CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Thirty-five wide receivers had a faster 40-yard dash time than Kelvin Benjamin 4.61 seconds at this year’s NFL combine, but the former Florida State wide standout wasn’t surprised.
He purposely ran slowly.
“Because I wanted to play for the Carolina Panthers,’’ said Benjamin, noting he has been clocked at 4.41 seconds, which would have been fifth fastest at the combine.
He got his wish. The Panthers selected the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin with the 28th pick.
The fastest receiver at the combine was Brandin Cooks at 4.33 seconds. Benjamin says he and New Orleans’ first-round draft pick are two totally different receivers because of their size -- Cooks is 5-10, 185 -- and you really can’t compare the two.
But there will be comparisons with both on the field in Thursday night’s game between Carolina (3-4-1) and New Orleans (3-4) with first place in the NFC South on the line.
Cooks leads this year’s star-studded wide receiver class with 40 catches. Benjamin leads in receiving touchdowns (5), is second in receiving yards (573) and third in receptions (38).
“He’s fast, man,’’ Benjamin said of Cooks. “He beats you over the top. That’s what he does.’’
New Orleans traded the No. 27 pick and a third-round pick to Arizona to move up seven spots to get Cooks, a player the Panthers also coveted, with the 20th pick.
That pretty much solidified that Benjamin would be selected by Carolina unless another team took him in between.
“We liked both of them,’’ Carolina coach Ron Rivera said without revealing which player he liked best.
So far, both teams have been happy with what they’ve gotten. Benjamin was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September after catching 21 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
Cooks had a breakout game on Sunday night against Green Bay, catching six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
But Benjamin is right. They’re two different players. Cooks is used to stretch the field. He has two catches of 32–plus yards. He’ll sometime run reverses. He has six carries for 68 yards.
Benjamin is more of a possession receiver, but deceptively fast. He caught a 51-yarder in Sunday’s 13-9 loss to Seattle in which he made an acrobatic catch with Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas all over him.
Because of his size, he’s a threat on the alley-oop pass in the end one.
“His role on this team has far surpassed any type of rookie’s expectation,’’ Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said.
Newton hasn’t studied Cooks, so he can’t say which he would have preferred.
Again, Benjamin reminded they are different receivers with one thing in common.
“The object is to catch the ball,’’ he said. “If you can do that, you’re a wide receiver.’’
Halfway through the season, Benjamin and Cooks are bucking the trend that rookie wide receivers struggle. One of them, along with Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, will be a strong candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Watkins has 38 catches for 590 yards.
Benjamin isn’t interested in awards. He’s interested in turning around a team that has gone 1-4-1 over the last six games.
“We’re still losing, so we’ve got to get better,’’ he said. “We’ve got to win. That’s the ultimate goal. I don’t really care for the numbers. ‘’
Helping the Panthers get better was why Benjamin wanted to be here in the first place. If a slow 40 at the combine helped that process, Newton said it’s a “blessing in disguise.’’
“I’m happy that we have Benji on our team,’’ Newton added. “As long as he keeps his attitude up that he wants to be the best in this game, it will be great for us.’’