The Kansas City Chiefs have a bunch of weapons at receiver; a ton of speed with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins (when healthy), size with Demetrius Harris and Travis Kelce, and role playing receivers in Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson (who has speed too). With all of this talent, you figure they have it all, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
Kelce and Harris can line up anywhere on the field and get up for it, but they have had some issues with drops, Kelce a little more this year in that area. Hill isn’t tall so he isn’t a first thought when down in the red zone, and the other guys need a little separation in order to get a catch.
Thursday the Chiefs brought in Kelvin Benjamin for a workout after he went unclaimed on waivers. Before he was signed later that evening, I was not very fond of the idea of bringing him in. But with Watkins’ foot injury becoming a concern, and the news that he re-injured it in practice on Thursday, the Chiefs could use all of the talent at WR they can take.
When I started looking at Benjamin’s starts this season, I was unimpressed. He showed lack of effort in the run game and extreme inconsistency getting open or getting free of man coverage. But I started to think back to his rookie season in Carolina and so I went to watch it and Benjamin has been the same kind of receiver for most of his NFL career.
Benjamin is one on one with Mike Jenkins for Tampa Bay; being a rookie, the Bucs don’t give Jenkins any help over top. They figure he can take the rookie, they also aren’t worried about Benjamin running by Jenkins. On the snap Benjamin only looks to get to the outside. Jenkins wants to use the sideline as his friend so he’s okay with that; Jenkins runs with Benjamin to the end zone and somehow, Benjamin comes down with the ball for the touchdown.
It wasn’t anything fancy or breathtaking, but Benjamin found a way to make the touchdown catch. That’s what I took away from this review. He doesn’t need speed, or separation, or even running great routes. He just has an instinct for catching the ball while covered and that is something the Chiefs need. A lot of the throws Mahomes makes, receivers are creating separation and making it easy for Mahomes. We know he can throw into tight windows as well, and this signing is going to give him an opportunity to showcase that.
Benjamin doesn’t lead the NFL in anything impressive, but I noticed that he was targeted a bunch on deep throws, which didn’t make any sense to me. Benjamin is seventh in the NFL in average targeted air yards according to Next Gen Stats, which is a fancy way of saying that he gets targeted a lot downfield. Being the best receiver on the Bills for the last year, he saw a bit more double coverage than the rest of the Bills receivers. Without elite speed or route running why was he getting double coverage?
On this play he is bracketed underneath by a safety and overtop by a corner. But the safety underestimates the speed from Benjamin, that’s all that space that Benjamin needs to make a catch. One of the more accurate throws from Josh Allen, and Benjamin makes the catch for a 35 yard gain.
Benjamin is still a deep threat in the NFL. Not because he can run by people, even though he does on the play above, but because he allows for QBs to throw him open. Separation is great, but being able to make tight window catches can make a difference in a football game.
There is one elite trait that Benjamin possesses. That is high pointing a football. He can go up and make a play on the ball at its highest point (coming down) and bring it in over defenders that are in his way, and here’s the proof.
There are three defenders around Benjamin when he gets to the end zone; two of those defenders have their eyes on Benjamin. Benjamin is taller than each member of the secondary around him, and when the ball is coming down, he times his jump perfectly. He catches the ball at his highest point. He times his jump with the trajectory of the ball as it is coming down in the end zone and he catches it over three defenders. If the ball doesn’t hit a defenders helmet coming down in the end zone, he completes the catch for a touchdown.
Yeah, I am hyping up Benjamin a lot, but look where he is coming. He’s coming into KC, where the attention is going to be on Hill and Kelce. Hell, defenses might even put more emphasis on covering Conley or Robinson when they are on the field at the same time. For the first time in Benjamins’ entire career, he will not be the focal point of a passing offense, not that he’s ever been a part of a great pass offense.
According to Pro-Football Reference, Benjamins’ rookie season was the best pass offense the Panthers had while he was a part of that team, 19th in attempts and 19th in yards. Every season after that they were 20th or worse in both categories. Then being a part of a Bills team that threw out five different QBs while Benjamin was there, it’s no shock he never got in a rhythm in Buffalo.
There’s another thing that Benjamin is able to do better than any of the receivers on the Chiefs roster, he gets around to the ball on a back shoulder throw. His eyes are always looking for the ball, and on back shoulder throws he will make the catch.
The looks of this game is clearly a running game, it’s snowy and cold and it’s hard to catch the ball in this kind of weather. Having to run slower than he normally would, Benjamin runs downfield, covered in step with Kenny Moore of the Colts. Moore keeps his eyes fixed on Benjamin and not the ball, throwing this ball to the back shoulder is throwing Benjamin open. Anywhere else it’s an incompletion; Benjamin does a great job waiting until the last second to get his shoulders around to make the catch. He gets his feet inbounds, in the snow, and it’s a first down.
I saw Benjamin catch a number of these throws while watching tape, and that kind of talent cannot go unnoticed. He has a knack for finding the ball while being covered, and he’s had a lot of practice with that since he isn’t great at creating separation. He doesn’t get a lot of yards after the catch either, but he’s not easy to bring down when he has space in front of him.
I have seen a lot of posts about issues with Benjamin’s weight; he’s listed at 245, which is five pounds heavier than he was when he joined the league in 2014. That is not the issue, clearly. The problem I saw on tape was effort in the run game.
The Bills are running a counter run to the A-gap on the left side (left to right on the video), Benjamin is not to the play side and gets to his assignment and stand there. No effort to move the defender, he stands on the inside and lets the defender go where he wants to, standing straight up and not trying.
Being a part of a Bills team that has been terrible in recent years can wear on any player, it’s no excuse to not play with effort all the time, but I believe that will not happen in Kansas City. Andy Reid and co are some of the best at getting the most out of players they bring in, especially on offense. Seeing as how Benjamin will be a free agent at the end of the season, this is acting as a prolonged potential tryout for the Chiefs. They could be looking to see if Benjamin wants to play here for the future, which would make an already potent offense even better, assuming he comes in and plays well.
Benjamin is not coming in to be a WR/TE hybrid, like some people have speculated. He came to Kansas City for the best opportunity of his career. He is going to be a third or fourth option on this team. With the way Reid scheme’s players open, it’s very possible that Benjamin could see some of the most production he’s had in a while. He’s going to get looks in the end zone for sure, strong hands and the ability to go up and get it are invaluable in that area of the field. Adding more receivers could also be a way to open up the run game for the Chiefs.
I know I have raised expectations of the signing of Benjamin, but I will say I am cautiously optimistic about the addition of Benjamin. He is a former first round WR, and deserves to prove that he can still play with the talent that got him drafted. With Reid looking to get him involved, I think he adds a dimension the Chiefs have been missing on offense. Benjamin will probably be inactive this week against the Ravens, but will be on the field a lot against the Chargers a week from now. I’m looking forward to see what he can do with an All-Pro caliber QB throwing him the ball.