Florida State football kicks off on Labor Day at Pitt. Tomahawk Nation previews the season up until that date by analyzing every player and other key issues facing the 2013 Seminoles.
No. 1| Kelvin Benjamin | 6'5", 238 | Sophomore | Wide Receiver
Background via media guide:
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.
Kelvin Benjamin came to the program with as much hype as any wide receiver in recent memory. He generated buzz before his freshman season in summer workouts and garnered complements from veteran defenders. Unfortunately, players are often terrible evaluators of other players. They see physical talent and highlight plays, in padless summer passing skeleton. They don't see consistency, work habits, maturity, dedication to academics, the struggle some have in adjusting to college life, etc. But with the reports out of practice quickly lapped up by some media, and because Benjamin was so old (he turned 21 before ever playing in a college game), the expectations were a little different than the typical freshman.
Then, nothing happened. Benjamin took a redshirt in 2011. He needed it to address the issues outlined above, and to get in shape.
2012 was hitting the reset button, and for any other red-shirt freshman, it would have been seen as a success. But many FSU fans didn't reset their expectations from 2011. Rather, they pulled them back out. And against those expectations, it didn't quite measure up.
In 2012, as a RS freshman, Benjamin ranked 4th in receiving yards at 495 and second in touchdowns with four. Benjamin looked good to great at times, exploding on a national stage in the Clemson game. With two catches for 70 yards, the most exciting on a small forward shovel pass that caught the Clemson defense flat footed (old gifs below). He also drew a pass interference call using his size trying to get back to an under thrown ball.
Unfortunately, even in the Clemson game, it was clear Benjamin might have some bad habits. Chief among them is playing small. Instead of running through routes, he has a propensity to turn, backpedal and look for the ball (gif below). This is the worst way to go about using a huge size advantage. He needs to learn to carry out his route, drive off the defender, get to the right spot, then use his frame or jump to high point the ball. Speaking of jumping, back pedaling is not exactly conducive to leaping. Poor form kept Benjamin from adding an even larger advantage by jumping to high-point catches. Sometimes he would mistime his jump, and other times, he wouldn't jump at all. There were also chances to catch and run if he continued his route and caught the ball in stride. Instead, the ball would sail over him or the pass broken up. If he finishes the route correctly running underneath the throw, he should see an increase in catches and draw some more PIs.
Thanks to ACC officiating, we also know that Benjamin, justly or unjustly, might be called for offensive pass interference. A lot (he even got one in the spring game). Even if the calls were in error, he needs to be mindful of his ridiculously long reach. If he is pressed, he needs to use his hands to get space then immediately turn his attention to running and catching. If he is in a small spot, say the back of the endzone, he needs to trust his body to shield the necessary space and use his arms, hands and length to get the ball.
Benjamin also suffered from lapses in concentration and intensity at times. Sometimes he wouldn't run his routes hard. Other times, he would run the incorrect route, or not run the route to the correct depth (taking seven steps instead of ten, etc.). The extent of the lapses is perhaps overstated by some, but there's no doubt that a 6'6 player not running hard will draw the attention and ire of fans who expect so much more. The hope is that with increased maturity, Benjamin will become more consistent in doing the little things that will allow him to make the big plays.
Benjamin's value will go beyond spectacular catches. With an offense looking to break in a new QB and lean on the run game, Benjamin will need to excel in his blocking assignments. We know turning decent runs into great runs depends on down field blocking. Benjamin could be more than just an effective blocker. A 6'5" WR with his size can be downright disheartening to DBs. He needs to make sure he doesn't take reps off when he's not getting the ball. It's understandable that such a big player could struggle to block smaller, shiftier, agile defensive backs, but being in the right position can help to limit the route the defensive back takes to get around the block.
What should be expected of Benjamin this season? How much has he worked on his game? The spring game is the only evidence we have to go on. Early returns look good, even great. He looked cleaner in his routes and there was decidedly less back pedaling. He made an excellent TD catch, using his size well. He clearly has improved, but is still a work in progress.
In 2012, Benjamin was 4th on the team in catches and yards. With the loss of Greg Dent, Benjamin should be expected to be no worse than third on the team in receiver production.
But Benjamin isn't your typical RS sophomore. He turned 22 in February. If he has learned how to use his massive frame to his advantage, he could be more than just a dependable target for a green QB. He could become a player on whom defenses focus and about whom they focus their coverage. It will be up to coach Lawrence Dawsey to turn the elite tools into an elite player. We'll find out this year if the potential lives up to the hype.