Panthers receiver mystery- Is Kelvin still number one?

Is Kelvin Benjamin still the Carolina Panthers number one wide receiver? That may seem like a strange question, but I am starting to wonder if we are not starting to see a shift in focus from the Panthers offense. Of course, in terms of overall receiver, Greg Olsen will remain the true “go to” target. But from there Kelvin Benjamin’s firm grasp as a focus of the Panthers offense may be loosening.

Over the past few seasons I have gotten accustomed to seeing Benjamin dominate in Carolina Panthers training camp. For instance, in 2015 he made such a strong impression early that many media onlookers were convinced he would have a pro bowl season. Benjamin caught everything that came near him, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. Not even Josh Norman, who spent most of the 2015 camp covering Benjamin.

Fast forward to 2017 and Kelvin Benjamin is having a much quieter camp. Recently he was on the wrong end of a “Play of the Day“, being out hustled by Daryl Worley for the football. This is something that just was not seen in 2015 or even 2016. But in 2017, it seems as if the Carolina Panthers corners are getting the best of Benjamin regularly.

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Could this be a case of the now sophomore cornerbacks coming into their own? Yes, I have to think that has played a part. But as mentioned above, Kelvin dominated Josh Norman not long ago. The development of Bradberry and Worley may not be the single answer. What seems more likely is a combination of things that may lessen the importance of Kelvin Benjamin in the Carolina Panthers offense.

Benjamin could be making fewer plays because the focus of the offense is shifting elsewhere. Ever since Benjamin was drafted, he and Cam Newton would work with Mike Shula separately from the team for a portion of practice. That annual training camp tradition has all but vanished. Instead, all receivers are now involved with all drills involving the quarterback. Less focus on Benjamin, more focus on the receivers as a whole.

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James Bradberry deflects the ball

As the focus on Benjamin decreases, who gets more looks?

With so many exciting story lines in the media, this improved play of Devin Funchess has mostly gone unnoticed. Given the fact that Funchess can play every receiver position on the field, he may be a better fit for the new evolved offense of the Carolina Panthers. This season an added emphasis is being placed on players that can play multiple positions. That could put Funchess ahead of Benjamin in the grand offensive scheme of things. We know that Ron Rivera has publicly stated that the Carolina Panthers could have used Funchess more effectively last season. Perhaps Rivera was telling us early on about an increased role in the offense for Devin.

A good question to ask yourself at this point is “Do the Carolina Panthers need Kelvin Benjamin to be the star receiver?” You only need to look back to 2015 to realize that is certainly not the case. In a season that saw Benjamin sidelined with injury, Cam Newton threw his way to a MVP title and a Superbowl appearance. He did this with a much less talented supporting cast than he has today. ¬†When Tedd Ginn is your leading wide receiver, you are making some serious lemonade.

Am I saying Benjamin will no longer be a part of the 2017 Carolina Panthers offense? Certainly not. But what I am saying is that he may play a smaller role this season, and that may not be such a bad thing.