The Carolina Panthers’ worst fears have been realized. After going down with a non-contact knee injury at Wednesday morning’s practice, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been diagnosed with a torn ACL, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Benjamin confirmed that he would miss the season via a Facebook post late Wednesday afternoon.
Not only does the diagnosis deal a major blow to Carolina’s depth on the outside, but it undeniably hurts quarterback Cam Newton’s fantasy stock.
For a team that was already thin at receiver, the Panthers are now left without a big, physical weapon on the outside who could torment defenses, as NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling observed:
Sans Benjamin, Newton will have few viable downfield threats to work with.
Last season, the former Florida State stud accounted for eight of the team’s 14 receptions of at least 20 yards downfield, per ESPN Stats & Info. Benjamin was also Newton’s go-to threat in the red zone, where he could be relied on to outjump opposing corners and haul in back-shoulder throws and post-up fades.
Now Newton will have rookie receiver Devin Funchess, tight end Greg Olsen and the platoon of Jerricho Cotchery, Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. to work with in a wideout rotation.
And as RotoExperts’ Jennifer Millman pointed out, Funchess is the guy primed for a stock surge with Benjamin sidelined:
The 2015 first-round pick certainly looks the part of a primary weapon at 6’5″ and 230 pounds, but he’ll need to display steady hands and a consistent ability to separate from coverage downfield.
Since Funchess is by far the most physically imposing wideout the Panthers have left, he should shoot up draft boards before the regular season gets underway. At present, he’s being drafted as the 68th receiver off the board, per FantasyPros.com.
That number should at the very least shoot into the mid-to-high 30s, where players such as Torrey Smith, Brandon LaFell and Larry Fitzgerald are being selected.
As for Newton, he’s currently being drafted ninth overall among quarterbacks, per FantasyPros. Without Benjamin, that’s a bit rich.
Although rushing numbers will provide solace for owners who draft Newton, his passing numbers could be pretty volatile on a week-to-week basis. With quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers, who have more polished receiving corps, being drafted behind Newton, his stock should tumble in the coming weeks as owners look to dodge uncertainty under center.
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