While Shula says it's a major loss, he points out the Panthers still have plenty of offensive talent even with Benjamin sidelined with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Shula said the Panthers will likely replace Benjamin's production at wide receiver "by committee," but is quick to add "eventually there might be a guy that emerges" into that No. 1 role.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin set Carolina rookie franchise records last season with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, so he will be missed.
Shula pointed to Corey Brown, rookie Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. as guys who are capable of filling that void at wide receiver — although the starting lineup hasn't been settled, the story said. Brown and Ginn are considered speed guys with big play ability, while Funchess is more of a possession receiver. Brown was an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State who emerged late in the season before suffering an injury. Ginn had one of his most productive seasons two years ago for the Panthers before signing with Arizona last season and then returning to Carolina this year. Funchess is our highest rated Carolina WR coming in at 39th on our list. We have Brown next at 67th.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 1:37pm
Wide receiver Devin Funchess (hamstring) was on the field for a handful of plays during team drills. This was the first time for Funchess in a week. He seemed to move well, but coach Ron Rivera wouldn’t commit to his status for Friday night’s preseason game against New England until he sees how he responds on Thursday.
Rivera wants Funchess on the field because he’s the best candidate to replace Kelvin Benjamin.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 1:33pm
A position beset by injuries this preseason got a dose of good news Wednesday with the return of tight end Brandon Williams.
Williams, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list before training camp, returned to the practice field after recovering from surgery on his groin.
"I felt a little rusty, but it feels so good to be back," Williams said. "I felt bad not being able to help my teammates out – they've been getting a lot of extra reps – so it feels good to be back contributing and taking some of the load off them."
The Panthers are still without Richie Brockel, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, and lost Jamie Childers for the season to an arm injury suffered in the preseason opener. Carolina signed free agent tight end Dallas Walker on Tuesday.
A bigger loss would be TE Greg Olsen.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, receivers and tight ends made up 87 percent of Carolina’s total targets last season. That was the third-highest rate in the NFL even though the Panthers had only six games where individual receivers and tight ends were targeted 10 times in a game in 2014.
But if you take the tight ends out of the equation, specifically Olsen, the ranking falls to 17th.
In other words, Olsen is the most valuable piece of the Carolina passing game.
Olsen has been lining up all over the field for the Panthers in camp the story said. Since 2011, when Newton was the top pick of the draft, Olsen has been targeted 415 times. That’s the third-most of any tight end behind Jimmy Graham (548) and Jason Witten (457). Olsen has led Carolina in receptions the past two seasons, including a career-high 84 catches for 1,008 yards last season, the story added. We rank Olsen third among our TEs so we certainly see his value. And it could go up with the loss of Benjamin.
Monday, August 24, 2015, 2:49pm
They were like brothers almost immediately, whether they were combining for big plays on the field or delivering Christmas presents to students of local schools off the field.
Newton didn’t return to practice on Wednesday when Benjamin suffered a season-ending ACL injury until he helped the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver onto the cart. He predicts there will be “hell to pay" when Benjamin returns in 2016.
Meanwhile, look for Newton to build a similar relationship with 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess.
“He has to learn at an accelerated rate, but I’m taking him up under my wing," Newton said after Friday’s preseason victory over Miami. “I have full confidence in Devin that he gets it, sooner rather than later."
Funchess sat out of the 31-30 victory against the Dolphins with a tight hamstring, but he is expected to be ready for Friday night’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The plan was to have him on the field for Monday's practice as the Panthers begin the Charlotte practice phase of their preseason. Funchess could very well turn out to the be the team's WR1 this year, much like Benjamin ended up last year. He's bumped up our rankings to 45th.
After having to earn a roster spot as a rookie free agent last summer, the main target this time for Damien Williams was solidifying his spot as the primary backup to starting running back Lamar Miller.
His two-touchdown performance against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte likely was a big step in that direction.
In the bigger picture, though, Williams is more concerned about continuing to improve as a running back and having that one year of experience has made a clear difference for him.
