Panthers' Proehl in 'awe' of Benjamin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- All you had to do was follow the Twitter timeline of Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl if you wanted to know where the best receivers in the country were before the NFL draft.

Oregon State's Brandin Cooks on March 31.

Southern California's Marqise Lee on April 1.

Fresno State's Davante Adams on April 2.

Wyoming's Robert Herron on April 3.

Ball State's Willie Snead on April 8.

Indiana's Cody Latimer on April 9.

Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews on April 10.

LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on April 15.

Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin on April 16.

With the exception of Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans, which the Panthers had no shot at as top 10 picks, Proehl worked out most of the top prospects personally. And he documented each visit with a picture of the stadium.

The last stadium he visited was Florida State. The Panthers took the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin with the 28th pick.

"Just coincidence," Proehl said with a smile.

While the Panthers considered Beckham the most complete receiver outside of Watkins and Evans, Proehl left Tallahassee, Florida, feeling he'd witnessed something special.

"A guy his size and the way he just caught the ball ... just natural, just like a vacuum," Proehl said. "I was in awe to be honest with you."

He remained in awe as he watched Benjamin during last weekend's rookie camp. The following picture on Twitter and Proehl's comment said it all:

Benjamin's size and hands that are the equivalent of two baseball gloves are a big reason the Panthers wanted him. Proehl is a big reason coach Ron Rivera and company believe Benjamin can develop into a bona fide No. 1 receiver.

A wide receiver in the NFL for 17 years, Proehl also is why the Panthers weren't terribly nervous about losing their top four receivers -- Steve Smith was cut and the other three signed with other teams -- from last season.

His ability to teach and develop talent is almost as valuable as having extra draft picks. He helped turn Ted Ginn Jr. from a washed up wide receiver -- two catches at San Francisco in 2012 and 33 the last three years combined -- into a weapon who caught 36 passes for 556 yards and five touchdowns.

Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, credits Proehl for making him better late in his career.

"Everybody has a gift," Smith told me late last season. "Not everybody can do some of the things Ricky can do and the way he can teach."

The Panthers gave Proehl more raw talent to work with in Benjamin than he's had in his brief career as a full-time coach. You can't help but notice his excitement.

"You look at him, if he can grow and develop into the receiver I think he can be, he's going to a huge asset for Cam [Newton]," Proehl said of Carolina's fourth-year quarterback.

Benjamin's leaping catch over the middle with two defenders all over him near the end of Saturday's rookie camp left everyone in awe.

"That's what he brings," Proehl said. "He can make great catches like that because of his size. A normal person is not going to make that catch. With his reach, he's probably 11 feet, 12 feet in the air making that catch.

"Other guys may not have an opportunity to touch the ball, let alone catch it."

Don't get too carried away, though. As excited as Proehl is about Benjamin, veteran free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, and young prospects Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt and Brenton Bersin, he isn't ready to declare this group of receivers better than the group they replaced.

"I wouldn't say that," Proehl said. "It's way too early. We had a great group here. They were smart and had a concept of what we were trying to do and did it well.

"But we have a good group of pros, a good mix of veterans that will mentor these young guys. You want to have to make tough decisions at the end of training camp, and hopefully that's going to be the case."

Before the season is over, I believe this year's group will be better than last year's. I believe Benjamin will be better than Smith was going to be at 35.

If not, follow Proehl on Twitter before next year's draft as he seeks more talent.