Throughout the course of the draft process, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will break down some of the top prospects. Here he looks at Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
At 6'5", 240 pounds (with 4.61 speed), redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin has the size and length to establish position on deep inside breaking cuts (post, dig), the intermediate curl/comeback and underneath in the base three-step passing game (slant, smash).
A receiver who can put stress on a defender’s cushion (initial distance between the cornerback and receiver), Benjamin has the physicality to create separation on the deep ball or gain leverage back to the inside by using his size to box out defensive backs at the point of attack.
Think of routes that break between the numbers and the hash (West Coast route tree) or the deep, inside seam (from a slot alignment) against two-deep coverage, where Benjamin can use that size to establish position versus a safety driving downhill or a cornerback attacking through the upfield shoulder.
A true matchup player (with 34.875" arms), the red-zone slant/fade combo should be at the top of the call sheet with Benjamin on the field. Give him the opportunity to win to the inside on the slant (as he did in the national championship game) or target the corner of the end zone (fade). Let him climb the ladder, high-point the ball and make a play for you.
The FSU product will struggle at times to sink his hips, chop the feet and explode out of his breaks with acceleration. With some flexibility limitations, Benjamin can get stuck in his cuts at the top of the route stem. I could see that tightness in his hips on Sunday during the combine workout in Indianapolis.
Benjamin isn’t a receiver with elite top-end speed or lateral quickness (4.39 short shuttle, 7.33 three-cone). That’s why developing his technique is crucial in terms of the transition to the NFL to produce sharp, clean angles (instead of rounding his cuts) in the intermediate passing game.
Plus, Benjamin has to finish plays. The drops on the tape are an issue. And in the NFL, coaches want to see that accountability when given the opportunity to make a play in the passing game.
Look at it this way: NFL defensive backs challenge receivers on the release, through the route stem and at the break point. There are no free passes in this league outside of the numbers or versus a nickel corner in the slot.
It’s hard work to get open in the NFL. Size or athletic ability isn’t enough to win consistently versus veteran defensive backs who can press, open the hips and run to stay in phase with a receiver.
Benjamin can be a matchup player for an NFL team this season, but how quickly can he develop his skill set as a route runner, while also showing the ability to finish plays, to pair with the talent that has him rising up draft boards?
How Does Benjamin’s Skill Set Translate to the NFL Level?
When projecting wide receivers to the pro game, I look at how their skill set fits from a scheme/route-concept perspective. Here are the routes that I would dial up with Benjamin on the field.
The skinny post breaks at a depth of 12-15 yards (before the quarterback throws the ball). Working versus a single-high look (Cover 1/Cover3), Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe will take a vertical stem and pin the cornerback to the outside on the break to gain separation to the football.
Inside Vertical Seam
The Bears align Alshon Jeffery in the slot with Ace/12 personnel on the field (2WR-2TE-1RB) versus the Bengals’ Cover 2 shell. With Brandon Marshall occupying and widening the safety to the open side of the formation on the 9 (fade) route, Jeffery draws the matchup of the Mike ‘backer. That’s stealing.
A 3x1 formation in the NFL is an automatic alert to the frontside “tare" concept (clear-out fade, inside stick combination) with a backside slant from the X receiver. Here, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon beats cornerback Aqib Talib on the release. And with the Patriots playing Cover 0 (blitz man/no safety help), Gordon turns a simple slant route into six points.
Here’s another one from the Rams-Texans matchup. With the Texans showing off-man (Cover 1) in the deep red zone (plus 10-yard line), Rams receiver Brian Quick can use his size and gain inside position to secure the slant for a score.
Intermediate Dig (Square-In)
With the Jaguars playing Cover 2, Gordon can break the dig route at a depth of 12-15 yards (every route outside of the three-step game breaks at this depth) in front of the safety. And even though this isn’t the safety’s play to make in two-deep coverage, Gordon can use his size to shield the defender from the ball, absorb the hit and move the chains.
Going back to the Chargers-Broncos matchup from the divisional playoffs, Denver used tight end Julius Thomas as a receiver removed from the core of the formation to draw the size matchup versus a cornerback in Cover 3. With the running back on the flat route (widening the underneath linebacker), Thomas presses up the field, forces the cornerback to open (creating separation) and comes back downhill to the football on the curl.
This is just a sample I pulled off the tape from the 2013 season. However, given Benjamin’s ability to win with his size at the point of attack, he should be expected to produce on these concepts at the NFL level.
Benjamin is a tough prospect to grade because of the raw talent you have to project to the pro game. Will he develop quickly to use that size and jump-ball ability to make impact plays? Or will he struggle to progress at the receiver position versus NFL competition?
There have been comparisons made to the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery, and I can agree with that because of the skill set. Jeffery did make the second-year jump in 2013 to become one of the NFL’s top playmakers, but he needed the experience/reps as a rookie to develop his overall talent, technique and route-running ability to meet pro standards.
I would give Benjamin a second-round grade at this point of the draft process. However, with his size and matchup ability, plus the red-zone issues he can give opposing defenses versus both zone/man schemes, there is a strong possibility that he could come off the board in the first round, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller projects in his post-combine mock draft.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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