CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers selected wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State with the 28th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night, giving them a potential long-term replacement for Steve Smith.
The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Benjamin had 54 receptions for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a redshirt sophomore for the national champion Seminoles.
“I’m young and I have a lot of proving to do,” Benjamin said.
He fills a major need for Carolina.
Carolina’s top four wide receivers from last year’s NFC South championship team are gone including Smith, their all-time leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns.
The Panthers released Smith, and Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon left via free agency. They restocked the shelves by adding free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant.
The Panthers haven’t had much luck drafting wide receivers high in the draft.
Benjamin is the first receiver taken in the first round by Carolina since Rae Carruth in 1997. Carruth went down in NFL history for all of the wrong reasons. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, and using an instrument to destroy an unborn child and is serving 18 to 24 years in prison.
Carolina used second round picks on Southern California wide receivers Keary Colbert in 2004 and Dwayne Jarrett in 2007, but both failed to develop and quickly played themselves out of the league.
The Panthers also need a left tackle after Jordan Gross retired following 11 seasons with the Panthers. But five offensive tackles were selected before Carolina’s selection and plenty of options at wide receiver were left on the board, including Southern Cal wide receiver Marqise Lee.
Benjamin was the fifth wide receiver selected in the NFL Draft behind Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Brandin Cooks.
Benjamin spent two years at Florida State before turning professional. As a freshman he played in 14 games but only caught 30 passes for 495 yards and four TDs. But he burst on the scene last season, dominating competition with his size and leaping ability.
“I’m a big physical receiver who can go up and get the ball at its highest point,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said he’s never met quarterback Cam Newton, but said he’s been a Carolina fan ever since Newton joined the Panthers in 2011.