The Carolina Panthers held their cards close to their chest for much of the pre-draft process, then went all in on a risky hand. It's one of those things that's simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, but the more you think about the decision making behind taking Kelvin Benjamin, the more you like it.
A lot of fan bases will be doing purchase justification today. What I mean by this is finding ways to backtrack on pre-draft analysis to explain why a pick makes sense, even if they never believed in the player up to this point. It's a common move to dissuade fears, force excitement and often comes saddled with statements like "In ____ we trust." No, that phenomenon isn't unique to Panthers fans.
It's important to wade through the bullshit when trying to look at a pick objectively. Outlets will force draft grades down your throat this morning and I'll save you some time: The results aren't pretty. The terms "reach" and "raw" are thrown around like Mardi Gras beads, the grade is hovering well below a "B."
Foregoing the idea of "In Gettleman we trust," here's three reasons why Benjamin was the right pick for the Panthers.
You can't teach 6'5, 240 lbs
These were the words Gettleman opened the post-round press conference with and it's true. Size tends to be one of those factors that people either give too much or too little credit, without a lot of middle ground. Being tall isn't the be all end all, but it's a mitigating factor -- in the right way.
Having size helps a player mask deficiencies. Smaller guys need to have near-perfect technique to survive in the NFL, regardless of position. What makes Steve Smith special is how he mitigates being small by running excellent routes and showing astounding athleticism. Everyone wants the trifecta, but those guys don't last to No. 28.
A player as big as Benjamin can win without needing ideal route running or blazing speed. You'll hear the term "catch radius" thrown around a lot, which is huge -- especially in Carolina. Yes it's concerning that he dropped almost 10-percent of his passes last year, but Cam Newton overthrows his targets on at least 20-percent of his passes at mid-range. That's who Newton is as a quarterback, so having a guy with the tools to get those passes is far better than someone who never had a shot in the first place.
Think about this for one second: Benjamin is 6'5, with 35 inch arms and a 32.5 inch vertical. A ball can the thrown 12 feet off the ground and he can effectively get a hand on it, it's reasonable to assume he can catch something thrown 11 feet off the ground. Find another guy who was available that can do that, I'll wait.
Criticisms of his 4.61 time in the 40 are proof-positive of being suckered into illogical thinking. Fans are conditioned to believe that the dash is of vital importance because of how the event is over-hyped, but it's not about comparing Benjamin to Brandin Cooks or Marqise Lee, neither has size. You need to compare him to other tall receivers.
Over a full 40 yards he's slightly slower than the big-three of tall receivers.
- Vincent Jackson: 1.57
- Marques Colston: 1.60
- Kelvin Benjamin: 1.62
- Alshon Jeffery: 1.64
The Panthers took their time
Comparisons to the selection of Dwayne Jarrett are laughable. They're based on the sloppy regurgitation of conjecture from unnamed sources that Benjamin is a "lazy player." One year ago Keenan Allen was lazy, two years ago Alshon Jeffery was lazy. If that's what lazy is, I'll take it.
Jarrett was a forced pick in the second round because perception trumped evaluation. The Panthers spent almost no time with the then-USC receiver, but fell into the trap of taking a guy they couldn't believe was there but didn't have enough scouting on.
The Panthers met with Benjamin at the combine, went to his pro day, sent Ricky Proehl to privately work him out, then brought him to Charlotte. This was the standard operating procedure for many of the top receivers and it shows the team really took its time.
If Benjamin fails it will be because the team failed to scout him correctly, not because the team gambled on upside over evaluation. They truly believed he was the best receiver at No. 28, now it's on Proehl to iron out the wrinkles.'
Look around the draft
There's a segment of the fan base screaming that Marqise Lee should have been the pick at No. 28, understandably so. However it's important to look around the rest of the draft to see what's really going on.
Two receiver-needy teams like New England and San Francisco picked after the Panthers, Philadelphia and Kansas City needed receivers too and picked before. All four decided not to take Lee. That should set off alarm bells in your head. Five teams in need of receiver help decided to go in a different direction, sending him to the second round. Think about that.
If you believe those teams have smart front offices (which most would) then perhaps you start to see the complete picture of Lee as a guy a lot of teams vetted closely and put under the microscope, then decided he wasn't the guy.
The Panthers could have gone in two directions with the No. 28 pick. Slightly flawed with pro potential or significantly flawed with superstar potential. They took a risk... or maybe they didn't. Obviously the team believes Benjamin's problems can be corrected in ways being small can't.
This is a process that could take some time, but if all Kelvin Benjamin is able to contribute as a rookie is end zone jump balls, then this will have been worth it.