When the Carolina Panthers made Kelvin Benjamin the 28th overall pick of the draft, it sent a message from the front office that he was the guy to replace the departed Steve Smith. His size and wide range allow for Benjamin to make some great plays, but he is not without his flaws. Much of that is attributed to his route-running, field vision and occasional hard hands.
In Ryan McCrystal's breakdown of Benjamin for Bleacher Report, he notes that the former Florida State wide receiver would not have been a good pairing for fellow rookie Johnny Manziel. Per his analysis: "Benjamin wouldn't have worked well with Johnny Manziel. He lacks the basic field awareness to adjust when the play breaks down and often doesn't even make an effort."
That will be something that the Carolina coaching staff will need to change.
The Panthers receivers were known for good blocking down field when needed, and Benjamin will need to add that to his repertoire in order to be an all-around quality wideout. While Benjamin has experience working with a scrambling quarterback, he looked to be a non-factor at times.
Per McCrystal: "Benjamin runs his route and then stands around watching as Jameis Winston is flushed from the pocket and ultimately sacked."
Cam Newton won't have any problem finding Benjamin, but the young rookie will need to step up his game if he is to be an essential part of the offense. He will need to find a way to shake a defender in certain situations and give Newton an open target.
The same can be said about Newton's scrambling ability.
Fortunately, Newton has been developing more and more into a pocket passer, but he will use his feet to make plays if necessary. Benjamin's improvement with his field vision and awareness will be crucial in such cases.
If he does not develop those skills, veteran defensive backs will have no problem dominating him or hitting him with a blindside block. The latter could draw a penalty, but the best cornerbacks are aware and physical at all times.
This is something Benjamin cannot allow to happen.
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Benjamin will be the tallest receiver on the Panthers' roster, standing at 6'5”. That is four inches taller than projected No. 1 starter Jerricho Cotchery (6'1”). However, the veterans around Benjamin will be there to help guide him and show him the ropes of the pro game. It should be interesting to see what he can do inside the red zone or in goal-line situations.
Goal-line situations may be Benjamin's bread and butter. Newton will not only have tight end Greg Olsen to throw to, but he will have a big target in the rookie, as well. It should be noted that Olsen is just as tall as Benjamin. Based on this, Olsen will most likely be the underneath target, while Benjamin will be the outside or over-the-top receiver.
If Benjamin can overcome his tendency to drop passes, he will be a legitimate threat not only deep in opponents' territory, but anywhere on the field.
Regardless, defenses will have their hands full defending the pass with their backs to the end zone.
There is a lot to like about Benjamin. His shortcomings are a concern, but they are nothing that cannot be reformed through good coaching. Newton will be counted on to take the reins and let the rookie know if his performance is not up to par.
For now, the Panthers should embrace their new addition and look to the future with a lot of confidence.
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