Fantasy Football: Kelvin Benjamin looks like a reach for WR2

Photographer: Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire

Ever since Adrian Peterson returned from his ACL tear in nine months and ran for 2,000 yards the following season, there has been a new standard. Fantasy owners now expect their fallen stars, even if they have suffered the most devastating injuries, to come back at full strength or better than they were prior.

But that simply doesn’t happen all the time, and owners should keep that in mind when targeting Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in re-draft leagues this season.

Benjamin had a solid rookie season, catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014 as a part of one of the greatest wide receiver rookie classes of all-time.

However, that shouldn’t be the expectation this season after he suffered a torn ACL last August and missed all of the 2015 season. Plus, there were concerns even before the injury that Benjamin’s strong rookie stats were a bit misleading.

In 2014, Benjamin was the king of garage time. Although fantasy owners ultimately don’t care how their players score their points, it’s not sustainable week-to-week if players aren’t go-to guys when the game is on the line.

On four different occasions, Benjamin scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the Panthers were down by at least 20 points. Three of the times, Carolina was down by more than 30, and Cam Newton found Benjamin for a meaningless score.

Without those touchdowns, the 25-year-old receiver would have had five touchdowns instead of nine, or 24 fewer fantasy points. He also wouldn’t have posted his only two-touchdown game of the season. Both his scores against Philadelphia in Week 11 of 2014 came with the Panthers down at least 30 points.

Before those two scores with under 10 minutes to go in the game, Benjamin had just one catch. The garbage touchdowns allowed him to finish with 19.0 fantasy points in standard leagues.

Then take into consideration the yards he earned on those touchdowns – three of the garbage time scores were at least 20 yard gains. In total, the four passes added up to 109 yards or 10.9 fantasy points.

So take out those garbage statistics, and Benjamin is a 900 yard, five touchdown guy rather than 1,000 yards and nine scores. That’s a 35.9 point difference.

This might not be that big of a deal if Carolina still played from behind a lot like the team did during the 2014 season, but as most will remember, the Panthers rarely trailed during last year. Not only did they win a lot, they also blew teams away on several occasions. Carolina beat its opponent by at least 17 five times and held a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in 12 different games.

With such huge leads, the Panthers had no need to throw the ball late in games. As a result, Newton averaged one fewer attempt per game, and Carolina didn’t have a single receiver catch 50 passes or reach 800 yards.

Granted, there are more touchdowns to go around because Newton had 35 passing scores last season, but it’s still tough to assume Benjamin will reach nine on just the basis that he’s the No. 1 receiver on a team that could have 30 passing touchdowns. Ted Ginn led the team with 10 touchdowns, so if Newton can repeat his career-year from 2015, the most Benjamin owners can probably hope for is about 10 scores.

And to expect that or a 1,000-yard season from a receiver returning from an ACL tear in unfair. Those expectations are far too lofty for anyone not named Peterson.

Fantasy Pros ranks Benjamin as the 23rd-best wideout and 49th overall, but his ADP is 35.0. That means he’s going a whole round and a half ahead of where he should go.

Target Benjamin as a WR3 in 10-team leagues, not WR2.

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