I want to start out by acknowledging a couple things about Kelvin Benjamin.
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to lose a parent, or to tear an ACL in training camp, or to be traded midway through a season.
Benjamin has had a rough road, and he’s more than entitled to his opinion. And for what it’s worth, I’ve always rooted for him. He always seemed like a big kid with a good heart.
But Benjamin, now entering his first full season with the Buffalo Bills, shared some interesting comments with The Athletic on Saturday in regard to his time in Carolina.
As you’d expect, those comments have not gone over well with Panthers fans. It’s important to note that Panthers players and staff weren’t at all fazed by the comments.
“Looking back on it, I should’ve just been drafted by somebody else. I should’ve never went to Carolina,” Benjamin told Kevin Graham. “Truly, I just think Carolina was bad for me. It was a bad fit from the get-go.
“If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback like Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”
So much to unpack here.
The reference to Cam Newton’s accuracy and decision-making is what’s garnering the most attention, so let’s start there.
Benjamin isn’t the first to criticize that element of Newton’s game. But he’s really in no position to gripe, especially when he had a habit of struggling with the “easy” ones. The quick timing patterns, the balls put right between the numbers or dropped over the shoulder – Benjamin didn’t have a perfect record there. Far from it.
The passes that called for the spectacular? The leaping grabs against two defenders? Those were the ones that Benjamin seemed to prefer.
But I digress.
Let’s go back to the get-go, as Benjamin put it.
At the start, he was a terrific fit. Carolina selected him with the 28th pick in the 2014 draft, and he and Newton immediately hit it off. Cam and "Benji" were inseparable. He also formed a strong bond with then receivers coach Ricky Proehl.
Benjamin was stellar as a rookie, posting 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. He was happy, healthy and producing.
But when I think about Benjamin’s time with the Panthers, the thing that immediately comes to mind is that 2015 training camp – and not just because that’s when he suffered the torn ACL. Before that injury, he was dominant. He was the best player on the fields at Wofford College. Each day there was another highlight-reel catch that had everyone talking.
The season-ending knee injury was an obvious turning point, and truth be told, Benjamin never was able to recapture that training camp form.
Without Benjamin in 2015, Newton was named NFL MVP and the 15-1 Panthers went on to earn an appearance in Super Bowl 50.
Would the Panthers have been better with Benjamin that year? Hard to be much better than they were. Would he have helped them win that Super Bowl against the Broncos?
“That’s a Super Bowl win, easily,” Benjamin told Graham.
We’ll never know. But after the rehab was complete and he returned to action, the former first-rounder once on a path to stardom didn’t seem to be on that path anymore. There were the recurring weight issues in the spring, which led to ridicule from fans and media.
There were still some flashes of dominance, like the 2016 home opener against San Francisco, where Benjamin was a man against boys. But there were also head-scratching blunders – like having the ball stripped away by a player half his size with the game on the line against the Chiefs.
Benjamin finished that season with 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns – not too shabby. But a look beyond the basic stat sheet revealed problems. Benjamin was struggling to gain separation. He wasn’t sharp at the top of his routes. He wasn’t utilizing his greatest strength – his size – consistently.
Then came the summer of 2017, when Benjamin lost his mom. The weight issues resurfaced, and as evidenced by this tweet Saturday night, he wasn’t in a good place.
General manager Marty Hurney, back in the saddle after Dave Gettleman – the man who drafted Benjamin – was relieved of his duties, traded Benjamin to the Bills for a third- and seventh-round pick after eight games.
The Q&A with The Athletic reveals a player who is still very bitter about how things went down with his former team. He has a right to be. But when I first read Benjamin’s comments, after picking up my jaw, I was frustrated by the lack of any accountability on Benjamin’s end. And that’s unfortunate, especially since – in that same Q&A – Benjamin credited the new Bills receivers coach for holding him accountable.
When he was on the field for the Panthers, Benjamin was regularly force-fed to a fault. He was given every opportunity to succeed as Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver.
It didn’t work out, but there are two sides to that equation. And wouldn’t you know, those two sides will meet in Buffalo on Thursday.
Who ever said the preseason wasn’t worth watching?