By Jeremy Hritz
Kelvin Benjamin was quiet through three quarters of football in Monday Night’s National Championship game. Yet when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, he pulled in what would be the most important reception of the night to score the game-winning touchdown to give Florida State the win and the National Title.
On Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated released the cover of their upcoming issue that features a leaping Benjamin, hands anticipating the ever-so critical pass from Jameis Winston, capturing an essential moment from a remarkably memorable game.
While the cover signifies national recognition for Benjamin, his performance in the final moments of the title game may signal an elevation in his draft stock.
In the tilt against Auburn, Benjamin finished the night with four catches for 54 yards and one touchdown, with a long of 24, averaging 13.5 yards per catch. And while his numbers were not as impressive as they were during the regular season, his performance in the clutch indisputably revealed another strength in his game that may have boosted his pick status should he declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. If that is the case, he may have played his way into a pick earlier than the one held by the Steelers at 15.
Currently, ESPN has Benjamin ranked 35th on their Draft Big Board, but he has not been included in Mel Kiper’s Top 25. CBS Sports has Benjamin ranked as the 34th best player available overall and the 5th best at his position, whereas Todd McShay has him ranked as the 25th best prospect in his Top 32.
The question now becomes, if Benjamin did improve his draft stock, just how far up did he move; consequently, is he now out of the Steelers range?
In early draft prognostications, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, and USC’s Marquise Lee have all been rated ahead of Benjamin, and in most predictions, all three of those receivers are projected to come off of the board before the 20th overall pick. If this forecast is true, even if Benjamin does climb, which is likely to happen, the Steelers will have a realistic opportunity at landing what could be a game changing receiver. But if the big men at the position are gone in Benjamin and Evans, would they select Watkins or Lee?
This past season, Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1011 yards and 15 touchdowns. Per catch, he averaged 18.7 yards, and he achieved his greatest production in games against Boston College and Florida, games that accounted for a combined 315 yards on 12 receptions and three touchdowns, including an average per catch of 26 yards. While he is reportedly still unpolished in his routes, he provides for an enormous target that could enhance the red zone passing game of any offense.
Can you think of a specific team that could benefit from such a player?
Benjamin more than likely has the attention of the Steelers scouts and front office, and should he enter the draft and be available when the Steelers select at pick 15, they could finally grant Ben Roethlisberger’s wish for a big wide receiver. Combine the size of a receiver like Benjamin with the burst and elusiveness of Antonio Brown, and it is easy to get excited about the potential of offense in 2014.
Follow Jeremy @Steelers_Hritz and check out his leadership, personal development, and creative writing website at www.createyourleadership.com