The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Mark Wimer
Benjamin tore his ACL during training camp last preseason, and was limited to individual drills at the May/June OTAs/minicamp. 'I'm not where I want to be, but I'm still getting there,' Benjamin said on May 31, 2016. 'It's just getting that football wind back.' Head coach Ron Rivera confirmed on June 16 that Benjamin is expected to be cleared for football activities when training camp opens on July 28 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He enjoyed 145 targets and 73/1,008/9 receiving as Cam Newton's lead receiver back in 2014, and has a clear path back to the #1 wide receiver role for the Panthers this year. Considering that Newton has grown considerably as a passer between 2014 and now (14 games played during 2014, for 262/448 yielding 3,127 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during 2014; 16 games played during 2015 with 296/496 for 3,837 yards passing, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during 2015), there is a bigger pie of receptions and passing yards/passing touchdowns to be divided up among Newton's receivers.
Remember that Ted Ginn Jr caught 10 touchdowns from Cam Newton during 2015 as an 'emergency' #1 wide receiver - and Benjamin has A) much better hands and B) all reports indicate his recovery/rehabilititaion is going well - Benjamin should EASILY surpass Ginn's 44 receptions and 739 receiving yards from last year. Also, Benjamin has a year of NFL experience under his belt, so he is in a position to build upon this rookie numbers during 2016. Tight end Greg Olsen will get his share of targets/receptions/touchdowns, but so will Benjamin and the other wide receivers. Another factor in favor of Benjamin is that this year he'll have Devin Funchess (63 targets for 31/473/5 receiving last year - Funchess had a strong second half of the season with all five of his touchdowns arriving from Week Nine of 2015 to the end of the season, and 383 of his 473 yards accumulated during that same time span) and the aforementioned Ginn in the mix to keep defenses from keying on Benjamin exclusively (two years ago neither Ginn nor Funchess were around - an aging Jerricho Cotchery was the #2 wide receiver during 2014, and he managed just one receiving touchdown with 78 targets for 48/580/1 to his credit).
In short, the Panthers' passing attack is an improving unit that has been leavened with a nice mix of both youth and NFL experience. Newton has grown as a passer since Benjamin last saw the field in regular season, and the supporting cast around both players has gotten stronger. Assuming that Benjamin doesn't suffer any setbacks in his recovery during training camp, he should easily surpass his rookie receiving totals in his second NFL regular season. Benjamin should be in the mix for a top-12 finish at his position by the team we close the book on the 2016 regular season - I think he is being underestimated by the fantasy community as of mid-July, 2016. 90/1,300/12 receiving is well within his reach this year - that level of production would have placed him somewhere in the bottom 1/2 of the top ten wide receivers in the league during 2015.
Low Side by John Mamula
Kelvin Benjamin is less than 12 months removed from ACL surgery and is currently being drafted as the 18th WR overall in the third round. Really? The third round? The voices in my head are screaming, “Stay Away! Stay Away!” There is no value to be gained with that current average draft position.
Much has changed over the past two seasons in Carolina. During 2015, the Panthers formula for a 15-1 regular season record and Super Bowl appearance was a solid rushing attack and an aggressive defense. The Panthers ranked 2nd in the league in total team rushing last season. Can Newton took the next step forward accounting for 45 total touchdowns. The team did not miss a beat with the loss of Benjamin during the 2015 season.
In 2014, the Panthers went 7-8-1 and were often forced to play from behind during the second half of their games. Benjamin accounted for a hefty 145 targets for 73 receptions, 1008 yards and 9 touchdowns. Those targets will not be there this season due to an increased amount of passing options. Ted Ginn Jr played a large role in the Panthers success last season with 97 targets. Devin Funchess had 63 targets and will continue to increase his workload during his 2nd season. And we can't forget about Greg Olsen, who has been Newton's main target, with 124 targets last season and 123 targets in 2014.
Reports out of training camp are that the Panthers will ease Benjamin into action this season. If I am targeting a wide receiver in the third round of my draft, I am looking for one with both a high floor and a high ceiling. While Benjamin may have a decent ceiling with Newton throwing him the ball, his floor is rock bottom. I will quickly draft Randall Cobb, Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman, or Jeremy Maclin over Benjamin this season.