Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is an outlier. Weighing 240 lbs. at the NFL combine, he’s a huge WR—yet he didn’t dominate in college to the extent that big first-round receivers usually dominate. As a result, he’s a polarizing player, and everybody at RotoViz has seemingly weighed in on his NFL prospects. I’ve argued that K-Benjy is a red flag rookie to acquire and Frank DuPont has argued that Benjamin is a middle-round player to target in redraft leagues. Jon Moore likewise has argued that Benjamin is a 2014 fantasy steal, and the entity known only as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot notes that Benjamin is a touchdown machine. Meanwhile, Justin Winn suggests that Benjamin is the ultimate Anti-RotoViz Reach, and professional contrarian Shawn Siegele has stated that Benjamin is the ultimate trap player, fitting the profile of a first-round miss and belonging in a group with Cordarrelle Patterson, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Jabar Gaffney, and R. Jay Soward.
I think that people have described Benjamin in so many different ways partially because few receivers like him apparently exist. Unsure about the players to whom he should properly be compared, we search for meaning among the chaos of our pseudo-thwarted analytical processes. If you’re me, you compare him to Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Larry Fitzgerald . . . only to realize that he’s pretty much not like them at all.
It stops now. Late last night, I tasked myself with creating the definitive K-Benjy comparables cohort. This morning, as the birds begin to sing, I have completed my task. No big deal. Just squaring the labyrinth.
But before I divulge my work, I want to examine Siegele’s contention that Benjamin is comparable to C-Patz, Buster, Gonzo the Lesser, JaGaf, and Not R.J. Here’s what he says:
It’s probably only appropriate to consider Benjamin next to other players selected in a similar area of the draft – say five picks to either side – who struggled to dominate market share in college. Cordarrelle Patterson (2013), Craig Davis (2007), Anthony Gonzalez (2007), Jabar Gaffney (2002), R. Jay Soward (2000).
Is this true? Should Benjamin be considered next to these five players? While Benjamin’s draft position places him in this group, I’m of the opinion that the cohort is likely unrepresentative of Benjamin to a high degree. First, the group’s small sample size is undermined by Soward’s quick exit from the NFL due to problems with alcohol and drugs. Additionally, Gonzalez’s career-debilitating injuries in his third and fourth seasons skew the results. In general, suspension and injuries don’t strike 40% of a representative cohort.
Additionally, Benjamin has the ready opportunity to contribute that most of the cohort WRs did not have. Of the group, only C-Patz was really drafted to be his team’s top WR. The rest, though, (arguably) never had the opportunity Benjamin has. Soward was a glorified kick returner who was blocked as a rookie by veterans Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, both of whom had 1000-yard receiving seasons in Soward’s only NFL season. Gaffney had the opportunity to start early in his career, but after his rookie year the Texans drafted Andre Johnson, who immediately became the team’s No. 1 target. In Indianapolis, Gonzalez was blocked for two seasons by Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and even a declining Marvin Harrison—and once Harrison was released and Gonzalez given a larger opportunity to contribute he injured himself in the first game of his third season. And Davis, aside from being unworthy of a first-round selection, was a strategic waste of a pick, as the Chargers had no use for him: Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers, and LaDainian Tomlinson dominated the passing game in Davis’ rookie season, and in his second season Malcom Floyd and Darren Sproles also both stepped up to contribute, rendering him totally unnecessary.
K-Benjy, though, was drafted to be his team’s No. 1 WR (perhaps immediately), and he seemingly will be given every opportunity to contribute as a rookie. If you look at the news updates since May on his RotoWorld player profile, you’ll see almost all you need to convince you that the Panthers will give Benjamin every chance to play immediately. Apparently the Panthers’ enthusiasm for Benjamin before the draft was so obvious that the Charlotte Observer, per inside sources, listed the WR as the first player they were considering with the No. 28 overall pick. At rookie minicamp, the Panthers had him run the same routes he ran in college, General Manager Dave Gettleman compared Benjamin to Plaxico Burress, and WR coach Ricky Proehl was highly impressed with his natural ability. At least one beat reporter believes that Benjamin will receive sufficient playing time to surpass eight TDs in 2014, and before training camp Benjamin is spending the rest of the summer with Cam Newton, working on their chemistry. Additionally, Benjamin’s weight is now reportedly up to 245 lbs.—which reportedly pleases the Panthers. As the June 19 update puts it, “The 6-foot-5 Benjamin is penned in as an every-down player right away.”
