Scott Fowler

Panthers GM: ‘You can’t coach 6-foot-5’

It has been a long time – dating to Muhsin Muhammad’s prime a decade ago – since the Carolina Panthers had a big receiver who could dominate cornerbacks physically.

Kelvin Benjamin is supposed to be that receiver for the Panthers, and I think he has a real chance to do it.

General manager Dave Gettleman said this three times during his post-midnight news conference after the pick of Benjamin at No. 28 overall at 11:18 p.m. Thursday: “You can’t coach 6-foot-5, 240.”

The Panthers’ newest No. 1 pick immediately improves the offense near the goal line. He had 15 touchdown catches for Florida State last season, including the game-winner in the national championship game against Auburn.

Gettleman also said Benjamin has a shot at being a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the NFL, which is a pretty big statement.

My question remains what the Panthers are going to do at left tackle. I had hoped they would pick one in the first round all things being equal, but this was always a deeper draft at wide receiver than at tackle.

The bottom line was that the Panthers have to get better on offense. They scored only 10 points against San Francisco in two games last season, including the home playoff loss.

Benjamin and quarterback Cam Newton are almost exactly the same size, but the men chasing Newton are a lot bigger than the men who will chase Benjamin. Newton has to have some help at left tackle, and I hope the Panthers draft a tackle Friday during the draft’s second and third rounds.

Benjamin already is quite enamored with Newton, although the two have never met. He said he became a Panthers fan once Newton got to Carolina in 2012 and that it was a “dream come true” to be able to team with him.

He did not have a prediction as to how good the two of them could be, saying he wanted to “just grind together” and “build the relationship between a wide receiver and a quarterback.”

Like Luke Kuechly before him, Benjamin was a likely first-round pick who decided to skip the NFL’s offer of an all-expenses-paid trip to New York in favor of watching the draft at home in Florida. That sort of humble attitude has proven quite beneficial to Kuechly, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in only his second season.

Benjamin isn’t quite as NFL-ready as Kuechly was, however. While he might start against Tampa Bay on Sept. 7, he might not. There is going to be a learning curve.

But his “strike zone,” as Gettleman called it, is tremendous. You can throw the ball in a whole lot of places and let Benjamin go get it. At least that’s the hope. That was true of Muhammad.

It was supposed to be true of Dwayne Jarrett – another big receiver the Panthers drafted high – and it never was. Jarrett had far better college statistics than Benjamin (41 touchdown catches in three seasons) and then ended up with more drunk-driving arrests (two) as a Panther than touchdowns (one).

I bring that up only because Jarrett was once supposed to be the next Moose, and now Benjamin is supposed to be either the next Moose or the next Steve Smith or the next something.

“I want to come out and be a game-changer,” Benjamin said.

The Panthers are betting that he can do just that.

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