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Rethinking: Kelvin Benjamin the TD Machine

kelvinbenjamin

This is a bit of an “embrace the uncertainty” post that rebuts my previous contrarian post about Kelvin Benjamin and how he’ll fare in the NFL. Like any other prospect, Kelvin has a range of outcomes and some people (like me) have been emphasizing the lower end of potential outcomes due to his age and the fact that he barely dominated his own offense in college. The more I look at him, however, the more I see that there might be a mold for guys who don’t do a lot in college to become big time players in the NFL, and Benjamin might fit into that. Take a look at this table:

Player Height Weight 40 Broad Vert Draft age
Jimmy Graham 6’6″ 260 4.53 120″ 38.5″ 23.4
Jordan Cameron 6’5″ 254 4.53 119″ 37.5″ 22.7
Julius Thomas 6’5″ 246 4.64 111″ 35.5″ 22.8
Kelvin Benjamin 6’5″ 240 4.61 119″ 32.5″ 23.2

Now before you say “but those other guys are tight ends and Kelvin is a wide receiver” I’ll remind you that Jimmy Graham is currently locked in contract negotiations with New Orleans that hinge on whether or not the distinction between tight end and wide receiver actually means anything. There’s a good chance it doesn’t. Also, it’s probably not fair to say that Kelvin “didn’t do a lot in college” after he went for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. His market share of yards is low but his touchdown rate brings his total DR to .30, which isn’t really bad, it’s just not as good as we’d like to see it.

The point here is that Kelvin is about the same size, speed and relative athleticism of three basketball players turned tight ends that have been pretty successful in the NFL so far. You’ll also notice that the other three guys were all a little older than RotoViz prefers (we likes ‘em young!). Furthermore, all three of these guys had less production in college than Kelvin did, both in terms of raw production and market share, and it’s not really close.

Jimmy Graham is in another universe athletically (seriously, holy shit) so he might not be the best comp, but I’m leaving him in there because he was old when drafted and he started playing football later in life. If we adjust our expectations for Kelvin and look at him through the prism of a guy who hasn’t been playing football as long as the others, has the size and athleticism to dominate in tight spaces, and is proven effective in the red zone, there’s precedent to forgive his low DR and advanced age.

I still don’t like Kelvin as much as some others do, but I recently took him 12th overall in a rookie mock as the 10th receiver off the board. I think that might even be undervaluing him a bit since he could realistically catch a lot of touchdowns wherever he goes next year. He has some significant differences between his two most frequent negative comparisons, Stephen Hill and Jon Baldwin:

KB Heatmap Comparison

Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but perhaps we should have been mortified by Hill and Baldwin’s complete ineffectiveness in the red zone. Kelvin caught 15 touchdowns this year, which is more than Stephen Hill (9) and one less than Jon Baldwin (16) caught in three year careers. The other issue is size – Benjamin is 25 pounds heavier than Stephen Hill, which makes that a bad comparison right off the bat. He’s 10 pounds heavier than Baldwin, but the lesson there might be that it’s really, really rare for someone to be as big, athletic, and worthless as Baldwin is. The fact that Baldwin is not just bad, but completely fucking useless, is mind-bottling.

If there’s a mold for someone to be 1) not as productive in terms of market share as we like and 2) older than we like, it’s probably a really big guy who is good in the red zone. Kelvin fits that mold, and physically he’s more like Julius Thomas than most of the wide receiver comps that get thrown around. I wrote this post in part because I like playing Devil’s Advocate, but also because I like to evaluate my own biases to make sure I’m not missing anything obvious. I’m going to soften my stance on Kelvin here. I see that some people have a dozen or more wide receivers ranked ahead of him and that’s kind of overthinking it when so many fantasy points come from catching touchdowns and he’ll be pretty good at that no matter who drafts him. The concerns are legitimate, but if we’re being honest about expected value he’ll be a steal in your rookie draft if nine receivers go before him.

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