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Giants 2021 roster profile: TE Kelvin Benjamin

Former wide receiver trying to re-start career as a tight end

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Buffalo Bills
Kelvin Benjamin with the Buffalo Bills in 2018.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

When I started writing these 90-man roster profiles about a week ago, doing one on Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t on the radar screen. As New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman says, though, roster-building is really a year-round process.

The signing of Benjamin after a rookie mini-camp tryout is certainly interesting. He has not played in the NFL since 2018 and will be coming to training camp as a tight end after spending five seasons playing wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills.

Let’s take a closer look as we continue profiling the 90 players the Giants will bring to training camp.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 245
Age: 30
Position: TE
Experience: 5
Contract: Unknown

Career to date

Benjamin has certainly had an interesting NFL journey. He had 73 receptions, 1,008 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns as a rookie after Dave Gettleman selected him in the first round (28th overall) in 2014.

Benjamin, though, missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL. His career was never the same.

He had a decent 2016 season with 63 catches, 941 yards and 7 touchdowns, but that was the beginning of a steady decline that saw him bounce around and fairly quickly end up out of the league.

Benjamin got traded from Carolina to Buffalo in the middle of the 2017 season, and his total production again regressed. He ended up with 48 catches for 692 yards and 3 touchdowns between Carolina and Buffalo.

In 2018, more regression. He caught 23 passes in 12 games for Buffalo, got released, then caught 2 passes in three games with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since that time Benjamin has been out of the league.

Benjamin was no fan of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, as he told The Athletic in 2018:

I mean, I felt like I would’ve been even more successful if … I don’t know, man … If I would’ve … Looking back on it, I should’ve just been drafted by somebody else. I should’ve never went to Carolina. Truly, I just think Carolina was bad for me. It was a bad fit from the get-go. If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback like Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.

Remember when this happened while Benjamin was with the Bills?

After leaving the Panthers, Benjamin also expressed unhappiness with the way the organization treated him when his mom died prior to the beginning of the 2017 season.

That tweet remains pinned to the top of Benjamin’s page.

Prior to the 2018 season, SB Nation’s James Dator took a look at Benjamin’s falling out in Carolina:

A lot of accusations have been flying from both sides about whether Benjamin was correct in his assessment or not. Let’s break down what really happened, stats-wise.

Since much of the impasse revolves around the 2017 season here’s what we know:

Benjamin was targeted 51 times in eight games by Cam Newton. That put him on pace for 102, which would have been a career low for him with the Panthers.

His yards-per-reception were 14.8, on pace with his 2016 totals and exceeding his 2014 rookie year.

With Buffalo he was only targeted 27 times in six games, which would have been only 72 on a full season. He also had less yards-per-reception.

Benjamin’s drop-rate between 2016 and 2017 almost doubled, from 3.08 percent to 5.88 percent.

That jump in drop-rate is important. The Panthers ran a feast-or-famine passing offense that set up deep, impactful passes on third down by leaning on the running game. While 5.88 percent dropped might not seem like much on the surface, it naturally led to Benjamin’s targets mattering more. In short: A drop in the situations where Benjamin was asked to catch the ball was more damaging than if he was in a quick pass dink-and-dunk offense.

Couple this with Benjamin showing up to training camp looking out of shape in 2017, and rumored to have weighed in at an astonishing 280 pounds. Suddenly a more complete picture of the issue takes shape, and it’s bigger than Newton.

Is anyone to blame?

Not really. Benjamin said himself the Panthers were the wrong fit for him, and that is clearly true. At one point in time he was the future of the team’s offense, but then Carolina passed him by during injury and didn’t handle the death of his mother in a way Benjamin appreciated.

2021 outlook

Benjamin is trying to revive his career as a tight end. ESPN’s Booger McFarland apparently knew this day would come:

Can Benjamin, 30 and two seasons removed from playing in the NFL, make the switch from outside to inside? Can he play at times with his hand in the dirt, and handle the blocking responsibilities that inevitably come with the tight end position?

Quite honestly, nobody knows. No one has seen him do it.

It is a switch that has not been done often by a player who entered the league as a wide receiver. Darren Waller did it, but he is younger and a better overall athlete.

This is a no harm, no foul gamble by the Giants. They already have Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo at tight end. It’s not like production from Benjamin is something they are counting on.

There is a curiosity factor to take a look at a once-productive player. The Giants cut tight end Nate Wieting to make room for Benjamin on the 90-man roster. Wieting likely wasn’t making the team, anyway.

Benjamin has much to prove before he earns a roster spot, and he might not that that regardless unless there are injuries to Engram, Rudolph Smith or Toilolo. Still, he’s got more of an NFL track record than the other tight ends on the 90-man roster — Nikia Griffin-Stewart, Cole Hikutini and Rysen John.

This is little more than a flier by the Giants that will add some intrigue to training camp. Will they get anything from Benjamin this season? No way to know. Still, it’s a chance worth taking.