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Friday, May 9, 2014
Newton gets his wish with Benjamin at 28

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton said he wanted the Carolina Panthers to take a wide receiver with the 28th pick of the NFL draft, and Dave Gettleman obliged.

It was the least the general manager could do for his quarterback after cutting Newton's top target the past three years in Steve Smith and letting the team's next three wide receivers go to other teams in free agency.

Newton, who began his journey into tweeting for the first time moments before Thursday's draft began, seemed pleased. He began his Friday morning with this message:

 

For the record, that was Newton's fourth-ever tweet.

Ironically, by picking Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin the Panthers got the player who caught the game-winning touchdown in the national championship against Newton's beloved Auburn Tigers.

Fortunately for Newton, who led Auburn to the national title in the 2010 season, Benjamin is a humble guy who probably won't give his new quarterback a hard time about that.

Benjamin also is a huge Newton fan. That's the quarterback he picks when playing "Madden NFL."

"He loves to win,'' Benjamin said. "And competing, you can tell he competes. That’s all you can ask from a football player, to compete at the highest level, and I think Cam does that and I’ll love to play with him.''

Benjamin (6-foot-5, 240) gives Newton a big target for some of those high throws he tends to make. He also gives Newton a clutch player, as he probably didn't want to see in the national championship game.

As Gettleman said, you can't coach 6-5, 240.

You also can't coach speed, and Benjamin is lacking a bit in that department. But otherwise, he fits all the requirements of a No. 1 receiver that the Panthers haven't had since Smith approached his mid-30s.

Outside of Clemson's Sammy Watkins (No. 4, Buffalo), Texas A&M's Mike Evans (No. 7, Tampa Bay), LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 12, New York Giants) and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (No. 20, New Orleans), the Panthers didn't have another receiver rated ahead of Benjamin.

If they had, they could have taken him. Southern California's Marqise Lee was available -- and still is -- as was Indiana's Cody Latimer.

According to Gettleman, NFC South rival New Orleans got the only receiver that could run every pattern on the route trees that NFL scouts use when evaluating receivers.

How did Benjamin fare in that department?

"More than most,'' Gettleman said. "More than most.''

Benjamin also has more size than most wide receivers, which should strike fear in NFL cornerbacks that for the most part will be four to six inches shorter. He's a few pounds from being able to play tight end.

"This guy has unusual ball skills,'' Gettleman said. "He has what we call a very big strike zone.  One of the things that I have done with the scouts is, ‘Does he make catches when he is pressured?’

"You are going to be pressured in this league, I don’t care who you are. That was a big point of emphasis as we worked our way down through the list. Kelvin consistently made catches when he was pressured.''

Newton probably didn't like the 2-yard touchdown pass Benjamin made to beat Auburn in the closing seconds and land himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but he has to like having a new weapon.

Now the Panthers need to find Newton help on the offensive line so he has time to find Benjamin. There are plenty of good options remaining at left tackle, another primary need, in the second round with Nevada's Joel Bitonio and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio available.

Or who knows, Gettleman might give Newton another receiver to play with. Lee, Latimer, LSU's Jarvis Landry, South Carolina's Bruce Ellington and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews all are available.

And we all know drafting the same position in consecutive rounds won't stop Gettleman. He did that last year when he took defensive tackles with his first two picks.

"We’re going to see how it falls,'' Gettleman said. "We don’t draft for need, we draft for value. If you draft for need you are going to get burned.''

In this case, the Panthers got need and value.

And made their quarterback happy.