The Carolina Panthers got their wide receiver of the future.
The Panthers wrapped up an eventful offseason for their receiving corps Thursday when they chose former Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft.
Despite picking late in the first round of a receiver-rich draft, the Panthers had a choice between Benjamin and Southern California wideout Marqise Lee.
General manager Dave Gettleman wasted no time, quickly calling in the choice of Benjamin to the Panthers’ representatives in New York.
Benjamin celebrated with his family and friends in Florida.
Benjamin, 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, caught 54 passes last season for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, pulling down the game-winning score against Auburn in the BCS title game.
He isn’t a blazer (he ran the 40 in 4.61 seconds at the combine), but he has an 83-inch wingspan and immediately gives quarterback Cam Newton a big red-zone target.
Since the week in March when the Panthers lost their top four receivers from last season – cutting franchise receiving leader Steve Smith and seeing three other wideouts leave in free agency – signs seemed to point to Carolina taking a receiver in the first round.
Gettleman knew this draft was deep at receiver, and part of the reason Smith was released was management’s belief he would not be a good mentor to a young wideout.
Gettleman recently talked about the 2009 draft, when six receivers were taken in the first round. At the time, he was the pro personnel director for the New York Giants, who took former North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks 29th overall.
Three wideouts were taken in the first 12 picks Thursday – Clemson's Sammy Watkins (No. 4 to Buffalo), Texas A&M's Mike Evans (No. 7 to Tampa Bay) and Louisiana State’s Odell Beckham (No. 12 to Giants).
The Saints traded up from No. 27 to 20 to take Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks, who has been compared to Smith because of his quickness and short stature.
NFL Network analyst and former Dallas Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin called Benjamin “one of the biggest steals in the draft.” He compared Benjamin to Brandon Marshall, the Chicago Bears’ 6-4, 230-pound wideout.
The Panthers have drafted a wide receiver in the first round only once before, taking Rae Carruth with the 27th pick in 1997.
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