The NFL draft is over and OTAs are underway. We are starting to get a few glimpses of this year’s crop of rookies through limited media days once a week during OTAs. This offseason is particularly interesting considering the depth of talent in the draft. We all want to know which teams made the right choices and who will emerge as the stars of the draft. I wholeheartedly believe Kelvin Benjamin will be one of those stars. I was high on the big receiver out of FSU in Cat Crave’s predraft evaluations. Predicting what a receiver will do his rookie season is almost impossible. More times than not, receivers need a few more years to develop compared to other positions. That being said, here are my reasons why Kelvin Benjamin will be in the 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Benjamin is a perfect fit in Carolina
The Panthers direly needed a redzone threat in 2013. Now they need a new go-to receiver following the offseason release of Steve Smith. Benjamin is going to receive more opportunities to excel than most of the receivers in this draft. Carolina lost their top 4 wide receivers in free agency this season and replaced them with roughly the same amount of talent on the back end. Now there are loads of catches to go around and Benjamin will be given a large bulk of them. Benjamin’s biggest knocks are technical issues with route running and proper catching technique. Ricky Proehl may be one of the most underrated position coaches in the NFL. Proehl was a master of getting open through fundamentally sound route running for 17 years in the NFL. He was part of the reason Ted Ginn revived his career in Carolina last season. He will be able to teach Kelvin the ins and outs of being an NFL receiver, which will allow Benjamin to adjust to the speed of the NFL faster than other rookie receivers. The fact he has a shot to be the team’s number one receiver should have him as an early season favorite for R.O.Y.
2. Benjamin has elite physical tools
Kelvin Benjamin is 6’5, 240 pounds with a 32 inch vertical leap. His broad shoulders and long arms each equipped with 10″ paws, create a freakish catch radius most NFL receivers could only dream of. He had a slow forty time at the combine, but his game-speed is more than suitable for the NFL. Benjamin is deceptively quick. In fact the majority of his catches last season came on passes 20+ yards down the field. Benjamin’s height and jumping ability make him a
nightmare matchup for almost any defender in one-on-one situations. His fierce competitiveness allows him to win most jump balls. He is built in the mold of Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery. Big, physical, and seemingly unstoppable. If Benjamin puts in the work, he has all of the physical tools to be an elite NFL receiver, let alone a R.O.Y. caliber one.
3. Oh yeah, this guy named Cam Newton
Many of the rookie receivers find themselves on teams still trying to find the answer at quarterback. Watkins heads to a Bills team with unproven second year QB E.J. Manuel under center. Evans gets to catch check downs from McCown all day in Tampa. But Benjamin? He has one of the best young quarterbacks in the game throwing to him. Cam showed a tendency to sail passes last season due to bad mechanics. Kelvin Benjamin’s height can compensate for some of those errant throws. Newton has improved each season as a passer and there is no reason to believe he won’t this season. The combination of Cam’s running ability and Benjamin’s size will create nightmares in the red zone for opposing defenses. Benjamin and Newton look like two basketball players on a football field. The two have already started building chemistry together off the field. Newton is poised to return to rehab sooner than expected and can establish a better rapport with his new weapons. Cam and Kelvin will be the faces of this offense for the foreseeable future.
Kelvin Benjamin couldn’t have asked for a better situation. He gets the opportunity to be the man from the start of his rookie season. He will have far more opportunities than most of the other rookies. His receivers coach is one of the best in the game. He gets to play alongside a top 10 NFL quarterback. It all depends on whether or not Kelvin decides to put in the work. There is no doubt in my mind he is a high character, team first kind of player. It is one of the reasons Gettleman liked him so much. He works hard because he wants to be great and because he wants to win. In Benjamin, the Panthers have a potential R.O.Y. candidate and a superstar in the making. If he indeed wins the award, then the Panthers will have had a rookie of the year 3 out of the last 4 seasons. That’s how you create a championship football team.