When the Carolina Panthers officially went on the clock at the 2014 NFL Draft, many predicted they would address the receiver situation with one of their early picks. When they stepped to the podium with the 28th selection, Kelvin Benjamin became a Panther and the depth chart got a huge injection of young talent.
Benjamin, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver out of Florida State is an immediate upgrade in the red zone. Quarterback Cam Newton still hasn’t wiped the silly grin off of his face since Benjamin was selected. His immense build and athleticism could not be passed over, and his impact on the field should be immediate.
The Panthers stripped down their receiving unit since the end of last season and have systematically put back together a better unit for 2014. Benjamin enters a roster with a lot of veteran experience in Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. The fortunate thing for the rookie is that none of these three receivers are necessarily in the long-term plans for this franchise. Cotchery and Avant are over 30 years old, and Underwood is a ripe 27-year-old third or fourth option at WR.
Once Benjamin hits the Spartanburg training camp in July, look for him to firmly plant his foot in the ground as a starting receiver. Benjamin is still raw, but his build and ability to step up when put under the spotlight are two attributes that can compensate for his lack of polish.
Benjamin is remembered most for his touchdown reception with 13 seconds left in the BCS National Championship Game. Everyone in the stadium, on the sidelines and on TV knew where the ball was going, yet he could not be stopped. Eventually, this kind of competitiveness will leak over to the NFL. Benjamin has drawn comparisons to Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall already from coaches and scouts.
Benjamin is a rare receiving talent with a physically dominating stature. In the Panther-blue practice uniforms, he sticks out like a tree amongst bushes. He will have to smooth out his route running and focus, but once he gets some experience and tutelage under his belt, the sky is the limit.
Panther fans have never had a receiver with this kind of physique and upside, nor have they spent a first-round selection on a receiver since 1997. Enjoy Panther Nation — the reward will be worth the wait.