The Carolina Panthers had their group of wide receivers raided during free agency, with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon departing. Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood were added, but it looked like a virtual certainty the Panthers would use an early pick on a wide receiver and they did just that by adding Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall pick.
Benjamin will add much-needed upside to quarterback Cam Newton’s arsenal of pass targets, but can the rookie make an immediate impact for fantasy football owners?
Benjamin’s size (6’5″, 240 lbs) stands out, and he may need to drop some weight to stick long-term as a wide receiver. But he was a prolific touchdown scorer (15) and averaged 18.7 yards per catch for Florida State last season, and as the most-talented wide receiver the Panthers have Benjamin should get every chance to earn and keep a prominent role right out of the gate.
I don’t see Benjamin being a prolific pass catcher as a rookie, and he’ll have to put some struggles with drops behind him to succeed consistently at the next level. But he can step right in and be productive as a red zone threat, and keeper league owners should have him on their radar during drafts this summer.
I think 50 receptions for 600-700 yards and 5-10 touchdowns is a realistic projection for Benjamin in 2014, which likely makes him undraftable in standard (not touchdown-heavy) 12-and 14-team leagues. That said, if he shows some promise fairly quickly I could see Benjamin becoming someone I feature in a “Waiver Wire Pickups” column at some point during the season.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter.