Sep 7, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; San Jose State Spartans cornerback Bene Benwikere (21) breaks up the pass intended for Stanford Cardinal wide receiver Devon Cajuste (89) during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the San Jose State Spartans 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Bene Benwikere: A Late Rd. Gem?


Bene Benwikere is a CB from San Jose State and finished his college career with 214 tackles and 14 interceptions.  According to draft reports, Bene is considered to be more of a Nickelback, rather than a starting CB in the NFL due to his lack of speed and of physicality.

The Carolina Panthers took Bene in the 5th round with the 148th pick.  Bene was exactly what the Panthers were looking for in the later rounds of the draft.  He is a player with great ball skills that plays well in zone coverages at the Nickelback position.  Based on his draft analysis, Bene would be looked at by NFL teams to fill needed holes and add depth to the CB position, rather than, being expected to take on a starting position as a primary CB.  With that being said, only certain NFL teams would be looking to draft the 2012 All WAC first team player.

The Panthers are coming off a brilliant season defensively, going 12-4 behind the second highest scoring defense in the NFL.  But with 20+ players becoming free agents and many leaving town due to Carolina’s horrific salary cap issues, the Panthers may have found a “diamond in the rough” in more ways than one with their 5th rd. draft pick.

The most crucial position Bene will need to fill is the Nickelback spot caused by the loss of Captain Munnerlyn.

During the off-season Captain signed a 3 year deal with the Minnesota Vikings worth 15 million, 7 guaranteed.  It is well deserved for Captain who has had a successful career thus far with the Panthers racking up 7 interceptions with 5 being returned for touchdowns.  Coming into the draft it is eerie how similar the two players add up statistically.

 

Combine Results          Height          Weight          40 Time          Vertical          Bench

Bene Benwikere            5″11               195lbs            4.63                 40 in.              10 Reps

Captain Munnerlyn      5″9                  195lbs            4.51                 37.5 in.           19 Reps

 

Oct 20, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) runs back an interception for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Panthers win 30-15. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Both players going into the draft were considered too small to play the starting role, but both were known as ball-hawking players who made up for lack of speed and size with smart football decisions.  Being in the Nickelback position, Bene will be able to use his great ball skills, quality zone coverage, and ball positioning skills to his advantage while not being a deep threat risk with his lack of top-tier speed and physicality.

Bene and Captain were also both late round draft picks;  Bene being drafted in the 5th and Captain in the 7th.

The comparisons go on and on, but we will not know if we have a late rd. steal until the season begins.  Captain is the Panthers all-time leader for interceptions returned for touchdowns and it is highly unlikely Bene can match Captain’s return success.  Captain was a soldier on the field with his patented salute to the fans and will be missed dearly.

That being said, Bene will have every opportunity he needs to succeed.  Playing behind the dominate front 7 that the Panthers have should benefit Bene and his production.  Opposing QB’s will have to rush and get the ball out quickly, giving the secondary many opportunities to be productive and cause turnovers.

Bene will be competing with Charles Godfrey for the starting role.  Godfrey was drafted by the Panthers in 2008 and has started at safety ever since, racking up 343 tackles and 11 interceptions.  However, Godfrey tore his ACL in week 2 of last year and (with the signing of Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud) has been moved to the CB position indefinitely.

No matter who wins the battle in camp the Panthers still have seemed to add depth to a CB position that many thought was the Panthers weakest link on defense.

Dave Gettleman has shown us over the last two drafts and off seasons that he knows what he is doing.  If he believes that Bene can replace Captain I will trust his decision.  If Bene can produce and grow as a player not only will our defense stay strong but, also help the Panthers on cap space for the next couple years playing on his rookie contract.

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