But these points so far have been qualitative and subjective. Let’s look at whether the numbers say Benjamin looks like these guys. Here are their final season collegiate stats, their draft positions, and some physical measurables:
The Siegele K-Benjy Comparable Cohort
|Player||Final Year||Rec/G||Yd/G||TD/G||Tot MS||Pk||Ht||Wt||Speed Score|
|R. Jay Soward||1999||4.6||59.5||0.36||26.56||29||70||177||98.87|
While the cohort captures more receptions, Benjamin handily bests the cohort in yardage and touchdowns, even with the outlier Jabar Gaffney marginally skewing the averages. The cohort TD/G in particular is way off. And note that not one of these WRs has a market share greater than Benjamin’s. Not one was drafted higher than Benjamin. Not one has anything close to Benjamin’s height and weight—and I’ll grant that the average WR doesn’t—but no one in this group comes even within 20 lbs. or two inches. And only one of these WRs, has a speed score greater than Benjamin’s—and note that in order to minimize Benjamin’s advantage I haven’t adjusted the speed score for height. In almost no way imaginable—other than draft position—is Benjamin like these players. It’s true that he’s not as good as Megatron, but that doesn’t mean he’s as bad as Buster.
Benjamin needs a comp group that actually represents who he is as a player and athlete. Creating accurate ranges for draft position and market share is easy. That’s standard RotoViz practice. Adjusting for Benjamin’s weight—that’s the problem, because so few WRs have his size and most of those who do are not highly similar to him in other ways. So what’s the solution? The comp group must include tight ends.
That might seem weird, but it’s actually intuitive if you think about it. Before the draft, Scott Smith convincingly showed that the NFL player to whom Benjamin was most similar as a prospect was TE Ladarius Green. In essence, it’s not hard to argue—unless you’re Jimmy Graham‘s agent—that Benjamin is a TE who’s been playing WR the last couple of years and will play WR as a professional. In fact, as the NFL has shifted toward a more pass-happy league WR/TE hybrids have emerged; or, rather, the boundary between the two positions has become increasingly permeable. Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston now operate as glorified TEs, and Graham, Jordan Cameron, and Julius Thomas serve as de facto slot receivers. If you just look at the top TEs drafted in the last few years, you’ll see that TEs are being valued more for what they can do as pass catchers and less for what they can do as run blockers and pass protectors. If TE Eric Ebron can be thought of as a big slot WR, I don’t see why K-Benjy can’t be thought of as a move TE who never has to line up next to a tackle.
Maybe it’s a little problematic for players who in college were covered by linebackers and safeties to be compared to a guy who will be covered (ostensibly) by cornerbacks in the NFL, but 1) the TEs who actually make it into the comp group make sense in that they are similar to Benjamin as players and athletes and 2) the theoretical advantage that a good TE might have in going up against a LB or S is diminished by the fact that TEs are generally not as involved in the passing game as WRs are. I admit that a 29.3% market share for a TE isn’t directly equivalent to a 29.3% MS for a normal WR—but Benjamin isn’t a normal WR and the TEs who make the comp group aren’t really normal TEs either. Some creative measures had to be taken somewhere, and this is where I decided to take them.
And, now, for the definitive Kelvin Benjamin comparables. To create this group, I first went to Pro Football Focus and ran a screener for all WRs drafted from 1999 to 2013 with picks 1-55. And then I did the same thing for TEs. Since Benjamin was drafted with the #28 pick, this draft range provides an even opportunity for the inclusion of receivers drafted before and after K-Benjy, and the 15-year timeframe allows for a large pool of candidates yet still enables me to find trustworthy pre-draft measurables and college production numbers for all possible players. After adding these WR and TE groups together into an excel document, I sorted by weight, eliminating all players who weighed less than 210 lbs. or more than 270 lbs. at their respective combines or pro days. Given that Benjamin weighed 240 lbs. at the combine, this weight range felt appropriate, and even though the range was wide I knew that I could tighten it later if I wanted to. At this point, using only the criteria of draft position and weight, I had a group of about 70 players who on average were selected with pick 28.1 and weighed 233.2 at their pre-draft workouts. That’s pretty freaking close.
