Kelvin Benjamin: Why The Folks Who Bash This Pick Are Wrong

Back yet again. I "go away" every now and then because, you know, I get carried away sometimes, and this extended predraft process this year was driving me nuts. And yes, one of the main points of contention was Kelvin Benjamin. Whom I predicted months ago (using my previous handle or handles) that Gettleman would jump to draft if he was available because Gettleman is from a Giants organization that has always chosen big, physical WRs over the small fast guys with the great hands and surgical route-running. This is a franchise whose starting WRs in the late 1990s: Amani Toomer (6'3" 208 lbs, 4.50 40) and Joe Jurevicius (6'5", 230 lbs, 4.66 40) and gave big money twice to Plaxico Burress (6'5", 232 lbs, 4.59 40) in 2005-2008. And yes, Benjamin fits Cam Newton, who obviously based on his early career needs big targets just like Eli Manning, Kerry Collins (gee, Giants QBs!) and Joe Flacco did/do. Getting the ball to smallish guys like 5'10" Hines Ward is Ben Roethlisberger's game. And utilizing those precise route-runners is what Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers does. And the Panthers now have pass catchers that are 6'4" (Ed Dickson), 6'5" (Benjamin) and 6'6" Greg Olsen on the field at the same time (Shula has already said that he wants a lot of two TE looks this year).

Still have misgivings? Well let me ask you this: suppose the Panthers had taken Morgan Moses in the first round, Devin Street in the 2nd, Keith McGill in the 3rd, and Jared Abbrederis in the 4th. Everyone would be raving about what a great draft it was, how the Panthers filled all their needs with guys projected to go in those rounds, etc. Except that Moses went in the 3rd round, McGill in the 4th, Abbrederis and Street in the 5th (and Abbrederis with the last pick in the 5th, a compensatory pick, so practically a 6th, and even there as a sop to the home state Badgers fans by the Packers!). So what do we think of all our mock drafts now? The folks who stated that there was no need to gamble on a guy like Benjamin in round 1 when there would be so much value in guys like Abbrederis and Street (and a bunch of other faves) in the middle rounds who wound up tumbling?

So Kelvin Benjamin reminds you of Dwayne Jarrett. And Marqise Lee doesn't remind you of Freddie Mitchell? (Both went to UCLA, are 5'11", and under 200 lbs). Another thing: Lee benefited from the talent around him and the system at USC (especially when he was playing with Barkley and across from Woods ... without those two not so much!) Benjamin is raw with his route running and drops passes? Sure, but by contrast consider the possibility that Allen Robinson and Jordan Mathews are both already probably as good as they will ever get. Those two plus Cooks and Lee appear to be career 3rd and 4th WRs. That's the thing: for all the talk of how deep this draft was at WR, there were only 5 WRs who had grades of 6.0 or higher (Watkins, Evans, Lee, Beckham, Benjamin) and the Panthers got one of them. Beckham and Lee despite their ratings are under 6'0" and 200 lbs, as was another fan favorite in Brandin Cooks. Look at those guys that are either under 6', 200 lbs guys or are any of the taller guys who don't have elite ability that went in the 2nd ... who were drafted by teams that need them to start as rookies or early in their careers? Exactly. With the exception of Marqise Lee, who is going to perhaps the least talented team in the NFL in the Jaguars, all of the guys that we were putting in our mock drafts instead of Benjamin were drafted by teams to be role players, backups. None of them were taken to be rookie starters and future #1 WRs.

Now I get that Benjamin is not a 4.3 or 4.4 guy. But that 4.61 time? That was run at Indianapolis on their notorious slow track. Guys generally knock a half second off their combine times during their pro days, so Benjamin is really more of a 4.56 guy. (Note that his unofficial 40 time was 4.53, as scouts already generally adjust for the slow Indy track.) But go ahead, call him a 4.61 guy. Big deal. In a traditional pro-style offense, 4.61 in the 40 is not slow for a prototypical split end possession WR. Jerry Rice? Split end. 4.71 40 time. Don't compare him to the great Jerry Rice? Larry Fitzgerald. Split end, 4.63 40 time. Still unfair? Fine. Anquan Boldin. Split end. 4.71 40 time. Went to same school as Benjamin. Except he is 4 inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter. But Boldin was more polished when he came out of FSU? Actually he wasn't. Similar to Hines Ward, Boldin went back and forth between QB and WR at FSU. (Boldin would have been a GREAT NFL QB by the way had Bobby Bowden let him play QB in college. Oh well ...). Boldin had 1,790 yards and 21 TDs for his entire college career. Benjamin has 1500 yards and 19 TDs. Granted, Benjamin played for better QBs, but still.

