Forget the unreasonable hype. Can Kelvin Benjamin be a valuable contributor to Florida State's offense in 2012?
Kelvin Benjamin is the 53rd player profiled in this series looking at the players likely to impact Florida State's season. There are 8 days until FSU football. The list is not in any specific order.
Played only three years of football at perennial power Glades Central, a perennial power...four-star recruit who was rated the No. 8 wide receiver and the No. 60 overall player nationally by Rivals.com and the No. 12 receiver by Scout.com...rated the No. 23 wide receiver nationally by ESPN...ranked as the No. 13 wide receiver and the No. 89 player nationally according to 247Sports...hauled in 30 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns in just eight games as a senior...No. 2 on the Sun Sentinel's Top 32 Broward County Seniors...named First Team All-Palm Beach County by Sun Sentinel...No. 25 on Bill Buchalter's Florida Top 100 for the Orlando Sentinel...No. 36 on Mobile Press-Register Super Southeast 120...member of the Times-Union's Florida Super 75 where he was rated as the No. 1 wide receiver...Palm Beach Post All-Area First Team...No. 72 on Tom Lemming's MaxPreps.com Top 100...No. 42 on the SuperPrep Florida 110...born Feb. 5, 1991.
Part of the reason I elected not to debut this list in any specific order is to allow myself a chance to save players about whom I had questions for last. Kelvin Benjamin is one of those players.
Benjamin came into the 2011 year with a ton of hype. Not from us, mind you, but from the players, Jimbo Fisher and a few media outlets. That hype didn't see the whole picture. And those in a position to know, especially Fisher, didn't do him any favors with the premature praise.
Not only did Benjamin not make an impact in 2011, he didn't even play. He redshirted to work on adjusting to college life, academics, get in shape, and learn how to play receiver.
Our sources said that Benjamin had an incredible amount of work to do before he could even sniff playing time, and that if he didn't make those improvements, he might not be around for the long haul. So that's what we wrote. (Side note: this was twisted by others into rumors about him transferring and a variety of other nonsense that we just flat out did not write.)
After the year, the hype again picked up for Benjamin as he impressed during some off-season workouts, 7-on-7 work, etc. Entering spring, his hype again skyrocketed as ESPN writer Mark Schlabach heaped ridiculous unreasonable praise upon him after watching him for a practice. Again, we advised to hold the phone, because we knew that he still had a ton of work to do.
Then, when we didn't think the hype could get any greater, he was the No. 1 pick in the player draft for the spring game, which people used as confirmation that the hype was legitimate and that Tomahawk Nation was just "hating" on him. We weren't, and never had any reason to. We were just trusting the sources who were dead on about his freshman year.
Then came the actual spring game, and Benjamin was very pedestrian. And the hype train slowed down quite a bit.
Benjamin did, however, look a lot better than in year one. He appeared to be in much better shape, and some of his routes were improved. The effort appeared to be there. While many fans saw it as a disappointing performance, a lot of our staff found it encouraging, because he was showing improvement.
Players are often terrible evaluators of talent. They see all of the highlight plays a player makes, and ignore the mistakes made by him. They don't see that a guy's route running is terrible as long as he can jump high and is really big. That's why it's best to use the draft conducted by the players for the spring game as a measure of who has made a lot of plays and not who has played well. They are not one in the same.
We previously wrote that the hype for Benjamin was a full year ahead of where it needed to be.
It might be time to revise that.
The reason? Benjamin's work over summer. He was dedicated to getting in shape and becoming a better player. I'm not saying he was the hardest worker on the team or anything, but he certainly was way ahead of where he was in 2011.
And the praise from coach Fisher and some of the players is now more in line with what our sources have been telling us. The same guys who told us the 2011 hype was "nonsense" and the 2012 spring hype was "premature" now say he has a solid chance to earn playing time.
And with that, we changed our expectations.
Instead of saying "the hype is a full year ahead of him," let's say say "the hype is a semester ahead of him," if that makes sense.
Benjamin now appears ready to have a good freshman year. And since "good" is subjective, we'll probably need to define the term.
Still A Reserve
He's still slated to be a reserve, with Rodney Smith and Rashad Greene clearly ahead of him at X or Z. And he's not going to play the slot (Y) at his size. That puts him in the group with Christian Geen, Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw, and perhaps Willie Haulstead, though Fisher recently confirmed our suspicions that Haulstead is not close to earning significant PT until he gets in better shape and is not the same player he was two years ago.
Benjamin clearly has the ability to go up and get the football. And he has excellent size. But like so many young big men in basketball, Benjamin does not yet fully grasp how to maximize the advantage of his size. That will come. Though not young (Benjamin is the only red-shirt freshman in recent memory to turn 21 the February before football season), he is inexperienced and raw.
People talk about using special packages for Benjamin and that FSU should just "throw it up," because even if the defense knows it's coming, they're powerless to stop it. Of course, if you know football, you know that is wrong.
I'm not saying special packages are not in the cards for Benjamin. I think the team will feature him in select situations.
But a player cannot be so specialized that the defense knows he can only do one thing. There is a requisite level at which other things must be performed to keep the defense any bit honest.
For Benjamin, that means being able to run routes other than a jump ball. Any defense worth its salt won't just give him the jump ball. He has to show the ability to run some other routes to make the defense play him with even the slightest bit of honesty.
And route running can be very hard for someone of Benjamin's height, size and inexperience. It's one of the major things that will have to be worked on with great effort throughout his career at Florida State. Great size is a blessing and a curse, as it often takes players of Benjamin's build a while to harness the full extent of their physical tools.
If Benjamin continues to improve during the season, he could see a lot more PT, even in situations that don't involve jump balls.
I'm not going to project numbers for Benjamin in 2012 because I think it is largely dependent on how often Florida State is in situations that call for Benjamin, the amount of garbage time, etc. I do think he'll be in the rotation of that second group, however.
Benjamin is on the right track.
If he keeps improving at the same rate he did since the end of the 2011 season, he'll be a superstar before he leaves Tallahassee.
I fully expect to write a glowing preview of him a year from now discussing how he'll more than make up for the loss of Rodney Smith to the NFL.