By Cindy Davis// @XO_CindyDavis
Anyone who is a Carolina Panther’s fan has more than likely heard by now that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had some harsh criticism for quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers as a whole on Saturday.
Benjamin, who publicly spoke out for the first time since his trade, commented to The Athletic that “had he been put with an accurate quarterback, like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning” or a quarterback with “knowledge”, he would have been in a better position for success as a wide receiver. Not only were his comments seemingly out of left field for his former teammate and friend, but there are many reasons why these statements are simply not true.
Benjamin began his NFL career and was drafted by the Panthers in 2014. During his rookie season with the team, Benjamin posted a record 1,008 receiving yards with 73 receptions and 9 touchdowns. After his rookie year, it seemed as if Benjamin was a great draft pick and was on track to become a successful #1 receiver. That is until he tore his ACL in training camp before the start of the 2015 season.
Without Benjamin on the field, Newton led the Panthers to a 15-1 record, won an MVP and also made his first appearance in a Super Bowl. Newton was forced to spread the ball around to many eligible playmakers and receivers, rather than force-feeding the ball to his so-called number one.
At the start of the 2017 season, Benjamin showed up to team workouts out of shape and overweight- something that had been a recurring issue for him since his college days. Still, the Panthers supported him and encouraged him to work hard to get in shape for the season.
After watching Benjamin continue to fail to run faster and more precise routes and create separation from defenders, the Panthers ultimately decided that it was in their best interest to trade Benjamin before the NFL deadline last season. At the time of his trade, he led the team in receiving yards. Many fans and players were shocked, but the Panthers ultimately decided that WR Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin were too similar of a receiver and that there could only be one on this team.
After the trade, the Panthers went on to win 6 out of their remaining 8 games (their record was 5-3 prior to the trade), made a run for the NFC South division champion title and also advanced to the playoffs despite being in the most competitive division last season. Also following his departure, the team’s TD/ INT ratio, rush yards, and yards per play greatly improved.
The Panthers record with Kelvin Benjamin on the field was 19-22-1, and without Benjamin, their record improved to 23-3, including the playoffs. Kelvin Benjamin is certainly entitled to his own opinion, as is everyone, but the stats don’t lie.
Since the report of his comments broke, several players have come to Newton’s defense. Tight end Greg Olsen, in particular, was surprised by Benjamins’s comments and stated that “I’ve told him a lot (Newton) that he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my career. Coming here, this has been the best eight years of my career, and obviously, he’s a big part of that.” Former WR Steve Smith, who also has not always seen eye to eye with Newton on the field, said in reference to Benjamin’s comments that “to say that no issues of success or failure are your fault- that’s not how we do this here.”
Coincidentally, the Bills and the Panthers meet this Thursday, 8/9 for their first preseason game. Newton has taken the high road in this situation and is choosing to focus on himself and his success for this season rather than Benjamin’s comments. I suspect this Panther’s team will use this as fuel for their fire to establish a chip on the shoulder mentality for their first preseason game.
Cam Newton is certainly not perfect, but the record and the stats speak for themselves… with and without Benjamin.
[Editor’s Note: The Benjamin interview was originally reported as being from Bleacher Report. We have corrected this and included a link to The Athletic site. Our apologies.]
Talk Panthers with Cindy on Twitter @XO_CindyDavis