I say that Plaxico Burress is a better comparison point. Like Benjamin, Burress only played 2 seasons of college ball. Like Benjamin, Burress came out for the NFL after having a great senior season concluding with a monster performance in a major bowl game. (Although to be fair, Burress had a much better initial season than did Benjamin. But do not claim that 30 catches for 512 yards and 5 TDs is chopped liver.) Burress is similar size, ran a similar 40 time, had the same problems with drops, concentration and route running early in his career. Now it can be said that Burress didn't do much in his rookie season, but in fairness Benjamin will not be stuck with Kordell Stewart trying to get him the ball.

What about - gasp! - his laziness? Here is the reality: the media and the fans did not care so much about "lazy" players 20-30 years ago. Back then, if you had exceptional ability, the fans and sportswriters cared more about the plays that you did make than the plays that you took off. Back then, guys like that were called "mercurial." What changed? NFL players started to make a lot more money. (And yes, the game became more dominated by black players.) So where before, guys who would spend the night before a game out drinking, partying and womanizing, show up late, bleary eyed and hung over and then go out and score 4 TDs were heroes, "man's men" of myth and legend. These days, you are a hero if you blubber and cry in a news conference after your heavily favored much more talented team lost at home to a perennial doormat thanks in no small part to your subpar game about how "no one is going to work harder than me!" Now we have turned failure to give out maximum effort on every single block, to give it all on every single play, to go full speed in every single practice and scrimmage as some sort of moral failure. Why? Because it drives so many people so nuts that football players are making so much money than the average person will ever see that they can only make peace with themselves by rooting for the football players that are workaholics and therefore "deserve it." I would say that this nonsense started with Deion Sanders, who drove people to distraction over how he became so rich and famous without getting his uniform dirty. (Why? Because he was so good in coverage that he didn't have to get his uniform dirty!) So now we have to hear endlessly about how Peyton Manning is the hardest working player in the game. No one ever thinks to ask that maybe if he stopped studying the favorite movies of fourth string safeties and stepped back long enough to see the forest for the trees, then perhaps he would stop throwing pick sixes in playoff games!

So the idea that since Dwayne Jarrett had a bad work ethic and was a bust then the Panthers should avoid everyone with work ethic questions: ridiculous. First off, there isn't a lot of evidence that Jarrett was ever that good to begin with. He played for a historically loaded, very well coached USC team. People who played USC were three times as concerned with stopping Reggie Bush than anyone else, plus Jarrett played across from (the other) Steve Smith, who actually DID have a good NFL career AND had a Heisman Trophy winning QB protected by a brick wall of an OL. So Jarrett could have worked like a madman and still been mediocre for all we know. Another thing: Pete Carroll ran a loose ship at USC, where the guys got into partying and doing just enough on the football field against overmatched teams. Example: LenDale White, who showed up at the combine so overweight that he got injured during routine drills. Winston Justice, the guy who defines "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." Fred Davis, who threw away a very promising career because he prefers marijuana to football. And none other than Jarrett's roommate at USC, Matt Leinart, who similar to White showed up at his pro day so overweight that he refused to so much as take off his shirt, let alone do speed and agility drills. And of course, how can we forget about Mark Sanchez! So there is Randy Moss lazy, Plaxico Burress lazy, and there is epic, delusional, detached from reality laziness that marked a lot of the products of that USC program, which produced so many draft busts - and so many good NFL players for a college team that enjoyed such success - that it is incomprehensible (yes, it was far more than just Jarrett). Jarrett was just a terrible draft decision of many by the Panthers in that era; a guy that they went after because he was a "big name" rather than doing proper due diligence in scouting and evaluations.

Now of course, my position is not that Benjamin is guaranteed to succeed. My only position is that he was a great player to take at #28 - one of the best on the board at a need position, and truthfully Benjamin and Mike Evans are the best "fits" among WRs for the type of QB that Newton is and the offense that Shula will run, one that will actually have a split end position instead of these spread type offenses that everyone is now running - and that if Benjamin does not pan out, it won't be because of the nonsense.

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