6'5" 240 pounds, a 4.61 40-yard dash, 34.88" arms, and 10.25" hands, WR Kelvin Benjamin has some tantalizing measurements. Top 100 player in Rivals' 2011 rankings, Benjamin didn't exactly have the career one may have imagined from a recruit of his caliber. Going back to his senior year of high school, Benjamin has only had one career 1,000-yard season; this past year the 23-year old barely topped that mark, finishing the 2013 campaign with 1,011 yards in 14 games. Benjamin has never been the go-to-guy for an offense. This past year he was third in the pecking order behind Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw. There is an inherent risk in drafting a player for a role they haven't already performed. Even so, a receiver doesn't necessarily have to fill the shoes of a number one wideout to demonstrate capability in doing so.
An allegorical respite, the NHL Draft is a completely different animal from the NFL Draft we've grown so familiar with. Even still, there are corollaries to be drawn between the two. Dealing with an international talent pool, NHL prospects hail from across the globe, almost literally; Khabarovsk, Russia, to Anchorage, Alaska. Russian prospects, and those from former Soviet Republics, are regularly listed towards the top of the talent spectrum. The biggest buzz word --perhaps stereotype is a better word-- hitched to most top Russian born players, and littered throughout scouting reports, is 'enigma'.
It is a label that follows most of these players for the entirety of their career. In large part this is due to contractual uncertainties, and cultural differences, which in aggravated cases are manifested as thinly shaded xenophobia, but it often pervades deeper into the players' game. Top Russian prospects are noted to 'disappear' on ice for extended segments, or experience scalding hot streaks, followed by frigid cold streaks. In short, it's the mental questions, not physical, which perceivably hold these prospects back. For said reasons incredibly talented Russian players often see significant dips on draft day (rounds, not picks).
Back in the realm of the National Football League, there are more than a few draft eligible players who fit this category each year. This is not to say these players are 'raw'. Receivers who don't stem routes, aren't disciplined in their drive phase, or don't catch the ball with proper technique, don't apply. The same with pass rushers with minimal use of, or undeveloped pass rush moves, or running backs with uncultivated footwork.
Kelvin Benjamin fits this mold.
The Seminole wideout is often categorized as one of the more raw receivers in the draft. He's not. Of course there are areas of the game where he needs tutelage, and we'll look at them, but on the whole, he's ahead of the curve.
This first play comes from the Florida matchup.
Benjamin is running a shallow post, a 'bang-8' route, against off-man coverage.
Benjamin shades his route to the right, setting up his break to the left. Also note his pad level, Benjamin is still in his drive phase, with his shoulder pads over his knees. The only hint the CB gets is the misinformation Benjamin's stem is feeding him.
Not conducive to still images, Benjamin makes a strong break, not tapping his feet going into and out of his break. 'Banging the drums' reduces explosion, and gives the CB an opportunity to break on the route.
The WR does a good job of turning his shoulders back to the QB after making his break. This minimizes the CB's play on the ball, and gives the passer a better target. Conceptually, it's the equivalent of boxing out for a rebound in basketball.
Benjamin extends his arms, and makes the catch with proper hand placement, fingers pointed skyward. This enables him to make the reception with the CB draped over his back.
Because the catch was secured away from his body, when the CB attacks Benjamin's arms, it doesn't jar the ball loose.
A lesser route, a lesser break, or lesser technique in catching the football, and this is probably an incompletion.
On this play Benjamin has fellow draftee Loucheiz Purifoy in zone coverage.
The third-year player is running a 9-route.
Again, Benjamin does a nice job of shading his route. This drifting widens Purifoy's trail.
Benjamin makes another great break. The players' hips illustrate. Purifoy is still headed towards the boundary while Benjamin makes his break inside.
The 'Nole has three steps on the defender.
Adjusting to the slight overthrow, Benjamin makes the over-the-shoulder grab.
This play comes from the past ACC Championship.
Not to scale, Benjamin is running a flag route.
Benjamin stays in his drive phase well into his route, which causes the CB to turn and run with him.
The wideout then plants, and breaks inside, with the CB still headed towards the pylon.
The CB then recovers, just in time for Benjamin to make the second break, as usual, no tapping the feet, no loss of explosion. Benjamin has dismantled the corner.
The CB isn't even within five-yards of the wideout. Unfortunately, the pass is very much overthrown, and lands a couple yards into the end zone. A bit of an aside; a lot of Panthers fans want a taller receiver, one to corral QB Cam Newton's overthrows. Fact of the matter is those are on Newton (and his protection). A 7'0" target isn't going to help Newton control his overthrows, many of which are uncatchable. Passes drifting just out a receiver's fingertips are memorable; those thrown out of frame subside.
If this were the body of Kelvin Benjamin's work, he'd be in the conversation as a potential top-ten pick.
In the workings of the Florida State offense, Benjamin was tasked with many short range routes. Like Brandon LaFell, the Seminole WR displays a lack of urgency, apathy, in many routes he runs.
Benjamin is running a shallow cross.
As he crosses the line of scrimmage, Benjamin pulls out of his drive phase.
Rather than planting his foot in the ground, the WR merely shuffles to the right.
Benjamin doesn't turn back to the quarterback, and, at this point, is jogging.
The Seminole goes from Jason Bourne one play, eviscerating defensive backs, to an inebriated Don Draper, falling over himself. The wideout showcases route-running ability on par with that of Sammy Watkins and Jared Abbrederis, but lacks the consistency to cement himself in that upper-echelon tier.
