Curtis Samuel's 'oh-my-gosh speed' gives Panthers' offense new dimension

Weight concerns don't deter Panthers on Benjamin's option (1:12)

NFL Live discusses why the Panthers waited to pick up Kelvin Benjamin's fifth-year option. (1:12)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' two-day rookie minicamp was coming to an end in 2014 when a pass sailed so high over the middle that it appeared almost uncatchable.


That’s when a 6-foot-5 receiver reached for the clouds and made a one-handed catch with two defenders draped all over him. General manager Dave Gettleman was in such awe that he bent over and grabbed his knees.

Then he stood up and grabbed his heart.

Then he smiled.

Kelvin Benjamin then and still today, despite questions about him being overweight, creates physical mismatches that are invaluable. That’s why on Tuesday, Gettleman picked up the fifth-year option on the 28th pick of the 2014 draft as he promised more than a month earlier.

If Benjamin, listed at 243 pounds, can get his weight under control as he did prior to a season-ending knee injury during the 2015 training camp he will create nightmares for smaller defensive backs.

There’s no reason to think that won’t happen.

Benjamin will become even more of a nightmare with better and faster talent around him. Gettleman made sure that happened in the first two rounds of last week’s NFL draft, selecting Stanford do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey in the first round and Ohio state do-it-all wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the second.

Much of the focus during this year’s two-day rookie minicamp that begins on Friday will be on McCaffrey after the Panthers used the eighth overall pick on a player that can play running back, slot receiver, wide receiver and return kicks.

But don’t forget Samuel.

He may not create physical mismatches like Benjamin does. He’s only 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. But he creates big mismatches with his 4.31 speed in the 40-yard dash that would have gotten more attention had Washington receiver John Ross not set an NFL combine record with a run of 4.22 seconds.

“I definitely believe I’m a matchup nightmare," Samuel said after Carolina made him the No. 40 overall pick. “When I’m out there and anyone is lined up against me, I feel like I’m better than them.

“There’s different things I can do. Line up in the backfield and motion out to the slot. Put me up against a linebacker or a safety here and there. Just create different looks for the defense to help the quarterbacks be able to read and figure out where the best place is to go with the ball."

Benjamin will benefit from Samuel greatly. He’ll draw attention from the slot, where the Panthers really didn’t have a dynamic weapon last season. That should open up the field, and defenses won’t be able to put two players on Benjamin as often and the former Florida State star will be able to use his size to his advantage.

Friday starts the evolution of Carolina’s receiving corps. Gone are Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown, speedy but not always dependable. In are Samuel and McCaffrey, two of the more dynamic all-purpose receivers in the draft. Not to mention fast.

The Panthers also have free-agent acquisitions Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard that will fit into the mix. But they’ve been in the league for several years without doing anything special.

Samuel has a chance to do that immediately.

“With Curtis we have oh-my-gosh speed," Gettleman said. “We feel we’ve really added a playmaker with him."

Newton needed more playmakers around him. So did Benjamin, who outside of Ginn was Carolina’s only big receiving threat last season.

Devin Funchess, the team’s second-round pick in 2015, has a chance to be that type of player. He just hasn’t consistently shown the ability to do it.

And in many ways, he plays a role similar to Benjamin.

Samuel is different in that he can burn defenders deep and underneath on raw speed. Throw McCaffrey and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen into the mix and this on paper is Carolina’s best group of receivers since Steve Smith was released after the 2013 season.

Maybe better.

“Just being able to stretch the defense and having a quarterback that can get you the ball deep downfield puts a lot of pressure on the defense and makes them want to back up a little bit," Samuel said. “When you have a lot of great guys on your offense, you can really do a lot of different things."

That’s why Carolina coach Ron Rivera walked into the interview room with a big smile after the first two rounds. He knows that with Samuel and McCaffrey, his quarterback will have options to get rid of the ball quicker and avoid some of the sacks and big hits that have taken their toll.

He knows Benjamin could become more valuable.

“The first two guys we drafted are explosive players," Rivera said. “These guys have the ability to take the ball and go the distance any time they have it in their hands. You get these out in space and you create mismatches."

Or in Samuel’s case, a mismatch nightmare.