Kelvin Benjamin on IR, Out for 2015 Season

Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the 2015 campaign in Friday night preseason action against the Buffalo Bills. Benjamin, who show star talent as a rookie wide receiver in 2014, tore his ACL and is expected to go on the Injured Reserve list this week.

When that happens, the young receiver will be lost for the entire 2015 season. A 9-month rehab process is what awaits him.

The hard reality of the National Football League is that most teams lose a key player to the IR at some point each year. When stars get injured, teams can’t sit around worrying about their predicament.

Someone has to step up, so the question in the case of the Carolina Panthers is who?

Replacements for Kelvin Benjamin

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The problem is, no wide receiver on the roster appears capable of filling the void. Kelvin Benjamin records 73 receptions, 1,008 yards, and 9 touchdowns in his rookie year in Charlotte.

Going back into the Steve Smith era (Smith plays for the Baltimore Ravens now), the Panthers have had trouble finding a solid #2 receiver. Now, they aren’t even sure if the have a number one option. It’s a predicament for a team trying to surround their young star quarterback with talent. Now, it all seems to fall on Cam Newton.

Enter: Devin Funchness

Yes, the best option to replace the injured star receiver is named “Devin Funchness”. I love that name. Fantasy football owners are going to love throwing that name out during their local league FF drafts, which take place this weekend or next. If you drafted early, they laughed when you drafted Funchness in the 18th round. Now, he’s a #1 receiver on an NFL playoff team.

Those who watch NCAA football are aware that Devin Funchness was a receiver with the Michigan Wolverines last year. You also might remember he only had 4 touchdowns. In the NFL, the people you expect to make an instant leap to stardom tend to have massive production in their final year of college ball.

Readers wondering why the Panthers’ writers are putting so much stock in the rookie should understand it’s the physical comparison they’re making. Kelvin Benjamin was 6’5″ and 240 pounds. Devin Funchness is 6’5″ and 230 pounds. The problem is, a player with 4 touchdowns his senior season is a project, not the key cog in the passing game.

Other issues exist.

The main issue is foot speed. Funchness ran a 4.7 time in the 40-sprint at the NFL Combine. That is bad for an NFL wide receiver. In fact, early rumors had the Panthers moving the young receiver to the tight end position.

A 4.7 40-time is fast for an NFL tight end. Several tweeners have been able to make the transition to tight end when they were quite fast enough to play outside. Look at Shannon Sharpe’s career; he began as a hybrid wide receiver/tight end. If that was the thought process, Carolina’s front office was probably taking a flier on someone with upside.

Kelvin Benjamin Injured - Panthers Scramble

No Obvious Replacement for Benjamin Is on the Panthers’ Roster, But Several Pass Catching Options Are Available

Panthers Tight End Depth Chart

Unfortunately, that plan has gone out the window, if it ever was a plan to begin with. The Panthers have Greg Olsen at tight end, and he’s been a nice safety valve for Cam Newton. In fact, Olsen has been a weapon at times for the Panthers.

Greg Olsen is now backed up by Ed Dickson, who filled in at times these past couple of seasons behind the oft-injured Dennis Pitta with the Baltimore Ravens. Early reports have Ed Dickson taking snaps with the 1st team offense, so one plan the Panthers might be considering is simply going with a 2-tight end offense more often. Given the personnel, that might be a good idea.

Jerricho Cotchery – Last Year’s Surprise

Jerricho Cotchery was the second-best receiver on the roster in 2014. He started 13 games, had 48 receptions, and 580 yards on the season. At the same time, Cotchery only scored 1 touchdown and had a lackluster 12 yards per catch.

At 33 years old, Jerricho Cotchery is purely a possession receiver. He might have a slight uptick to his receptions total this year, which might make Cotchery a low round pickup in deep leagues. As a weekly starter or a daily fantasy football player, I would not rely on him.

Corey Brown – New #1 Receiver

Corey “Philly” Brown is listed by the Panthers as the other receiving position in the Panthers offense right now. He was going to be the #2 receiver, but it’s my guess that Philly Brown could be Cam Newton’s favorite target in 2015.  Brown is fast; he runs amazingly sharp routes; and he has a year of experience.

