General Manager Dave Gettleman Opening Statement
Dave Gettleman: How are we doing this evening? We are doing well. You can't coach 6'5, 240 lbs. He has a lot of upside and we really vetted Kelvin (Benjamin) out. (Panthers wide receivers coach) Ricky (Proehl) went down and worked him out, we had Kelvin here and he spent a full day with us. We had him on the board, took him to lunch and took him to dinner. Don Gregory (Panthers Director of College Scouting) and I spent an hour with him, and we feel really good about this draft pick, really good. He has a lot of upside and he gives us a legitimate chance to have a number one (receiver). One of the things he'll definitely do for us is he is a red zone threat right now and other teams will not be able to have eight guys in the box. We want to run the ball and that's an important part of who we are. As we like to say, 15 out of 16 games last year we ran for 100 yards. He will allow us to continue to do this. He is a terrific kid, he has come a long way and we are real excited to have him. We really are.
RE: On when Benjamin can become a number one receiver
DG: We had Kelvin in here, had him on the board and he showed really good football instincts. The process is, he'll get on the board with Ricky, go to lunch, come back and then we'll ask 'ok, what can you tell me that we did two hours ago?' He really did a good job. Ricky and (Panthers Offensive Coordinator) Mike (Shula) are very pleased with the football instinct that he has. Every rookie goes through a learning process. Star (Lotulelei) did last year and KK (Kawann Short) did last year. The interesting thing about Kelvin is that this was his first year as a big time player. What gets you excited is during his last four games, he caught 21 passes for a 21-yard average and the winning touchdown against Auburn. The biggest thing when you draft a kid in the first round, once you've decided and assessed that he has the PQ's, the physical qualities to play, the next thing you have to assess is 'is it going to be too big for him and how quickly is he going to acclimate?' We don't feel it's going to be too big for him and like any other rookie it's going to be a process. We feel good about it.
RE: On if the first round went how he hoped it would
DG: It did. Don Gregory said he'd be there. We had another guy that we thought might be there who was gone. Don felt he'd be there and he was the highest rated guy on our board. Again, I think like last year, value matched need and we got fortunate again. I think he is going to come right in; we have a great receivers room. Jerricho (Cotchery) and Jason (Avant) are going to take him under their wing and help guide him along. I'm sure that Cam's (Newton) not mad at me now (jokingly). Obviously, there are a lot of reasons that everyone in the room is going to want him to succeed.
RE: On what set Benjamin a part from the other wide receivers who were still available
DG: You can't coach 6'5, 240 lbs., with a 34-inch arm length and 10-inch hands. You can't coach that. This guy has unusual ball skills. He has what we call a very big strike zone. One of the things that I have done with the scouts is 'does he make catches when he is pressured?' You are going to be pressured in this league, I don't care who you are. That was a big point of emphasis as we worked our way down through the list. Kelvin consistently made catches when he was pressured.
RE: On if Benjamin's route running is a concern
DG: The only receiver in this draft whose route running you can't question is Odell Beckham, Jr. We all have to learn. Like I said to a reporter last year who was banging on one of our young players about how he hadn't come along as quickly as he felt he should. I asked him to 'pull out his first two years of articles that he wrote and tell me how many of them were Pulitzer Prize articles.' Like anything else, he is going to have to learn. Through our vetting process, we have no doubt that he is capable.
RE: On how nice it is to draft a player who can eventually become a number one receiver
Ron Rivera: I think it's very nice. Again, it goes back to the philosophy we talked about, protecting the quarterback and then putting playmakers around him as well. Here's another young man who is going to add to that group. I'm very pleased with what has been going on in that room. As Dave talked about Jason and Jerricho, our two veteran guys that are going to be able to show this young man the ropes. We're excited about him. He adds a little something that's different from the other guys we have in that room. His size and his catch radius are phenomenal and we are excited about that. We think he has the opportunity to ascend. He has a high ceiling, so we'll see how he fits in and how things continue to grow as far as our offense is concerned.
RE: On if drafting a wide receiver in the first round was the plan all along
DG: We knew it was a wide receiver heavy draft, we knew that. In January - February, you know it's a wide receiver heavy draft. You don't really know how many of them are going to be number ones. You don't know how many of them are going to be legitimate first rounders. What happens is, you get into the film and you have your meetings. We had a meeting in February and there was a good indicator that there were going to be five or six legitimate first round wide receivers. My responsibility is to look at everything long term with a big lens. I can't have tunnel vision and we can't deal with check boxes. There is more that goes into it. Like I said, we felt that it was going to be wide receiver heavy and we'd get a good young rookie receiver at some point in time.
RE: On if Cam Newton has ever expressed concern about the wide receiver position
DG: Not to me.
