It’s second-and-nine, and Kelvin Benjamin is the second receiver from the sideline in a twins set. He’s facing off coverage from the Florida Gators defense and is given a cushion of more than a half dozen yards. The Seminoles need to pick up meaningful yardage on this play, so they’ve called a flood concept that’ll require Benjamin to run a 12-yard corner or sail route toward the sideline.
At the snap, he stems vertically, going the necessary dozen yards before his left foot hits the ground once more and he turns left, shifting his body at a 45-degree angle towards the sideline. Simultaneously, quarterback Jameis Winston rolls out of the pocket and targets him for the strike downfield. After a long windup that drops the ball near his hip, Winston heaves it over a flat defender’s outstretched arm and straight into Benjamin’s hands. With room to concentrate, Benjamin allows the ball to hit his hands and looks away, never tucking it in his armpit like a receiver’s supposed to do. After some hard steps and juggling, the ball rolls onto the Gainesville grass and Benjamin throws a right handed punch through the air in frustration . . .
This may seem like a simple drop, but there’s more to it. It epitomizes Benjamin. He’s a large-framed receiver, standing at 6’5″ and has arms that are more than 34 inches in length, both traits that typically point to a receiver being more physical than quick, thus more likely to run a limited route tree that relies on vertical routes like the flood/corner route. He’s also raw and doesn’t always appear to be focused, making him a frustrating receiver to watch and, surely, coach. He dropped nearly 10 percent of throws in his direction during the Seminoles’ 2013 championship run — nearly four percent more than the average, according to Rotoworld’s Greg Peshek.
Yet NFL scouts and GM’s are intrigued. Why? Because they’re looking for receivers with size and mettle, who can punish even the biggest cornerbacks that come into the league. They’re also looking for ones who can make a splash in the red zone even when they’re greener than the grass on the field. Also, as always, they’re intrigued by the potential that Benjamin has.
He’s raw, yes. He’s a redshirt sophomore, true. He’s also a light footed, big man who can win at a throw’s peak and sometimes even dazzle defensive backs at the line with astounding quickness. With the recent success of Alshon Jeffery and other bigger receivers in years past, such as Jeffery’s teammate Brandon Marshall who is 6’4″, 23o pounds, teams will be drawn to Benjamin’s skill-set.
Like Jeffery, he’s going to run a limited route tree. He’s not going to spend much of his time running option routes and square-ins and slants, and instead he’ll run comebacks, posts, curls and the aforementioned sail/corner. These routes put him in the best position to succeed, where he can grab and pull defensive backs and tower over them as he reaches high for the ball, all the while not having to necessarily worry about getting in and out of his breaks as quickly as a smaller receiver would. The Seminoles coaching staff understood this, and they put his talent to good use, calling on the post route on more than 37 percent of his catches, according to Peshek. His best was against North Carolina State, when he caught it in the house for six. (00:57 below)
The Seminoles were in shotgun when Benjamin lined up to the far left of the formation. He was the No. 1 receiver and faced an eight-yard cushion from the defensive back. The defensive call was Quarters coverage, meaning the cornerback was in man coverage and expecting to receive help from the safety only if the No. 2 (slot) receiver didn’t run vertically. Well, he would, so the cornerback would be in man all the way.
Benjamin pushed off his right foot and released straight-ahead, covering grass in a hurry prior to planting with his left foot at the 28 yard-line and cutting across the middle of the field. The cornerback, who patiently backpedaled during the vertical stem, was too slow to open his hips and run with Benjamin, who ran by him as he passed the near hash. A throw that sailed over underneath coverage and landed outside the far hash was caught by Benjamin for a touchdown not long after.
Regardless of how callow a prospect is, it’s up to NFL teams to put their draftees in situations where they can succeed by playing to their strengths. Ultimately, that’s what good coaching is and that’s what Benjamin will have to get if he’s going to make a living playing at the next level for more than a couple of years.
He needs plenty of coaching, with instruction on the simplest fundamentals like catching the football and sinking his hips on his breaks, to reading safety leverage and determining which one of his dozen option routes is the correct one to get him open.
Will he be able do that at the next level?