The Panthers had not selected a wide receiver in the first round since 1997. That streak is now over as they selected Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick in the NFL Draft.
After a season where the Panthers went 12-4 and won the NFC South, they must rebuild a bit on offense after losing three of their top four receivers from a year ago.
Even with the group of receivers from last year intact, the Panthers’ best wideout — Steve Smith — was getting on in years. Now he’s a member of the Baltimore Ravens, while Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are with other teams too.
The Panthers had other needs besides wide receiver, and general manager Dave Gettleman — entering his second draft with the team — made it clear that the team would address those needs.
But when the pick came up, the Panthers were facing something a bit unexpected — both Benjamin and USC’s Marqise Lee were available.
The immediate reaction to the pick by pundits seemed to be that it was less "safe" than picking the more polished Lee.
There are questions about Benjamin’s work ethic and his ability to run routes, for instance. Those questions don’t follow Lee around.
But aliens don’t come around every day, and at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Benjamin is indeed an alien.
As a redshirt freshman, he didn’t play much then had a disappointing sophomore campaign before getting it together last year to the tune of 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was the first FSU wide receiver to go over 1,000 yards receiving since Anquan Boldin in 2002.
Is it a risk for the Panthers? Yes. But it also addresses a huge need for the Panthers, and potentially gives them a playmaker in the mold of a Jimmy Graham that the franchise has never had.
Gettleman said the team vetted Benjamin pretty thoroughly — the 23-year-old also failed two grades before high school, but Gettleman said his academics were "not a concern".
"Like last year, value met need," said Gettleman, referring to the Panthers drafting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei after he fell farther than expected in 2013.
As to the questions about Benjamin’s work ethic, there has been some noise that Benjamin is at his most engaged when working with a quarterback he likes — like Jameis Winston last year, for instance. Turns out, he’s a huge Cam Newton fan as well.
"There’s no limit (to the potential of he and Newton)," said Benjamin on a conference call with the media after being drafted. "We’ve just got to get that connection down and work as a team and grind together."
Benjamin also said he has always liked the Panthers, and plays with them in "Madden". Oh, and he took this picture a few months ago.