Next, I proceeded to sort this preliminary group by market share. Since Benjamin’s final-season market share was 29.3%, I used a 5% range, eliminating any player who had less than a 24.3% or greater than a 34.4% market share in his last season of college. This eliminated almost all of the top-10 WRs (who tend to have greater than a 34.4% market share), and it also eliminated most of the TEs (who tend to have less than a 24.3% market share). And . . . that was basically it. As a matter of course, I decided to tighten the weight range by five lbs. on each side, eliminating all players who weighed less than 215 lbs. or more than 265 lbs. at their pre-draft workouts. And then I was done. Frankly, I was amazed at how precise the comp group was—but you be the judge:1
The Definitive K-Benjy WR/TE (In)Comparables Cohort
|Player||Pos||Draft Year||Pick||Ht||Wt||40 Time||Speed Score||Final Season MS||Rookie Age|
Six WRs, seven TEs: That ratio feels about right. Benjamin’s a WR, but he’s got TE size, and size is really his defining characteristic. And did you notice that in this cohort, Benjamin’s weight is perfectly between that of the WRs and the TEs, as if Benjamin is the literal locus where the positions coalesce? I mean, this cohort is a thing of absolute beauty. Collectively this group presents a composite receiver who was drafted with Benjamin’s #28 pick, has collegiate production almost identical to Benjamin’s, and is just a little bit shorter than Benjamin but has the same weight and 40 time. And notice that, although the composite receiver is younger, Josh Gordon is the only cohort receiver who in comparison to Benjamin really looks . . . immature.2 Otherwise, all members of the cohort are within a year of Benjamin. For all purposes, this composite player basically is Kelvin Benjamin.
And, to me, the cohort is a pretty impressive group of players, featuring two #1 overall fantasy WRs (Gordon and Johnson), one top-10 WR with #1 upside (Julio Jones), and one top-15 WR with top-5 upside (Michael Crabtree). Hell, even Michael Jenkins, though disappointing, managed to have one top-40 season. No comp group is spotless—Jonathan Baldwin seems to exist only to ensure that any high-round WR comp group approaching perfection never gets there—but in general this is a very intriguing WR group.
And I also like the TEs in this group. Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, and Gavin Escobar are all talented second-year players who perfectly embody the shifting expectations of the TE position. All of them are receivers first, blockers second, and all three are candidates to break out within the next couple of years. They’re all basically big WRs. And Lance Kendricks is also a talented player who was perhaps a little before his time and who could’ve been productive early in his career if he had been in the right offensive system—and it’s not impossible that Kendricks could still break out this year with the Rams. Fred Davis was a one-time top-12 TE whose career was sidetracked first by suspension and then by injury. Marcedes Lewis was a top-4 TE in 2010, dominating as a red zone weapon. And Jerramy Stevens, a strong player with off-the-field problems, still managed a top-10 season before his career went sideways. This TE group doesn’t include market share stalwarts Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, or Heath Miller, but it’s still a good and representative group.
Look, K-Benjy isn’t a prospect without his problems, and it’s totally possible that in the past, and maybe even now in discussing the wonders of this WR/TE cohort, I’ve gone too far in making a positive case for Benjamin. That’s possible. But, for me, the ultimate point is that now we can at least look at Benjamin against a backdrop of comparable players. If you don’t think that Benjamin compares to Gordon, Johnson, Jones, and Crabtree, that’s fine. If you think it’s problematic that Benjamin is closer in weight to the TEs than to the WRs, I understand. The existence of this cohort doesn’t magically mean that all K-Benjy’s negative attributes melt away. The cohort is simply here for you to dissect and analyze as much as you want. Perhaps in exploring these comparables you’ll discover the answers to all the questions Benjamin raises. And maybe you won’t.
But make no mistake: Definitively, this cohort is the cohort. #Incomparable