CHARLOTTE – The Panthers selected wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of the NFL Draft hoping he could developing into the team’s No. 1 receiver down the road.
So far, so good.
Benjamin’s performance at this week’s three-day minicamp did nothing to dissuade Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman from believing that’s still a very real possibility.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver was the star of the camp, catching everything in sight including two amazing grabs on back-to-back days.
“What goes through your mind are the possibilities,” Gettleman said with a smile.
Benjamin, who helped Florida State win a national championship earlier this year, is expected to battle with Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood for a starting job as a rookie. He has been mostly running with the first team when the Panthers go to three receiver sets as he works to learn the playbook.
“I feel like I’ve got to go grow up fast because the team really needs me,” Benjamin said. “So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Benjamin is showing the Panthers he can be something special.
On Thursday, he made a catch in the back left corner of the end zone on pass from backup quarterback Derek Anderson, reaching over cornerback Melvin White and ripping the ball away while falling backward. He showed great concentration, somehow managing to keep his feet inbounds as his momentum carried him away from the play.
While the catch was greeted by hoots and hollers from his offensive teammates, Benjamin shrugged it off after practice like it was nothing.
He said it’s a play he expects to make.
But others were left talking about what they’ve seen from Jameis Winston’s favorite target last season.
“That’s part of why you bring the young man in,” Rivera said after Thursday’s practice, the last before the start of training camp. “You draft him for a specific skill set. He can become a threat in the red zone and a threat for you on third down and have an immediate impact doing those things for us. It was good to see him do those things and good to see him work with Cam (Newton) as well. I’m excited as to where he’s heading and what he can become for us.”
A day earlier Benjamin made another catch that turned heads.
He raced over the middle and made a leaping grab between two defenders on a high pass – one that his 5-foot-9 predecessor Steve Smith would have struggled to reach. As he watched the play unfold, Gettleman went to his knees and jokingly grabbed at his chest.
Imagine the possibilities.
“If you can’t do it in practice, you aren’t going to do it a game,” Gettleman said. “You look at his skills and what he’s capable of and it’s a confirmation of our college scouting and our evaluation process.”
It’s pretty clear the Panthers will use Benjamin’s height in the red zone, particularly on fade routes to the corner of the end zone. In some cases he’ll have six to eight inches on a cornerback, giving him a huge advantage in those jump ball situations.
Having shown he can be dominant in shorts, the Panthers are eager to see more.
Gettleman is anxious to see what Benjamin can do when the Panthers put the pads on for the start of training camp in late July in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
In the meantime, Benjamin said his plan is to remain in Charlotte and gain a better grasp on the playbook and develop some chemistry with Newton.
The two have already established a good friendship off the field, spending Memorial Day together on a boat on Lake Lanier outside of Atlanta.
They’ve also had dinner together and hung out and played video games.
Newton has taken to calling his new receiver “Benji.”
On the field, Benjamin said the two will have to work to get to know each other’s likes anddislikes at training camp.
“It’s something we have to keep working on – the timing,” Benjamin said. “You have to know when that DB is outside and when to throw that back shoulder or when to run a slant.”