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May 8, 2014

Kelvin Benjamin drafted 1st round to the Panthers

Former Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was picked 28th overall by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.

Benjamin becomes FSU's highest draft pick at wide receiver since Javon Walker went at No. 20 in 2002, and just the third former Seminole wide receiver chosen in the first round since 1985.

"I'm ready to get up to (Charlotte) and meet the fans and see the city," Benjamin said in an FSU press release. "I think for the most part it will be a (smooth transition). We ran a pro-style offense and (Carolina) runs a pro-style offense. I just have to get in there and learn and put the work in. That's what I plan on doing."

The Panthers went 12-4 last year, winning 11 of their last 12 games and 12 of their final 14 after starting 0-2. Benjamin will team up with former Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who was named to his second Pro Bowl in his three-year career last year. He threw for 3,379 yards while completing 292 of 473 passes (61.7 percent). Newton finished the year with 24 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions while also rushing for six touchdowns.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin redshirted after arriving in Tallahassee as a four-star recruit in the class of 2011. He had 30 catches for 495 yards and four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2012, then exploded on the scene in 2013.

"You can't coach 6-5, 240, 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands. You can't coach that," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in a story at Panthers.com. "This guy has unusual ball skills and what we call a very big strike zone.

"We looked at every tape of this kid, at every ball he caught, at every ball thrown to him. We felt very strongly that he was a first-round talent."

He finished his redshirt sophomore year with 54 catches for 1,011 yards. He had 15 receiving touchdowns, tied for third-most in the country. His performance late in the year was even more impressive; he had 27 catches for 512 yards and nine touchdowns in FSU's last five games.

The final catch of Benjamin's FSU career was the game-winning touchdown reception against Auburn in the BCS Title game.

"I asked him if he knew he was going to catch it. He said, 'Yes. I wasn't going to let the quarterback down. Throw it to me, and I'll catch it,' " Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, according to Panthers.com. "I love that confidence. I also loved that he had his quarterback's back."

He could have a chance to contribute immediately in Carolina. The Panthers return tight end Greg Olsen, who led the team with 73 catches for 816 yards and six touchdowns last year, but wide recevier remains a question mark. Their top four wide receivers from 2013 are no longer with the team.

The most experienced receivers on the Panthers' roster are Jerricho Cotchery, who had 602 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Steelers last year, and Jason Avant, who arrives after having 447 yards and two touchdowns in Philadelphia last season. Benjamin's size immediately sets him apart on the roster - the Panthers have no other wide receiver taller than 6-foot-3.

NFL teams considered Benjamin, one of the biggest receivers in the country, to be physically outstanding but somewhat raw. He only began playing football in his sophomore year of high school, but his 32.5-inch vertical leap and 4.6 40-yard-dash turned heads at the NFL Combine.

Benjamin was one of four underclassmen to declare for the draft from Florida State this year, forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. also left early. He's the fifth first round pick for FSU since head coach Jimbo Fisher took over before the 2010 season.

"I'm extremely proud and happy for (Benjamin)," Fisher said in the press release. "He has worked extremely hard to get to where he has gotten today. He's extremely talented, but I truly believe his best football is ahead of him. We are very fortunate to have had him at Florida State. He was a critical part of our National Championship team. He was one of the great players in Florida State history and he is going to be a great pro."



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