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Monday, June 9, 2014

Tempering Benjamin's Expectations

I see a lot of talk about Kelvin Benjamin. There's a lot of excitement,
and I would expect there to be. Had we dropped a pick on an OT, even a
reach, there would probably be similar talk there too, but WRs really
tend to capture the imagination. The fanbase, outside of quarterbacks,
has had a fixation on WRs over that time, from undrafteds to 7th
rounders ("Walter Young is going to be the next Muhsin, better! He's the next T.O.!"), and certainly the
mess of 2nd rounders, then the 2010 nonsense, followed by the sheer
volume of 4th and 5ths that followed until Dave Gettleman finally put an
end to that (and the purge of such guys has finally almost come to a
close, give or take Kealoha Pilares).

Benjamin's the first player at that position picked that high by
Carolina in nearly a generation; the only other 1st round WR was the 27
pick of '97, the ill-fated Rae Carruth that was to eventually supplant
the just-signed Ernie Mills of Pittsburgh, who was even more awful in
the short term (not making it to '98). Of course, while Carruth's
off-field life was crumbling, he was also struggling to survive in the
George Seifert WCO as Muhammad, Patrick Jeffers, Wesley Walls were all
having career years (and Donald Hayes was even having bigtime success in
short space). Carruth's deep speed would've been useful, though clearly
none of the players I just listed had much deep speed and they did just

Nonetheless, Benjamin. I'm reading a lot about Benjamin - much of it
fan spec, but plenty of it still media, too. I read a lot of
expectation on what he'll do, specifically around TDs. Granted that's
where he has to shine. The expectation about yards, receptions wavers a
lot, but everyone expects TDs. Even those that expect low reps from
him, expect he'll be a goal option.

I don't see why that won't be true, but the production expectations
remain a little overblown. Benjamin could start - and have 1000 snaps.
But I don't know if that will really happen. The top three WR are
efficient guys. They do the little things well, and Benjamin still
doesn't. He's still learning how to be a pro. His routes have to get
better, absolutely, but he has to learn to read a defense, has to gain
an understanding of how his routes work with others', and so on.
Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood do most of that
already (well, Underwood is a limited sample size). And the shorter
routes, which could eventually be Benjamin's bread and butter, just
aren't polished enough right now compared to the vets.

Tavon Austin came on late, and struggled a bit with quarterbacking
thanks to the Carolina game, but he had 40 rec/4 TD. Cordarelle
Patterson definitely beat my expectations with 45/4. The leading rookie
WR was Keenan Allen, with 71 rec/8 TD. Coming off a somewhat
catastrophic injury, Allen carried the Chargers at times. I still wish
Carolina had picked him up, though without a 3rd pick, they would've had
to reach for him and forego Kawann Short (still, at this point, wouldn't
people gripe a significant amount less about losing guys like Brandon
LaFell and Ted Ginn, plus Steve Smith, if Allen were here?). Allen was
the only rookie to eclipse the numbers Steve Smith put up, and yet that
seems to be the standard people expect of Benjamin.

I hate to parallel, but a best-case might be Keary Colbert's first year.
2004 saw him unexpectedly starting, and he was most often the 3rd
option on the field with a more open offense, a struggling run game at
times, and Muhsin Muhammad having his other great year. That saw him
receive 47 with 5 scores. I'd be happy with that. A lot of people are
expecting 10 TD - and you never know. I never saw Deangelo Williams
taking 20 scores in 2008, definitely greater than his share despite 1500
yards (with Jonathan Stewart being an obvious goal RB), Even Stephen
Davis getting 12 fall-forward TDs on bad knees, you never know. But
even with Benjamin being a massive goal option (and the reads breaking
down easier on the goal), I don't know that he's going to be a TD
machine there, yet.

It's time to be patient with Benjamin. Unrealistic expectations,
followed by an obvious failure to meet those expectations, is what
creates the type of narratives that I get tired of reading - reasons and
excuses why a player didn't meet those unrealistic expectations.
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