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Kelvin Benjamin will help the Panthers return to the Super Bowl

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In the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers drafted Kelvin Benjamin to be their No. 1 wide receiver. Previously, Cam Newton had found success in the passing game, but their offense was missing that big, physical wide receiver that would push them over the top.

During his rookie season, Benjamin displayed a lot of the traits that made him a first round draft pick. He played with his size, was a good ball catcher, and displayed an uncanny ability to make amazing catches. He was by no means a perfect product, but his production during his rookie season was extraordinary. Benjamin caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie and gave Panthers fans a glimpse at the future of the passing game.

But then the injury came.

During the preseason of 2015, it was announced that Benjamin had suffered a torn ACL. His sophomore campaign was over before it even started.

But while many national analysts predicted that the Panthers’ offense would suffer with Benjamin absent, Cam Newton decided otherwise. Newton performed at an MVP-level and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl with perhaps the NFL’s best offense in 2015. Despite not having a true No. 1 receiver to throw to, Newton threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns en route to be named the 2015 NFL MVP.

While the Panthers’ offense returns nearly all of their primary contributors from last season, they should be even better in 2016 with the return of Kelvin Benjamin.

Why?

Well for one, his massive presence was missed on the biggest of stages: the Super Bowl.

In that game versus Denver, the Broncos defense had a lot of success locking down the Panthers smaller receivers. Ted Ginn and Corey Brown enjoyed breakout seasons during Newton’s MVP campaign, but were largely contained by the Denver cornerbacks in the Super Bowl. This allowed the Broncos to focus most of their attention on the Panthers’ biggest weapon in the passing game: tight end Greg Olsen.

With Benjamin back on the field, this should change. Benjamin presents a mismatch no matter which cornerback is covering him. At 6-5, 230-pounds, he has the size and physicality to beat most cornerbacks in the NFL. As such, defenses will have to adjust and play the passing game differently than when Ginn and Brown were the primary receivers. Expect to see a lot of safety help over the top this season for defenses when Benjamin is back on the field.

Another reason why having Benjamin back will help the Panthers’ offense is because it will help them move the chains.

The Broncos largely shut down the Panthers’ run game in the Super Bowl and, as such, a lot was put on Newton’s plate. He attempted 41 passes in the game and the Panthers struggled to move the chains.

Luckily, Benjamin has proven that he is adept at helping move the chains in passing situations. In 2014, Benjamin averaged 12.5 yards per target on third down and long. On downs of 10-yards or longer, Benjamin averaged 14.8 yards per reception for 667 yards and six touchdowns.

Benjamin is the kind of receiver that quarterbacks look to on third down and long. Because of his physicality and dominating size, he can easily catch those quick out or curl routes that offenses call when they need to get a specific distance. He still needs to work on being more consistent with his catches, but he has proven in the past that he can be relied on to be a No. 1 receiver moving forward.

With Benjamin back in the mix, the Panthers will almost certainly make another Super Bowl run. If Newton continues to perform at an MVP level, then their offense might be the best in the NFL next season. A receiving trio of Benjamin, Olsen, and second-year receiver Devin Funchess will be hard-pressed to stop and will give defensive coordinators all over the NFL nightmares.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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