For­mer Pan­ther Ben­jamin takes jab at New­ton; facts, stats tell all,

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOUR­DAN RO­DRIGUE jro­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Jour­dan Ro­drigue: 704-358-5071; @jour­dan­ro­drigue

For­mer Carolina Pan­thers re­ceiver Kelvin Ben­jamin took a not-so-sub­tle jab at quar­ter­back Cam New­ton this week, just days be­fore Ben­jamin’s cur­rent team, the Buf­falo Bills, takes on the Pan­thers in Week 1 of the pre­sea­son.

Ben­jamin, the 2014 first-round draft pick of the Pan­thers, was in­ter­viewed by Tim Gra­ham of The Ath­letic, and was asked to as­sess his ca­reer since his rookie sea­son.

“I mean, I felt like I would’ve been even more suc­cess­ful if … I don’t know, man … If I would’ve … Look­ing back on it, I should’ve just been drafted by some­body else. I should’ve never went to Carolina,” he told 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 (Aaron) Rodgers or Eli Man­ning or Big Ben (Ben Roeth­lis­berger) – 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.”

So­cial me­dia, of course, lit up with com­men­tary about Ben­jamin’s re­mark.

So it might be nice to present a few facts, to hope­fully cut through all of the noise.

First, Ben­jamin is ab­so­lutely en­ti­tled to his own “bad fit from the get-go” opin­ion, but sta­tis­ti­cally it is in­ac­cu­rate.

“From the get-go,” Ben­jamin set the Pan­thers’ rookie re­ceiv­ing record in 2014 with 1,008 yards on 73 catches. He got the most tar­gets of any pass-catcher on the team, with 145 (over­all, a 50.3 per­cent catch rate). New­ton had 3,127 pass­ing yards and a 58.5 com­ple­tion per­cent­age, and had to miss two games to in­jury.

Ben­jamin tore his ACL dur­ing the fol­low­ing train­ing camp, and sat out the 2015 sea­son.

That year, with his main tar­gets 33-year-old for­mer 108th-over­all draft pick Jer­ri­cho Cotch­ery, tight end Greg Olsen and 30-yearold for­mer first-round pick Ted Ginn Jr., New­ton recorded an MVP sea­son and the Pan­thers went 15-1 and to the Super Bowl.

In 2016, Carolina went 6-10, but Ben­jamin still recorded 63 catches and 941 yards, and was the sec­ond-most tar­geted pass-catcher be­hind Olsen with 118 tar­gets. New­ton’s com­ple­tion per­cent­age dropped to 52.9, but Ben­jamin had only 67 yards’ dif­fer­ence in his sea­son (and only 10 catches).

There were also fre­quent head-scratch­ing mo­ments in 2016. At times, Ben­jamin failed to sep­a­rate from or box out de­fen­sive backs de­spite al­ways hav­ing the size ad­van­tage. Against San Diego, he turned to a ref­eree to plead for a whis­tle in­stead of run­ning down an in­ter­cep­tion on a pass in­tended for him.

In the same game, he didn’t run down a wouldbe pick six while New­ton and for­mer re­ceiver Philly Brown busted tail to chase down the de­fen­sive back as Ben­jamin jogged down the field. Coach Ron Rivera said af­ter the game that he was “fine” with Ben­jamin’s ef­fort.

Ben­jamin was not in the locker room af­ter the game, but said later that week that he “prob­a­bly should have fin­ished.”

New­ton dove af­ter the de­fen­sive back to try to pre­vent the touch­down (it ul­ti­mately got called back, though the in­ter­cep­tion stood), land­ing oddly on his shoul­der. Af­ter the sea­son con­cluded, it was re­vealed by the team that he suf­fered a shoul­der in­jury in that same game.

That spring, Rivera told re­porters that Ben­jamin had showed up to spring work­outs over­weight. So­cial me­dia was bru­tal in its re­sponse to that news, mak­ing jokes and memes about it. It was later re­vealed that Ben­jamin also had to deal with the loss of his mother that spring.

Ben­jamin re­sponded to some­one on Twit­ter on Satur­day fol­low­ing the interview’s re­lease who re­marked on his for­mer weight, say­ing that the work­outs are “not even manda­tory” and to “go ask them about ev­ery train­ing camp I came to … was ready for war!”

He did lose the extra weight by train­ing camp.

But while NFL rules state that spring work­outs are not manda­tory, there is an un­spo­ken sen­ti­ment on Rivera’s team that one must show up, and show up ready. This holds true for rook­ies and for vet­er­ans.

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

For­mer Pan­thers re­ceiver Kelvin Ben­jamin, left, shown in a file photo, took a not-so-sub­tle jab at quar­ter­back Cam New­ton dur­ing an interview last week.

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