The Case Against Kelvin Benjamin
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” An age old sentiment we’ve all heard at some point and still true to this day. The 2015 Carolina Panthers found more success than they did in their franchise’s history, and they did so without Kelvin Benjamin. People point to his 2014 success to support drafting him as the overall WR22 in the early 4th Round. I think they are in for a major dose of reality and disappointment.
Was 2014 really that great?
Kelvin Benjamin seemingly came out of nowhere in 2014. He was viewed as a great talent who needed a bit of work coming out of college, but fell into the perfect situation with WR-needy Panthers. He posted a 73-1008-9 stat line and finished as overall WR15. When rookies burst on the scene like that I always like to check their end of season stats. I want to know how they performed once opposing defenses have some film on them. This is where I fell out of love with Mr. Benjamin. Over the 2014 season’s last 5 games, he posted a 21-240-1 stat line, good enough to finish WR42 over that span. To reiterate, you want me to draft a guy in the first 50 picks of my fantasy draft that wasn’t even a top 40 player at his own position over his last 5 games? Two other stats strike me as concerning: 1. Benjamin only hauled in 51% of his targets, and 2. He had 7 games where he caught 3 or fewer balls. In 2014, there were 10 players that had more than 140 targets, Benjamin performed 3rd worst of that group. You tell me how great 2014 was for him; I see how great it actually could have been.
The next red flag is the reason we have to keep talking about 2014 to begin with. Kelvin Benjamin was forced to miss the entire 2015 season with a preseason ACL tear. Now some wideouts recover fine from this injury, and some are never the same again. Which will Kelvin Benjamin be? We don’t know, and the 4th Round is too early to be gambling on that type of injury risk.
The Success of the 2015 Panthers
As I mentioned, in 2014 Benjamin only caught 51% of his 145 targets. Those targets represent 27% of the total passes thrown by the Panthers. No other Panthers WR saw more than 15%. In 2015, without Benjamin, the Panthers WR1, Ted Ginn, only saw 19% of the total targets. The Panthers also ran the ball 57 more times in 2015, leading the league in rush attempts. Oh, and they won 8 more games than they did in 2014, finishing 15-1 and making it all the way to the Super Bowl. Are we supposed to believe that Kelvin Benjamin represents such an elite and crucial part of this team that they are going to revert back to force feeding him the ball to the detriment of the win column? Of course not. Benjamin will be eased back into action and will become one of Cam’s targets, not his only target. The Panthers found success running more and spreading the ball around. They will have 3 capable WRs: Benjamin, Ginn, and Devin Funchess. Not to mention the guy who picked up the slack when Benjamin was out, Greg Olsen, will be the starting TE for the 6th straight season. When Benjamin’s targets drop, you better hope he improves on that 51% catch rate. Otherwise, you may end up with a 4th Round pick that you’re going to be scared to start, even in your flex position. That is if you decide to draft him.
I liken the Kelvin Benjamin situation to Josh Gordon. In 2013, Gordon set the world on fire, then he only played 5 games in 2014 and he was terrible (though he did outscore Benjamin by 3 points over those 5 games.) Both players missed the entire 2015 season, but for very different reasons. Where is Gordon being drafted? One full round later as the WR27. You can get 2013’s #2 overall WR one round after 2014’s WR15. If I could get Benjamin as my team’s WR3, I would feel much better as his risk would be reduced. But at his current price tag, he is a huge risk, even in the 4th Round. Your goal in the first 5 rounds of your draft should be to minimize risk. Drafting Kelvin Benjamin puts you in a situation where you could be spending a top 50 pick on a guy who gets outperformed by players drafted 3 rounds later.