If you can’t teach speed then Travis Benjamin has earned his honorary master’s degree.
That was his time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine last February. Benjamin’s time tied Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and Stanford’s Chris Owusu for the fastest among receivers. The trio finished tops among all offensive players.
Benjamin can flat fly. Well, I’ll let new Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden describe Benjamin in his own words.
“Yeah, he can fly,” Weeden said on June 5. “We were joking about that, the wind coming this way so when we’re going toward the facility you have to let it go a few steps early because he can go. Downwind it’s not so bad, but if you’re trying to throw into any kind of breeze, you have to let it go and keep it pretty tight.”
At a rookie minicamp practice last May, Shurmur asked Weeden to “let one rip on a vertical and see if (Benjamin) can go get it.” Weeden oblighed. Although the pass fell incomplete, a good first impression was made.
“That guy has another gear,” Weeden said.
“Knowing my speed, I know I could mostly run past anybody so I just work on the little things like coming in and out of my breaks and focusing more on the ball,” Benjamin said on June 12.
After his senior season at Miami, Benjamin finished as one of only six Hurricanes players with more than 2,000 receiving yards and his 3,874 all-purpose yards was good for third-best in program history.
The Cleveland Browns selected Travis Benjamin with the fifth pick of the fourth round. Much has been made about the team’s lack of talent at the wide receiver position. Yet if Benjamin is that fast and that talented, why was he selected in the fourth round?
Benjamin comes in a 5-feet, 10-inches and 172 pounds. According to his prospect profile on NFL.com, “His game is based entirely on speed and quickness. He has a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage if not given a free release, lacking the strength to recover if jammed by a more physical defender.”
Still, Benjamin has that speed and explosiveness this Browns team — especially the offense — so desperately lacks. In the weeks leading into the 2012 season, eyes will be on Benjamin to see if he can contribute right away. The Browns think he could. Not only will he see a lot of reps at training camp, but based on his size, quickness and the man who drafted him, he will also see plenty of DeSean Jackson comparisons.
Browns general manager Tom Heckert was with the Philadelphia Eagles when the team selected Jackson in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Jackson’s pre-draft measurables were eerily similar to Benjamin’s: 5-9, 169 pounds and a 4.35 40-yard dash.
Let the comparisons begin.
Jackson has flourished in the NFL. In four seasons, Jackson caught 229 balls for 4,085 yards with 21 touchdowns in a West Coast Offense. He is also dynamic in the return game. He’s fast and proves a difficult matchup for defensive backs, wherever the Eagles line him up.
The Browns need that kind of production from a wide receiver — any wide receiver, at this point — as well as a return man. Last season, Josh Cribbs did not put up the type of return game numbers everyone has come to expect. At wide out and in the return game, Benjamin adds another (very fast) option.
“I think we’ve seen where he can catch the ball in the deep part of the field,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on June 12. “It’s nice to be able to run fast but as you’re far away from the quarterback, being able to track the ball is something that you need to be able to do, and I think he can do that. He is a good route runner.”
So far, in essentially helmets and shorts, Benjamin looks good. Is he the Browns’ version of DeSean Jackson. The stars are lining up to answer, yes, he can, but there is still a long way to go before Sept. 9.
“We can’t bump and run in these camps,” Shurmur said. “So I can’t see him against press coverage, but from what I can tell he has the quickness to separate. We’ll know more about all that once we get into training camp.”