After losing Steve Smith, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell this offseason, the Carolina Panthers badly needed to land a quality receiver in the NFL Draft. Cam Newton made no secret about his wishes that the team do exactly that, and the Panthers chose to select Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin with their first round pick. Benjamin is a boom or bust pick, and the Panthers took a big risk here.
Let’s start with the positives. Benjamin is 6’5″, 240 lbs with a 4.61 40 time, which as GM Dave Gettleman said, you can’t coach. He has an exceptional catching radius, and he should make an immediate impact for the Panthers in the red zone. Having a physical presence like Benjamin on the outside could really open up a lot of options for the Panthers, particularly close to the goal line.
On the negative side of things, Benjamin needs a lot of polish. He has had some issues with drops, and just because he can get to any ball doesn’t mean he’ll catch it. He needs a lot of work as a route runner, and although he should be an immediate deep threat, he is not going to be able run a full route tree like a No. 1 receiver should.
Benjamin’s potential is through the roof, and if things go right he could be the next Alshon Jeffery. If things go wrong, however, the Panthers spent a first round pick on a guy who will never do anything other than win jump balls. The Panthers were the No. 2 seed in the NFC last season and went 12-4, which means they consider themselves a Super Bowl contender. Super Bowl contenders draft immediate impact players, not projects. The fact that the Panthers took Benjamin over Marqise Lee, who is more polished, pro ready, and just flat out better, should raise a few eyebrows.
Benjamin has as a high a ceiling as any receiver in this draft, but he also has as low a floor. Unfortunately for the Panthers, it is unlikely he will be a major contributor this season, simply because his route running and hands aren’t up to par. This could very well turn out to be a case of right position, wrong player, or they could have landed a star. The Panthers swung for the fences here, and we won’t know for a couple years whether they hit a home run or struck out.