There was a number of question marks at wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers at this time last year. The team were entering 2014 without their top three wide receivers, including their number one Steve Smith. The pressure was on first round pick Kelvin Benjamin to step in and make up for the loss in production.
Well he certainly did with 1,008 receiving yards, 73 receptions, 146 targets and nine touchdowns. He finished first or second on the team in these categories and was one of the top rookie wide receivers in a historic rookie class.
One of the concerns, especially with wide receivers, is whether or not they can continue that production in Year Two. This has become known as the sophomore slump and Kelvin Benjamin looks to be heading for that.
Last year, Benjamin was heavily targeted receiving over 25% of the team’s total targets (142 targets out of 545). Out of the 142 targets he received last year, he only caught 73 of them or 51.4% of his targets.
According to Pro Football Focus, Benjamin was one of 23 wide receivers to receive 120 or more targets last year. In this group, Benjamin’s 51.4% of targets caught would have ranked 22nd and only .7 percentage points ahead of last place.
The Panthers’ front office has been very aggressive this offseason addressing the wide receiver position and signed free agents Ted Ginn Jr. and Jarrett Boykin as well as drafted Devin Funchess in the second round. The depth at wide receiver is going to be a nice boost for this offense, but could hurt Benjamin’s stat line.
The added weapons should help take some of the pressure off Benjamin and potentially create more favorable matchups for Benjamin. For that to happen though, this means that Benjamin’s looks are going to have to see a significant drop. Cam Newton will need to spread the ball around more for defenses to consider these other targets as legitimate threats.
Now this low catch percentage is not all Benjamin’s fault as it is well documented Newton’s struggle to throw accurate passes and generally he will throw passes high. This certainly doesn’t help a wide receiver to make catches but Benjamin also didn’t do himself any favors. Last year he had 10 drops, according to Sporting Charts, and was tied for the NFL lead in this category. If Benjamin had caught those 10 drops, his catch percentage would have jumped to 58.4%.
The one thing that will help Benjamin in 2015 to avoid that sophomore slump is to capitalize on the targets he does get. If Benjamin stays around the 50 percent conversion percentage from last year, his numbers are sure to go down. However, if he is able to be closer to 60 percent, or even higher, then he may not see his stats diminish all that much and be a much more effective wide receiver.
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.