The way I feel about Kelvin Benjamin is the way I feel about choosing what to do for dinner on most nights. I could do the delicious thing and go get Chipotle. I could do the lazy thing and order a pizza. Or I could stay at home and grill one of those chicken breasts that’s been sitting in my fridge all week before it goes bad. Granted, I’m not particularly excited about the chicken (and steamed brocolli) but it’s a solid option that I know is pretty good for me in the long run.
Kelvin Benjamin falls into this same not particularly excited about it, but probably a pretty good option category. He has been a contentious topic for the RotoViz crew during draft season. For starters, he accounted for only 23% of Florida State’s passing yards last year, whereas most premium prospects will easily surpass 30%. For a guy who is supposedly an elite offensive weapon, why didn’t the National Championship-winning coach or Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback insist on getting him the ball more? Puzzling. Then there’s the issue of his age, which we know is an important variable in predicting prospect success. Benjamin turned 23 shortly after the 2013 college season, which makes him older than third-year pros like Rueben Randle, Stephen Hill and Josh Gordon. Finally, there’s his physical profile and athleticism, which is supposed to be his greatest asset, but pales in comparison to a guy like Mike Evans.
Despite all of these doubts about Kelvin Benjamin, I think there are two reasons Kelvin Benjamin is a steal for fantasy football 2014.
Reason 1: First-round receivers are most likely to immediately contribute
We talk a lot about how draft position is the most significant variable in receiver projection models, but here’s a table showing all receivers from the 2006-2013 drafts that demonstrates the importance. Note that FP/G is fantasy points per game and “duds” are classified as players who scored less than 2 FP/G during their rookie season.
To recap, the higher a player is drafted the more likely they are to produce as rookies. The fact that Kelvin Benjamin was drafted in the first round is great for his short- and long-term prospects because he will get ample opportunity to contribute. Note that the three first-round duds were AJ Jenkins, Craig Davis and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who were all average size guys with blazing speed. Kelvin Benjamin is a completely different type of player than those guys, so I think there’s a low probability that he follows that same path.
Further to this idea of immediate contribution, consider the Panthers’ depth chart, which lost every single receiver that played a snap for the team in 2013.
If you’re keeping score at home, a pair of 31+ year old receivers, who have rarely ever been more than complementary options, are the only things between Benjamin and 1,000+ snaps in 2014. I know that we all joke about the Panthers receiver corps being depleted, but I had no idea it was this bad.
Reason 2: He scored more than 10 touchdowns in his final college season
If we look at every first round receiver drafted since 2006 who scored double digit touchdowns in their final college season, we get this group:
With the exception of Robert Meachem, everyone on this list surpassed 5.5 fantasy points per game in their rookie season with a cohort average of 6.5 FP/G. Using that floor of 5.5 and the high of 8.5 we can create a range of outcomes for Kelvin Benjamin in 2014, presuming that his first round pedigree and 10+ college touchdowns make him a similarly impactful prospect (same could be said for the other 2014 rookies on the table)
Low-end projection: 5.5 FP/G = WR65, compared to 2013 WR rankings
Cohort-average projection: 6.5 FP/G = WR50
High-end projection: 8.1 FP/G = WR30
If we’re trying to make a valuation on Kelvin Benjamin’s 2014 stock (or Sammy Watkins’ or Mike Evans’ or Brandin Cooks’), it seems like his floor is that of WR65 and his upside is that of WR30. Now consider that his current ADP, via FFtoolbox, is that of WR63, which indicates that none of his upside is priced into his draft position and he’s even going undrafted in some leagues. By comparison, Sammy Watkins is going at WR24, which prices in ALL of his upside to the point where there’s no profit to be made by having Watkins on your team. When it comes to Benjamin, you’re paying almost nothing for a player that might turn out to be a high-end 3rd receiver, or at least an interesting flex option. It’s like when you go to a thrift store and see a really great shirt that costs $2 and is your size; it’s like “why not try it on?” Maybe it sucks. Maybe it’s awesome. But, for $2, who really cares?
Even if I’m not his biggest fan, when I connect the dots on Benjamin’s opportunity, propensity for touchdowns and steeply discounted price, I can’t help but think that he is the kind of low-cost, high-reward player that helps win fantasy football championships.