“Last year I was rookie,” Williams said. “It is kind of hard trying to catch up to game speed with guys who have been in the league five-plus years. This is going into my second year. I just have to get experience.”
Williams ended last season splitting time as the primary backup to Miller with Daniel Thomas, who wasn’t re-signed as a free agent. That left Williams to battle LaMichael James, Mike Gillislee and rookie fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi this summer for the No. 2 job.
Williams was listed as the second-team back when the first depth chart of the season was released, and he got the first carries after Miller in each of the first two preseason games, the story says. He looks to have the edge. James got some positive press a few weeks but Williams seems to be the favorite to get the RB2 job as it stands now. He could have deeper-league fantasy in the Dolphins offense under Bill Lazor, who worked in Philly for Chip Kelly.
Saturday, August 22, 2015, 8:33pm
But what they saw out of Sam Bradford in his first game back from his twin torn ACLs still had them holding their breath.
Bradford took several hard shots from the Ravens on his opening drive, with linebacker Terrell Suggs drawing a penalty after diving at his legs, and then defensive lineman Brandon Williams pounding him into the ground.
But Bradford led a crisp touchdown drive also, an 11-play, 84-yard march capped by a Ryan Mathews touchdown run. He completed 3-of-5 passes, but taking so many shots so early in his comeback will create a worry. That’s probably why Mark Sanchez took the field for the second possession, making it a short night for Bradford, the story said.
“Absolutely, that should help a lot. He is really a solid young man,” Rivera said. “He knows two positions, and obviously he’ll concentrate on Kelvin’s and work to handle that spot for us.”
“We drafted Devin Funchess for a reason and this is one of them,” Rivera said. “You want to have a big, quality receiver, and Devin gives us that still.”
With Kelvin Benjamin out for the year, Funchess likely becomes the de facto WR1 for the Panthers. Provided he has a good camp, we would expect his ADP to climb into the 8th-10th range after Benjamin went in the 7th/8th as a rookie. It's unlikely that Funchess has the same type of year, but he and TE Greg Olsen will likely lead the team in targets.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters earlier in the day Benjamin had a sprained knee and remained hopeful everything would be fine. However, Benjamin was taken back to Charlotte, North Carolina where an MRI revealed the tear.
Rookie Devin Funchess has had a good offseason and seems like the likeliest candidate to replace (some) of Benjamin's production. He tweaked his hamstring today, so hopefully he's not out too long. Second year speedster Philly Brown flashed last season and could be headed for a starter's role, though Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery, Brenton Bersin and Jarrett Boykin are in the mix as well. Funchess' ADP is probably headed for the 8th/9th round; Benjamin went in the 7th/8th last year, but had an outstanding camp. Consider Brown a late-round flier. This is obviously bad news for Cam Newton, who loses his best weapon in the passing game. Greg Olsen looks like an even better value as a mid-round tight end.
Kelvin Benjamin suffered what appeared to be a left knee injury during Wednesday's joint practice with the Miami Dolphins. The Panthers receiver went down when he tried to make a cut against Miami defensive back Don Jones on a play in which there was no contact. He stayed on the ground for several minutes before being carted off. Following practice, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Benjamin suffered a sprained knee and will undergo an MRI.
An ACL injury is possible here, but the on-the-field test often indicates a tear, so there is hope that this is just a typical sprain. Technically, a torn ACL is considered a "knee sprain," though the recovery time is obviously far longer than the run of the mill knee sprain. When our injury expert Russell Manalastas saw the footage, he said, "Oh man, that doesn't look good at all. Has the makings of an ACL (tear) for sure with his body going one way and his leg going the other when trying to plant. Most guys don't just collapse and grab their knee if they tweak something, not encouraging."
