Heading into the NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers needed to add a capable cornerback to their secondary as it was often a weak spot targeted in 2013. The Panthers bypassed several corners early in the draft as they selected value picks at other areas of need in the early rounds.
It just so happened that value would be a term used to describe their fifth-round selection, Bene Benwikere out of San Jose State.
On the surface, Benwikere does not jump out at as a difference maker or follow the copycat trend of the Seattle Seahawks‘ towering cornerbacks. Rather, he is the quiet, under-the-radar type of well-rounded player who is headstrong and confident in his skills.
Benwikere, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound zone-based cornerback out of Gardena, Ca. is the kind of defensive back who gets in your head as the game wears on. He is a practitioner and technician when you watch his read-and-recognition skills. Benwikere is very instinctual when playing off his man and will thrive in Carolina’s zone scheme. Possessing an impressive 40-inch vertical will also allow him to compete downfield with taller receivers.
A lot of scouts and fans will look for that dominating presence on the outside and hope for the next Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Benwikere will start off in the nickel for Carolina and that is a good place to get his feet wet. Lacking ideal speed, playing inside will allow him to play to his strengths as he hones his craft. He was a ball hawk while at San Jose State and has a nose for being around the action. Benwikere plays the ball at its peak and he has hands like a receiver, so don’t be surprised to see an increase in turnovers with him back there. He might not be the most sure of tacklers in technique, but Benwikere will use his strength and momentum to punish receivers. Not known to play in the box too much, he is still a capable run-stopper when called upon.
Beginning as a nickel or dime back will allow Benwikere to establish his confidence in the league and catch up to the pace and talent of the NFL. However, after this season, look for him to slide outside and pair up with White. Benwikere’s vision and man-off skills make him a prime zone-cover cornerback as he takes great angles to the ball. He has learned that speed is not a strength of his, so using the sideline as his friend and giving the receiver cushion allows Benwikere to position himself so that his man is forced underneath. This skill is best utilized on the outside rather than on the interior.
Carolina has had a patchwork of rent-a-player at cornerback over the past two seasons, so adding a player like Benwikere is a move in the right direction. Last year, the Panthers lucked out with Melvin White, an undrafted free agent out of a similar small school in Louisiana-Lafayette. Placing White on the outside and veteran free agent Antoine Cason opposite him, the Panthers have the height protecting the boundaries. Both of these players are still very young and will thrive behind a front seven that destroys the trenches and middle of the field.
The Panthers jumped up in the fifth round to select Benwikere with an eye to the future. A stable of young, athletic and strong players define Carolina’s defense, and Benwikere’s persona will fit well with this unit. GM Dave Gettleman has always had an eye for snagging late-round gems that get glossed over by others. Benwikere is a sound team-first player with a good head on his shoulders. Sooner rather than later, he will be a fan favorite in Carolina.