Carolina Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin has emerged as the No. 1 receiver and has been mentioned as a possible breakout star by several national media members who cover the league.
But Benjamin’s arrival could pay dividends for Carolina’s defense, as well.
As the Panthers’ defensive backs and linebackers prepare to face Tampa Bay’s twin-tower receiving tandem of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on Sunday, they’ll do so after spending the past six weeks matched up against their own big-bodied wideout in Benjamin.
The 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin is the same height and 10 pounds heavier than Vincent and Evans, the former Texas A&M standout who, along with Benjamin, is part of a growing trend of big receivers.
An Observer analysis of the league’s top wideouts prior to the May draft found that among the top-10 receivers, nine are 6-3 or taller (the 10th – Dallas wideout Dez Bryant – is 6-2 and 225 pounds).
The Panthers have gone big at the position. A year after not having a receiver taller than 6-2 on the roster, the Panthers now have three wideouts 6-4 or taller – Benjamin and practice squad wideouts Stephen Hill and Marcus Lucas, who are both 6-4.
“You need the bigger receivers. Every team you face is going to have at least one. Some are fortunate enough to have two or three. So we need that visual, we need that feel,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. “I think that’s kind of what we’ve worked toward, in terms of finding Kelvin and bringing Marcus Lucas and Stephen Hill to the mix as well.”
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said seeing bigger receivers in practice has been beneficial in preparing for Jackson and Evans.
“Kelvin’s pretty much the same size as both those guys and Marcus isn’t much smaller,” Kuechly said. “Going against those guys gives us a good look and helps us know what to expect going into the game.”
Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason should know what to expect from Jackson: The two were teammates in San Diego from 2008-11.
“He’s a big, physical body. He definitely catches the ball well. He gets in and out of his breaks at a good pace, and uses his body,” Cason said. “That’s really a big key for those guys who are so big. It makes it tough for DBs to get around him and make plays.”
Rivera said the key for the corners will be to maintain good alignment and body position and be quicker off the ball than their bigger counterparts, who might take a little longer cranking up to full speed.