All we can do is wait for the results of the MRI. For now, there's enough concern here that we would avoid Benjamin in fantasy drafts until the point in the draft when we're willing to burn the pick if things go the wrong way. This depends on the particular owner, but typically a player of Benjamin's upside is worth the risk in the 10th-12th rounds. If Benjamin misses extended time, Devin Funchess would get a major bump, but he tweaked his hamstring late in practice. If it is an ACL tear for Benjamin, look for Funchess's ADP to head towards the 8th/9th round. Benjamin went in the 7th/8th round last season. The diminutive speedster Philly Brown is also a name to remember in the final rounds. He posted seven catches for 66 yards on nine targets against the Steelers in Week 3, while playing 83 percent of the snaps. He also caught touchdown passes in back-to-back games later in the year.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 8:52pm
This year, he's taking the same approach – even though in reality he's fighting for a starting spot.
"That's how I always feel. You can never be complacent," Brown said. "Any given day, all of this can be taken away from you, so I come out every day with a mindset that I have to be better than I was the previous day."
Brown clearly is better, evidenced by the fact that most of his reps at training camp this summer have been taken with the first team.
"Running with the ones right now, I'm happy," Brown said. "Now I'm going to keep working and keep trying to get better so I can stay there.
"That's a goal for everybody. That room right now is real competitive from top to bottom. There are five or six receivers who can do that job."
This time last year, Brown was battling to prove he deserved a job – any job – on the 53-man roster. Despite leading or tying for the lead in receptions at Ohio State for three consecutive seasons and proving to be a dangerous punt returner, Brown went undrafted in 2014. He didn't go unnoticed, however, having had plenty of contact with Carolina before the draft. The Panthers, looking to rebuild the wide receiver position, made an impression on Brown, who signed hours after the draft. Brown could earn WR3 duties this year with the Panthers behind Kelvin Benjamin and rookie Devin Funchess.
The rookie tailback "was in a lot of pain" when he woke up Monday, Ryan said.
The extent of the injury is currently unknown.
Williams has impressed the coaching staff during training camp enough to leap Bryce Brown on the depth chart. Williams is a tough, aggressive, physical runner and possesses good hands in the passing game. With Fred Jackson injured at times last year, the Bills RB3 job could end up having a fantasy impact at some point this season, so it's something to watch.
Monday, August 17, 2015, 9:01am
Stills had been out with a calf injury. It’s an ideal time for him to return with the Dolphins practicing against the Panthers in Spartanburg later this week and then playing their second preseason game Saturday night game in Carolina.
That leaves just rookie DeVante Parker as the only receiver out of the lineup for Miami. Parker is recovering from offseason foot surgery.
Sunday, August 16, 2015, 4:00pm
After the Bills finished their preseason opener on Friday night, coach Rex Ryan’s comments made it sound like the team was moving toward turning their three-way quarterback derby into a two-man race.
Sunday’s practice didn’t do anything to send a different message. Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor split reps with the first team while EJ Manuel worked exclusively with the third team, just as he did against the Panthers. After practice Ryan explained why things broke down that way.
“He’s going to get the majority of the game running with that group this second preseason game, so that’s the reasoning behind it,” Ryan said, via the Buffalo News. “Does that mean he won’t get the two reps? No. It doesn’t mean that at all, but is want we wanted to do. We’re going to put Tyrod in and mix in Matt. As the week goes on, don’t be surprised if he does get some two’s. I know you guys want to look into anything, but I don’t think you need to. We’ve been working this thing for how long now? It’s been the same type of rotation for probably three weeks.”
The story summed it up pretty well: Taylor will start the game against the Browns and as much as Ryan would seem to prefer no one reads anything into his decisions, they become telling at a certain point. Manuel may benefit from the increased reps he’ll get with the third team, but it certainly seems that a team seriously considering him as a starter would also want to see him with the player he’d be sharing the team with in that role.
Sunday, August 16, 2015, 2:00pm
He was a big-time player at Iowa before off-the-field problems sidetracked his road to the NFL.
Here's the problem: The Panthers probably won't keep more than four running backs. Jonathan Stewart is a given, as is fifth-round draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne. Jordan Todman likely will make the roster as the kickoff returner unless somebody at another position proves to be better. Fozzy Whittaker currently is listed as the second-team back, though he did little against the Bills.
So it could be a numbers game. The story added the Panthers probably can't hide Wegher on the practice squad. He's likely to be picked up by a team looking to add depth. This one will be interesting to watch moving forward.
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