The 5’11”, 185-pound wideout is built to be more of a second receiver. While several pass catchers under 6 feet tall have been the team’s go-to guy in the past 10 years or so (Steve Smith, Santana Moss), the league has really begun to focus on the big targets.

One thing in Corey Brown’s favor is recent history. It wasn’t that long ago–this coaching staff, in fact–which built Carolina’s offense around Steve Smith. Perhaps the coaches go back to the drawing board and give Corey Brown a shot. I’m not seeing it, though. Brown had 296 yards and 2 touchdowns in his 21 receptions in 2014. His yards-per-catch was an impressive 22, but it’s a big leap to assume he becomes Cam Newton’s main target.

After seeing the 53-man cuts and the fact that Ted Ginn and Philly Brown are the starting receivers going into Week 1, it looks to me like Corey Brown is the receiver to draft way, way late in fantasy football.

One huge drawback is the fact Corey Brown has trouble catching the ball. Of the 14 passes thrown his way in preseason, he’s dropped 6 and failed to haul in 12. That is awful, but the Panthers like this kid. They say you can teach a player to catch, but you can’t teach speed. Take Philly Brown as a late-round flier. He’s got the best chance to help out your team’s playoff push.

And if you need a Panthers’ WR in Week 1, take a shot on Philly Brown.

Ted Ginn Jr. – #3 Receiver

Ted Ginn Jr. was the team’s third receiver in 2014. Ginn actually had a couple of solid fantasy scores in 2014, thanks to his kick returns. He’s 30 now and never was a consistent receiver. If he is a serviceable third receiver in 2015, Ginn is doing good.

He goes into Week 1 as one of the team’s starters. I have a hard time imaging he’ll be Cam Newton’s go-to-guy, but weirder things have happened in the National Football League.

Brentin Bersin and Jarrett Boykin

Damiere Byrd is also on the roster, but the two players who intrigue me the most are Brentin Bersin and Jarrett Boykin. Brentin Bersin is a second year, 6’3″, 210 pound wideout from Wofford College. He started one game and had only 13 receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown, but he had his moments late in the season.

Jarrett Boykin (waived) is even more interesting to me. Though he is listed way down the depth chart at the moment, Jarrett Boykin has been effective in the NFL at times. In 2013, the 6’2″, 215 pound receiver from Virginia Tech made a nice contribution as the Packers third receiver (and sometime fill-in for an injured Randall Cobb). Even with Aaron Rodgers hurt, Boykin posted 49 receptions with 681 yards and 3 touchdowns with the Pack that year.

Last year, Jarrett Boykin lost playing time to high round pick, Davante Adams. That should not be held against him. The Green Bay Packers have a deep receiving corps and always seem to have new talents in the pipeline.

The same cannot be said about the Carolina Panthers. If you want a deep, deep, deep sleeper, then make Jarrett Boykin a flier in the last round of your fantasy draft.  Note: Don’t. Boykin was waived by the Panthers and is a free agent at present.

If you have a good feeling about Corey Brown, then take a shot at him. His high YPC total makes him a potential sleeper candidate, too.

In fantasy football, a few teams every year have no playable receivers. The Carolina Panthers might be one of those teams. But the Panthers were a playoff team a year ago and they have a quarterback coming into his prime years. Also, they’ve had one solid option while Cam Newton has been in Charlotte. They should be able to find a player who meshes with the young star quarterback and becomes a viable fantasy starter.

Among those players, take fliers on Devin Funchess, Brentin Bersin, and Jarrett Boykin and Philly Brown (Corey Brown). If you play in a deep-deep league, take a flier on Kevin Norwood, a second-year player traded to the Panthers from the Seahawks in the past few days.

Funchess is being drafted in the middle rounds of most redraft leagues. Bersin and Boykin are likely to be waiver wire fodder in most leagues. Keep a close eye on each name, don’t overspend on a player who is a sleeper or even deep sleeper, but pounce on one if it becomes evident they are the #1 option.

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