My roommate has taken up a new hobby—studying for the GMATs. I have a crippling fear of standardized tests, so this certainly wouldn’t be my idea of a good time, but to each their own. My roommate’s renewed interest in academics (obviously he’s trying to get his Master’s—nobody takes the GMATs for fun) got me thinking about the SATs and some of the tests I took in high school and college. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck on a question, your eyes wandering around the room, hoping the answer will miraculously present itself.
I’ll probably never take another standardized test but I still get stumped on a fairly regular basis. Fantasy football will do that to a person. The player I’m stuck on is Kelvin Benjamin. To draft or not to draft, that is the question. Clearly I’m not the only one perplexed by Benjamin. Earlier this month, RotoPat included him in his must-read article on dividing-line players. And if you bought our Draft Guide (available here), you’ll recall what happened when the guys met up for an early mock draft. The 12 of us avoided Benjamin like the plague until I mercifully stopped his free-fall by snagging him at 55th overall. The general public seems to be slightly more confident: Benjamin’s consensus ADP is 44th in standard leagues and 36th in PPR. That puts Benjamin on the low end of the WR2 spectrum, a territory occupied by the likes of Golden Tate, Jarvis Landry and Doug Baldwin. They all carry risk but the upside lifts most of them to fourth-round status.
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It’s easy to see why fantasy owners aren’t all in on Benjamin. They rarely are when a player is coming off a major injury and that’s certainly the case with the Panthers’ third-year wideout. Benjamin sat out all of 2015 after suffering a torn ACL in training camp, though he’s appeared in both of Carolina’s preseason games to this point. In those contests, he’s logged three catches for 34 yards including 29 on two receptions in last week’s win over Tennessee. The results for players coming off major knee surgery are all over the map. Adrian Peterson was a beast the year after his ACL injury but others like Robert Griffin III and Wes Welker weren’t as lucky.
It’s a coin flip whether Benjamin will be the same player he was before his injury but that also raises another question: who WAS Benjamin before the injury? Including the playoffs, Benjamin has played a grand total of 18 NFL games. Fantasy owners, particularly the ones who read this site, are known for glossing over mountains of stats in search of a juicy nugget that might inform their opinion. But with Benjamin, we only have 18 games to choose from. That’s not much of a sample size. Benjamin’s numbers in 2014 were good by rookie standards but he was still far from a finished product. Benjamin was drop-prone and lacked consistency but made up for these deficiencies by bullying defenders in the red zone with his hulking 6’5” figure.
Based on his usage as a rookie, it would have been fair to assume the Panthers would struggle to move the football in 2015. Instead they led the league in scoring behind an MVP effort from Cam Newton. Carolina’s offensive output was particularly surprising given that the team had no go-to receiver. Tight end Greg Olsen was the closest Carolina had with 77 catches for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile deep threat Ted Ginn caught fewer than half his targets but still produced a career-high 10 touchdowns while impressing with his immense speed.
The hope was that training camp would help alleviate some of the confusion surrounding Benjamin but that hasn’t happened. Benjamin’s fantasy stock is as murky as ever with conflicting reports coming out of Panthers camp. Coach Ron Rivera said Benjamin was in “pretty doggone good form” when camp opened but changed his tune two weeks later when he called out Benjamin for his sluggish conditioning.
Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl stoked the flames by hinting that Benjamin could be facing competition from second-year wideout Devin Funchess. Some are expecting Funchess to make a big leap this year after an underwhelming rookie season that included just 31 catches for 473 yards and five touchdowns. While Benjamin’s performance has drawn mixed reviews, Funchess has been a standout at camp, impressing with his ability to get behind the defense, particularly on deep throws. But like Benjamin, he’s still largely unproven. The 22-year-old logged fewer than four catches in all but two games last season and didn’t visit the end zone until Week 9. Funchess offers many of the same traits as Benjamin with his big frame and penchant for making noise in the red zone. It will be fascinating to see how they mesh when the games start counting next month. Until then, all fantasy owners can do is close their eyes and hope for the best.
The NFL is a demanding, results-driven league but you’d have to really screw up to get cut a year after scoring nine touchdowns in only 11 games. Mission accomplished, Karlos Williams.
The second-year running back had about as bad an offseason as you could have. Williams wasn’t even allowed to participate at minicamp in June after showing up 30 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 230. Supposedly Williams put on sympathy weight during his fiancée’s pregnancy. He also found time to fail a drug test, resulting in a four-game suspension. When Williams started to put on weight again during training camp, the Bills decided they’d seen enough. Williams was cut over the weekend and went unclaimed on waivers, making him a free agent.
The NFL is populated with some pretty large human beings and weight is always going to be an issue for certain players. Eddie Lacy struggled with it all of last season. The reason Williams is unemployed right now isn’t necessarily because he’s a lesser talent than Lacy, or even that he might be expendable in an offense that lives and dies by LeSean McCoy. It’s that Lacy cared and Williams didn’t. Lacy was embarrassed that he gained so much weight and worked his butt off this offseason to improve his physique. The fact that Williams was able to GAIN weight during camp is truly astonishing. A team easily could have scooped him up during the waiver period but instead the league seems to be sending Williams a message. The message? Get your act together. Hopefully Williams hears it loud and clear.