Despite inconsistency, Panthers need to keep feeding Kelvin Benjamin the ball

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There are times when Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin makes a catch that makes you say "wow," like the juggling 22-yarder falling backward in the end zone during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 19-17 loss to Atlanta.

At times he drops the routine catch that makes you say "wow" in not such a good way, like the one in the back of the end zone in a 13-9 loss to Seattle that went through both hands.

That kind of inconsistency is why his number of catches (52) to targets (98) isn’t spectacular.

But one thing is certain: Feeding passes to the 6-foot-5, 240-pound rookie out of Florida State will continue to be a priority when the Panthers (3-7-1) return from their bye week.

"You’ve got to get him touches, because he gets going," Carolina wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said. "Just like any great receiver, when you feed him he gets into the game."

The 19-17 loss to Atlanta before the bye week is a prime example. Quarterback Cam Newton targeted Benjamin six times in the first three quarters. Benjamin had two receptions for 26 yards.

The two connected on all seven attempts in the fourth quarter for 88 yards and a touchdown.

"You could ask any receiver that plays the game, when you get involved and get in the rhythm of the game, you get fired up," said Proehl, who played wide receiver for 17 seasons in the NFL. "That’s what we have to do, to make sure we get him involved."

A 53.06 reception-to-target percentage aside, Benjamin is having a spectacular season. He is second among rookie receivers in receptions (52) and receiving yards (768), and first in touchdown catches with eight.

He is not likely to break any rookie records, but his numbers are good enough to make him a strong candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"Haven’t looked at it," Benjamin said of the ROY race.

Benjamin is focused on turning around Carolina’s season, which includes five straight losses. He hasn’t given up on passing Atlanta (4-6) and New Orleans (4-6) in the NFC South to win the division and make the playoffs.

He even mentioned Super Bowl hopes.

But first and foremost, he wants to improve.

"I’m not pleased," Benjamin said of his performance thus far. "A lot of games I left a lot on the table. I should have done some things way better."

That goes back to his targets versus completions. To put Benjamin’s success rate in perspective, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions with 88 on 123 targets (71.5).

Steve Smith, the player Benjamin has replaced as Carolina’s No. 1 target, is at 59.03.

But everywhere else Benjamin holds an edge on Smith, Carolina’s career leading receiver who was released in March. Now with Baltimore, Smith has 49 catches for 728 yards and four touchdowns.

"The best thing about Kelvin is he understands when he makes mistakes," Proehl said. "A lot of it is focus. He’s down on himself or frustrated, and sometimes it affects his performance."

Part of the frustration stems from being used to success. Benjamin is coming off a 14-0 season and national championship at Florida State in which he caught the winning touchdown for the title.

"It’s a transition for him," Proehl said. "It’s about learning how to deal with adversity, the ups and downs. ... When you preach that and then it happens in a game, where all of a sudden it’s crappy, crappy, crappy, and then he makes a couple of big plays and we’re right back in the game ... it changes the whole outlook and makes him understand you’ve got to play for 60 minutes."

Benjamin might not be pleased with what he’s done so far, but Proehl is.

"He’s on schedule to ahead of schedule," he said. "There’s room to grow, and that’s what we saw when we looked at him. He’s a great talent, and there’s a lot of upside. He’s going to get better."