First-round rookie receivers aren't typically the best fantasy sleeper candidates, but few are paying the same attention to Kelvin Benjamin as they are to the Buffalo Bills' Sammy Watkins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans, and that is a mistake.
Benjamin's stock in the NFL draft may have lagged behind the two latter names, but his fantasy production in 2014 won't.
Benjamin has several things going for him as the Carolina Panthers make their way through the offseason's organized team activities. The first of which is rave reviews from coaches and front office personnel.
From general manager Dave Gettleman's comparison of Benjamin to a "young Plaxico [Burress]," in an interview with Ross Tucker of Sirius XM NFL Radio (via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk) and his reaction after an impressive grab at rookie camp, per David Newton of ESPN.com, you can tell that he's confident he made the right choice with pick No. 28.
Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl has also given some pretty high praise to the "young buc," as he called him. Here's a tweet Proehl posted during the Panthers' rookie camp.
Young Buc has game pic.twitter.com/CyfsiChGrj— Ricky Proehl (@RickyProehl) May 17, 2014
Proehl also shared some notes from his scouting trips to visit Benjamin, courtesy of ESPN's David Newton: "A guy his size and the way he just caught the ball ... just natural, just like a vacuum," Proehl said. "I was in awe to be honest with you."
Benjamin had issues with concentrating on catching the ball at Florida State, but it appears that the staff is confident it's just that, a concentration issue, and that they can make the most of the baseball mitts he has for hands.
Benjamin has also apparently been spending a lot of bonding time with quarterback Cam Newton, per Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review (via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk) which is a great sign for a potentially prolific young duo. Newton is still sidelined for now after offseason ankle surgery, but he's "been throwing some on the side" to Benjamin, according to The Associated Press' Steve Reed.
It makes sense that Newton is so excited to start throwing to the 6'5" Benjamin, as he's yet to have a receiver of his stature at his disposal since entering the league; his No. 1 target was previously Steve Smith, who stood at just 5'9".
As risky as it is to project big production out of a rookie receiver, I have a good feeling about the Newton-to-Benjamin connection. The team should begin to err away from pounding the ball with Newton near the goal line, which should mean more red-zone targets for Benjamin and the potential for double-digit touchdowns.
While fellow rookies Watkins and Evans will also be primary targets for their respective teams this season, neither should post quite the same touchdown numbers. That's primarily because Evans has to compete for red-zone balls with Vincent Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and the Bills have one of the league's more anemic passing offenses.
This leaves Benjamin as your best bet as far as rookie receivers for the 2014 fantasy football season, so don't miss the chance to grab him in the later rounds of your draft this summer.