I would like to publicly recognize my mistake in my previous post about Carolina Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. I based my entire thesis on his fantasy value around him not getting targets with Brandon LaFell as the first-string WR and TE Greg Olsen as Cam Newton‘s favorite target. The latter of which will affect Benjamin to some extent, but the former is wrong.
I had forgotten that LaFell had left for the New England Patriots this offseason. So that makes the equation completely different. Benjamin will certainly be a threat with the Panthers’ offense. Standing a towering 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 240-pounds, this Florida State product is now the main red zone and down-field target for Newton.
In the past two seasons, Newton has found a way to give his top two targets at least 60 receptions apiece. His favorite target has been his tight end over the last two years, and with Benjamin’s TE-esque build as well as 4.5 speed, he’ll likely be a man that he targets in the wake of Steve Smith and LaFell’s absence.
During his last season with the Seminoles, Benjamin averaged nearly 19 yards per reception. I don’t think he’ll be able to keep that high mark in the NFL due to the Panthers enjoying success as a more conservative, defensive-minded team.
Since Newton’s arrival in Carolina, his top down-field targets — Smith and LaFell — have decreased in their average yards per reception each season. Newton’s matured and adjusted to the system in the NFL, and I would expect him to continue that trend with his new rookie wideout. That being said, the highest mark a Carolina WR posted last season is 15.4, from Ted Ginn Jr whom only had 36 receptions.
That’s around the mark I’d expect to see Benjamin getting while taking in around 30 more receptions. That means he’d be reel in nearly 1,000 yards, and as a red zone threat, he could see around 8 TDs. He’d also be hovering around 150 fantasy points this season as well as being a Top 20 WR.
Will that happen? Probably not, as even the most dominant WRs today, such as Dez Bryant or even Calvin Johnson, were unable to post those gaudy numbers in their debut seasons. But if he and Newton can connect as well as Smith did when he had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, the top rookie WR could very well be Benjamin.
It’s funny how taking one piece out of the equation can drastically change outcomes — albeit, hypothetical at this point. My omission of LaFell being out of Carolina’s equation is what made me think poorly of Benjamin’s stock. No longer heed that previous advice since the equation is far different.
Even if Benjamin’s average draft position plateaus around the 14th round as it is right now, you would still be fine taking him in round ten and be well off. But if you can truly land him that late in your league, you’ll be in for a fine season.