My biggest disappointment in Benjamin is his failure to make use of his size; there are plenty of occasions where you'll find Benjamin playing smaller than he is.
I don't want to call it an out-and-up, but Benjamin is running some variation of a 9-route.
Benjamin gets separation on the corner Vernon Hargreaves, and is targeted. As the ball is making its descent, the WR jumps, slightly, as he receives the pass. A completely unnecessary move.
The WR needs a split second to reestablish his footing. That's all the time necessary for Hargreaves to recover and hit the off-balance Benjamin.
#1 puts #1 out of bounds. If Benjamin stays on the ground, and makes the catch, he keeps his momentum, and the 190 lbs. Hargreaves doesn't get a clean shot on the 240 lbs. WR. Unnecessary jumping; it's something I remember Ted Ginn doing a couple of times this past year.
It's the small things which keep a 30+ yard gain from being a 60+ yard touchdown.
This next play takes us back to the ACC Championship game.
Benjamin is running a shallow post route.
Facing man coverage, Benjamin makes his break at the line of scrimmage.
The CB is able to get to Benjamin right before the wideout can box him out. Not route altering, but the CB has a hand on his body.
The CB keeps that grip, and holds Benjamin. It's not much. All Benjamin needs to do is rip his shoulder free.
When the pass arrives, Benjamin doesn't have free movement. Rather than breaking free, Benjamin opts to sell the foul. The pass flies right past the WR and through the hands of the strong safety. No flag is thrown. Florida State nearly lost possession because Benjamin was trying to draw a penalty. DB's at every level will try to cheat --all players will. Not every penalty will be called. As the old refrain goes, 'don't let the referees decide the game' (i.e. Week 11 vs. New England).
It feels redundant bringing up Benjamin's size again, but at 240 lbs., the Belle Glade native can, and should, run through such contact. Not allow it.
Mentioned up top, Benjamin has very large hands, 10.25", but size does not equate to strength. From what I've seen, Benjamin doesn't have strong hands. He won't be snatching the ball out of a DB's hands a la Jordy Nelson, or our own Steve Smith, nor will he be ripping a phone book in half like Michael Irvin (starts at the 5:42 mark).
The Florida State prospect does suffer from concentration drops, but a good number of his dropped passes (or what at least I believe are counted as drops) come from plays where the wideout is able to get his hands on the ball, with proper technique, but for whatever reason is unable to secure the catch.
Benjamin does a nice job of adjusting to the off pass, and attacks the ball at its highest point, with good hand positioning.
As he falls back to earth, and the CB makes contact, and the WR loses control of the ball.
As you may have noticed, Florida State's offense has Benjamin start many of his routes up to three-yards off of the line of scrimmage. The WR has trouble when his route runs him through a corner.
Benjamin, at the bottom of the screen, has man coverage.
The CB holds his spot, and Benjamin does well to run his route right into the teeth of the Blue Devil. But where he fails is, Benjamin doesn't attempt any counter move to the CB's jam. Rather, he similarly engages the defender, almost as if he were blocking the CB.
As a result, Benjamin has difficulty separating from the defender, ruining his route.
Here's another example, versus Boston College.
This go around has the CB right on the LOS. Benjamin is three-yards off the LOS.
Again Benjamin goes straight for the defender, and engages him. Here he shoves the CB. Very clearly OPI.
Bad process, good result.
It's not that Benjamin doesn't know how defeat the press. I've seen him exercise an elementary swim move. And on his game-winning TD in the BCS National Championship game, the WR swats away a phantom press from the CB.
Here's an area of the game where Benjamin is raw. He knows at least some correct technique, but has trouble in applying it on a consistent basis. That should improve with time.
I've never really been a big fan of pro-comparisons. They tend to drive one's evaluation, or perception of a prospect. WR Alshon Jeffery, just finished his second year with the Chicago Bears. The second round pick put up 1,421 receiving yards, leaving at least a dozen other teams and their fanbases to wonder why they didn't pull the trigger on the Gamecock, who was selected 45th overall. I can tell you, without a doubt, Benjamin is much more polished than Jeffery was in 2012. Just a redshirt sophomore, Benjamin has already displayed positional nuance, and skill integration requisite to produce at a very high level.
The preparation became more important for me. Once you realize that being good or great is not good enough --because legendary is attainable-- you've got to make it important. I made winning, and not making excuses, important to me. I'd go to sleep instead of partying. I'd work out more even if I was partying and drunk, starting my second year. I was working after workouts and practices my rookie year too, but I did more. I did the extra reps on top of the extra reps. In the offseason you don't have to do anything if you're talented enough, but I started taking the offseason seriously. As it became more important, the work became more natural. As a result, my level is unprecedented right now. I haven't found a ceiling yet.
Whether or not Benjamin adopts this mindset, devoting this level of effort and discipline to his craft, will determine whether he'll be a middling 500-yard WR, or the 1300-yard player he can be. This is why Benjamin's interviews with teams will be crucial to his draft stock. If Benjamin can sell front office personnel and coaching staffs that he'll go above and beyond whatever is necessary to achieve greatness, he may be a top-twenty pick. If not, the Seminole might dip out of the top-40 selections.
Benjamin is absolutely a viable candidate for the Panthers at #28. That being said, my gut tells me Benjamin isn't a guy the front office would be comfortable selecting first, even if he presents good value at the end of the first round.