In my weekly column, we take a long look at impact fantasy football rookies. I compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this 2014 version of the series by looking at one of the top ten rookie picks in Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin. While this huge weapon has a lot of pluses, I have some doubts, too.
Here is what I saw in college from Benjamin: On the majority of his college catches, the receiver traps the ball with his body. This limits his chances to gain additional yardage after the catch as well as more difficult for him to secure the ball leaving him more open to fumbles or drops. When he does try to catch the ball with his hands, Benjamin spends a lot of time double catching the pigskin. I’m not sure if this is a concentration issue or just his lack of fluidity. It seems that he runs his routes deeper than the quarterback anticipates which causes the ball to either be intercepted or fall short.
His rounding and inconsistent routes drive offensive coordinators and quarterbacks to the brink. Benjamin puts varied efforts into his route running with a dependence on the likelihood of him being targeted. The receiver really seems to perk up and increase his efforts near or in the end zone. Benjamin has a bad habit of running with the ball before he has secured it. When he takes the time to catch the ball with his hands, tuck it and run, the wide out is tough to tackle. Benjamin needs to work on doing the little things right the first time, so they become habit building. His balance is very inconsistent as he stumbles trying to make breaks on one play and on the next one, he will split three defensive backs making bucket catch.
The receiver uses his physicality to shield the ball from the defender and swats smaller players out of his way with ease. He plucks the ball out of the air tracking the ball deep with good field vision. Benjamin doesn’t worry about defenders in his way as he fully extends himself to reach the ball at its highest point, leaping high, and secures the ball with heavy contact. At his size, the wide out needs the passes to be at his waist or higher, because he struggles to catch lower targets. If a quarterback can get him the ball on a bucket catch deep down the field, there is not a lot a defensive back can do to stop him. There were many times, the receiver simply put his hand up to let his quarterback know that he was behind the defense and he would grab the ball effortlessly in stride. Benjamin has enough power and burst to knock off four defensive backs on his way to the end zone. He knows where he is at all times on the field and uses the sidelines to help create separation. The receiver also uses a spin move every so often to keep the defense guessing.
Against the Ravens, this is what the receiver did: Benjamin got split out wide in the formation, usually on the single receiver side. He got knocked around a lot with the Ravens physical coverage, and had the ball swatted out of his hands twice. Sure the rookie had a productive day of five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown where he got behind the corner for an easy long touchdown, but that doesn’t tell the story. It is his huge catch radius that makes him a viable fantasy option. He catches the ball at its highest point, contorts his body to grab the ball off his hip in stride, which makes Cam Newton seem more accurate. Benjamin is increasing his awareness of where he is on the field, using the sidelines to create separation. His concentration issues flare up from time to time, so that is why it is important to keep him involved in every single drive. This was the case when he just missed out on another rainbow touchdown where the wide out didn’t get control of the ball before getting both feet down.
Despite not having a legitimate second receiver on the other side, other than tight end Greg Olsen, Benjamin continues to lead his team and show top ten fantasy production through the first four weeks of the season. This is without a true running threat by Newton or any of the brittle Carolina running backs. Unlike his predecessor, Steve Smith, I’m not convinced that the rookie will continue to be successful with the attention of two or three defenders for a multiple seasons. This means that his true value will lie with Carolina’s ability to generate a better running game or find a deep threat on the other side. The talent is there, and the mental side is improving. However if Benjamin is to be truly fantasy relevant for the next four to five years, he can’t be their only reliable player other than Newton.
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