RE: On if he plans to draft any additional wide receivers
DG: We're going to see how it falls. We don't draft for need, we draft for value. If you draft for need you are going to get burned.
RE: On vetting Benjamin and making sure his football acumen was where you wanted it to be
DG: We do that with a lot of kids. We'll do it here, we'll do it when the scouts go visit. You are only allowed 30 visits; you know that, so you bring in those guys. If you have more than the 30, which you always do, when the coaches go work them out they are doing the same thing. They are going to put them on the board; they are going to go through that. They are going to go to lunch and then come back. The college game by and large is really kind of a different game. You watch these receivers catch 120 balls and they have 60 smoke screens, and they run three routes. That's why I made that comment. (Odell) Beckham is the only legitimate, run the entire route receiver in the draft. He's it.
RE: On if there was a specific game that jumped out to him about Benjamin
DG: In the Florida game he was spectacular. I watch things chronologically, from the beginning of the season until the end, for a couple reasons. Number one, you want to see if the kid is improving. It doesn't make a difference the position you want to see what kind of improvement there is and that's a big part of it. That is a big part of it. KK (Short) last year, started off a little slow and he kept coming and coming and coming. That's what Kelvin Benjamin did this year. He was extremely special over those last four games.
RE: On what Benjamin improved on throughout last season
DG: Everything. His entire game, physical and mental.
RR: You could say that about a lot of the players on that board. There are a lot of names people don't know and then all of a sudden at the end of it people are talking. It's about their production.
RE: On if his academics were of any concern
DG: No, not at all.
RE: On what he saw in terms of Benjamin's blocking
RR: The thing you really like about him, especially with what they do, is he has the ability to not just get in a guy's way, but to move a guy. Part of helping a running back or a quarterback in terms of their running ability is to help create a space for him. He has that kind of leverage and strength. A thing that we really liked too was that he is not afraid to use them. A lot of guys come in and they are not want-to-guys, they are willing guys. They are willing to do it. You want a guy who wants to do it and that's him. He wanted to go and block and do those types of things. There were a lot of good things in terms of not just his blocking and wanting to block, but the other awareness things that he did downfield. Understanding that if a quarterback is in trouble, how to find a crease and sit down and present that target when the quarterback when he is scrambling. That will be important, especially with Cam's ability to stay mobile.
RE: On if there were any potential trades before placing the pick
DG: No calls.
RE: If Gettleman was surprised the Panthers didn't receive any calls about trading for the team's pick
DG: Do I seem surprised? Maybe they knew I'd get it in too quick.
RE: If Gettleman ever considered moving up in the Draft
DG: No. We have seven draft picks, I want to keep those seven draft picks.
RE: If Gettleman contemplated trading down
DG: It depended on the way the board fell and the board fell and we didn't have to.
RE: Why Gettleman felt Benjamin would be available at No. 28
DG: You can get 10 evaluators in a room and you'll get 10 people seeing 10 different things. I felt in my "kishkes" that he'd be there. You know what "kishkes" are? That's Yiddish for your guts. I felt he'd be there. We looked at every tape on this kid. We looked at every ball he caught, every ball thrown to him, and we felt very strongly that he was a first-round talent.
RE: If Benjamin has run the whole route tree in college
DG: More than most. More than most.
RE: Why the team chose Benjamin instead of Marqise Lee
DG: Size. You can't coach 6-5, 240, 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands. You can't coach it, I've tried. It doesn't work.
RE: Rivera's feelings on the pick
RR: I'm very pleased. I'm thrilled about it. I really am. Again, when you get a talent, a young man with that type of ability, all you're going to do is create situations and opportunities for other people as well. When we brought him in and we had an opportunity to sit down and visit I was really taken by who he is in terms of a young man. He was very direct, very forward, talked about what he wanted to accomplish, and it really wasn't about him, it was about us. That was what really impressed me was he talked about his teammates, the things his teammates did for him and how they helped him and his coaches. He gave a lot of praise to a lot of people. He talked about all the different things that went on, but one of the things I thought was really telling was I asked him about the catch in the Championship game and I said "Did you know you were going to catch it?" He said "I knew I was going to catch it." I said "You knew and everybody else in that stadium knew the ball was going to you that you were going to catch it?" He said "I wasn't going to let the quarterback down. I told him, 'throw it to me and I'll catch it.'" I love that confidence, but I also love the fact that he had his quarterback's back if he threw the ball to him.
RE: If Rivera was surprised Benjamin chose not to attend the Draft
RR: Not surprised one bit. That's not who he is. He's a different young man. He's been very humble with us through this process. All the coaches have said that. I know Dave (Gettleman) and Don (Gregory) when they sat down and spent an hour with him they reiterated to me the things they felt about him were true and that's what you're looking for. You're looking for guys that are really more about "us" than "me" and that's what I'm really impressed by who he is.