A Tale of Two Receivers
A few years back, when Coach Turner and I were working on the 2012 rookie rankings, there were two small receivers who really caught our eyes. They were T.Y. Hilton and Travis Benjamin. We debated at length about which one had the better future and we eventually agreed that it would come down to opportunity—that both players offered roughly the same type of potential.
As I say all the time, location is huge for football prospects. Where a rookie lands, sadly, can have as much to do with their career arc as the player himself. Just imagine if Cordarrelle Patterson was in New Orleans or Philadelphia instead of stuck with Norv Turner. The same could be said about Tavon Austin and until recently, Percy Harvin. In this year’s draft, the big losers on my board were Mike Davis and Devin Smith. Both went to teams that have stud talent ahead of them. In Smith’s case, there is no quarterback, in the present or the future. Of course, there were winners too. Breshad Perriman could not have landed in a better spot. He gets a wide-open depth chart and an established quarterback who loves the throw the deep ball. Ameer Abdullah is another one. He could have landed in a place like Kansas City or Pittsburgh. So he avoided the Jerick McKinnon scenario, which is great for him.
So luck plays a big part for these kids, especially early on in their careers. Still, in the end, talent usually wins out. The cream rises to the top. Use whatever cliche you like.
Robert Frost said two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and he took the one less traveled. Too bad receivers don’t get that option. They just walk up on stage and are given a hat, and that’s their new home. Hilton was given a Colts hat. Benjamin was given a Browns hat. The rest is history. Who would you rather be paired with, Andrew Luck or the cast of pretenders who have been throwing the ball for Cleveland? And let’s not undersell the organization itself as far as ruining careers goes.
TWO PLAYERS DIVERGE
We all know Hilton’s story at this point. In fact, Rotobahn was one of the few places who predicted it.…
“Small. That’s the only possible complaint we can come up with on TY Hilton. He is a bit small and he comes from a small school. Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way ... this kid can flat-out play. He runs like the wind and makes all the catches. He’s dynamite after the catch and has a great feel for the game. We think he shines in Indy with Luck and company. We also like his chances as far as challenging for snaps as a rookie. He needs a big camp to be a factor in typical redrafts, but we’d grab him in long term leagues and dynasty. This guy has DeSean Jackson-like potential without the hype. Yeah, I said it. He’s a serious KR threat and PR threat as well.”
Here’s what we had to say about Benjamin….
“We like Benjamin a lot. He’s undersized, but he played against good competition in college, so we’re more worried about durability than ability as far as the next level goes. This little guy can fly (4.34) and his vertical makes him play a little taller when the ball is in the air. He is a big play waiting to happen and a potentially great fit for what Cleveland is trying to do. He has a chance to be the next Santana Moss. We like him a lot in long term leagues and he may end up being a late flier in deep redrafts if he has a good camp. He’s had some issues with hands, specifically at the combine, but we think it’s overblown. His biggest challenge will be getting off the line, but he is so quick, that he should be ok.”
The takes are very similar, right?
Sadly, we all know what playing in Cleveland has been like. Further complicating matters for Travis was the ACL injury that ended his 2013 season. When he returned, the quality coaching staff led by Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner was gone. I am still not sure why. Benjamin was now in a Kyle Shanahan offense and the quarterback situation was muddled and or intoxicated. It was a bit of a lost season but if you were paying attention, you saw a player (Benjamin) who was still very talented but was not getting that much opportunity. In classic Cleveland fashion, Shanahan left … under a cryptic shroud of obfuscation. Cleveland was going to change their offensive system for the third time in three seasons.
Fast forward to 2015. Benjamin, now two years removed from the ACL injury, is looking fleet and twitchy once again. You can see the burst and speed like you could back in his days at Miami. You also have a quarterback who trusts him in Johnny Manziel … and he’s sober now, by all accounts.
So what’s the point of this screed? The point, is that this player is not a fluke. Don’t believe the folks who are discounting him. If Benjamin had been taken by the Colts, he would have been a household name long ago. But again, he didn’t have a choice like the protagonist in Frost’s poem. And, he didn't have the good fortune of a guy like Hilton. Benjamin, like Manziel, was sent to Cleveland.
Perhaps the irony, or silver lining here is that Benjamin and Johnny have found each other. Their talents are easy to see when they are on the field together, and that is the point. It’s quite possible that Benjamin has less success with Josh McCown under center. If that happens, you will see Benjamin back on the waiver wire “where he belongs.” The thing is, he doesn’t really belong there. This kid should be out there making big plays every week.
So here’s the cheese.
Keep tabs on Benjamin in both redraft and long term formats. Keep in mind that Manziel is the future and will be running the show soon enough. Be ready to get Benjamin on the cheap when he is being hailed as a one-hit-wonder in a few weeks. Maybe it doesn’t work out that way. Maybe McCown keeps finding Benjamin. It’s possible.
Just be ready in deep leagues and dynasty, because Johnny and Travis will be a productive duo as long as they are both healthy. Travis Benjamin is not a fluke. Not a flash in the pan. Not this year’s September surprise. He is a legit ‘baller and there is more to come.
Don’t blame this kid for being forced to take the road to Cleveland. Better to think of him as T.Y. Hilton without a quarterback. That way, you get ready to pounce when he finally has one. And that QB may already be on the roster.