2014 NFL Draft: Kelvin Benjamin versus zone coverage

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Some wideouts get by beating man coverage. Others zone. The great ones trounce both with skill. Can Panthers rookie Kelvin Benjamin fit that mold?

Back in March I took a more comprehensive look at Panthers first round pick Kelvin Benjamin, focusing on his ability to beat man coverage with superb route running. It doesn't take instincts and football intelligence to run great routes, but it's those two qualities which help wideouts defeat zone coverage. And without them, you don't have a number one wide receiver.

Gettleman's talk about Benjamin's instincts aren't unfounded. Watching the redshirt sophomore's game in Clemson, there are multiple plays which exhibit his recognition and response to the coverage.

This first of which comes early in the second half.

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From the trips set, Benjamin is charged with running a shallow crossing route.

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Two Clemson defenders drop into a short zone coverage, right in the path of Benjamin's route. The Seminole WR takes notice.

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Benjamin alters his route, giving the QB a viable target.

Plays later Florida State is faced with a third-and-12.

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The inside receiver, Benjamin is tasked with running a deep route, what looks to be a corner pattern.

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Clemson is in Cover 2.

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Aware, Benjamin tops his route off at an appropriate depth, and comes back to his QB.

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Winston finds his WR and makes the throw.

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Benjamin turns up field, shrugs off a tackler, and moves the ball into the red zone.

During the broadcast Kirk Herbstreit blames the Tigers DB's for playing soft coverage, and surrendering too easy a first down. However, this play doesn't happen without Benjamin's recognition and reaction to the coverage.

Again in the trips set, Benjamin is the outside WR in this 21 personnel grouping.

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Clemson decides to run a zone blitz.

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The CB over Benjamin comes free off the edge.

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With the corner blitzing, and seeing the Cover 3 shell in front of him, the Nole cuts his route off.

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Winston gets the quick pass off; Benjamin makes the reception, loses the safety and picks up the first down.

There are some receivers who struggle versus zone coverage but excel against man, and vice versa. Eddie Royal comes to mind. Kelvin Benjamin is already fairly skilled at defeating both man and zone coverage.

I can see Benjamin making an impact from Day 1, but I don't know if that's a route the coaching staff will go with. A quick perusal of the Coryell coaching history shows that young WR's don't see much playing time early on. With Cotchery, Avant, and Underwood in the fold, the staff may be content allowing the rookie to absorb mental reps.

There are many who paint Benjamin as a great 'boom or bust' prospect. I'm not sure I see the bust potential from an on-field perspective. Of course he may never reach his potential, but, barring injury or misfortune, Benjamin will be an NFL receiver for years to come.

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