involved dropping to the end zone and firing off a few rounds from a make-believe rifle, a nod to his hunting roots along the backwaters of Mississippi.

Walls caught 450 passes for 5,291 yards and 54 touchdowns during his 14-year career, half of which he spent with the Panthers. Walls went to five Pro Bowls in a six-year span with Carolina, and led the Panthers in receiving in 1997.

But Walls is envious of today’s tight ends, who – with the crackdown on hits against defenseless receivers – can run freely across the middle of the field without fearing for their lives.

“You had to know where all those safeties were when I was playing,” Walls said Friday during a phone interview.

Walls sustained seven concussions in the NFL, and is among the nearly 4,900 retired players who sued the league over head injuries.

Walls, a senior vice president for a SouthPark commercial real estate firm, is in good health, notwithstanding his “fake hip” and a left knee that twice has been surgically repaired.

Walls said he joined the lawsuit as a precautionary measure to keep his family from facing a financial burden in the event he develops a debilitating condition when he’s older.

“I do think that some of the players are bitter, (and) just feel like the league doesn’t care enough about us anymore as soon as we get out of football,” Walls said.

But Walls said he knew the health risks when he signed his first contract in 1989, although he does wish the league had been more proactive in studying head injuries so players from his era weren’t returning to games with concussions.