What happened to WR Travis Benjamin?
By Matt Pagels
Meet Travis Benjamin, wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. He has DirectTV.
Nov 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin (11) makes a catch for a touchdown from quarterback Austin Davis (not pictured) in the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens won 33-27. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Now meet Travis Benjamin, wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. He has cable.
Oct 23, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin (12) is unable to make a catch against Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) and strong safety Keanu Neal (22) in the fourth quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. The Chargers won 33-30 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Believe it or not, they resemble the same man. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t playing like his former self. The San Diego Chargers signed Benjamin to a four-year, $24 million deal with $13 million guaranteed in the offseason. It was a good deal considering that free agents Marvin Jones (five-year, $40 million with $20 million guaranteed) and Mohamed Sanu (five-year, $32.5 million with $14 million guaranteed) signed more expensive deals with a less impressive resume.
The Chargers needed a speedster who could compliment No. 1 wideout Keenan Allen, and it appeared they had found their man.
In Cleveland, Benjamin finished the 2015 season with 68 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns, all of which were career-highs. He ended the year on a strong note, scoring four touchdowns in his last three games. He averaged 14.2 yards per catch last season and 23 of his 68 catches went for 15-plus yards. He was also reliable on first downs, catching 41.6 percent of balls on first, including when the team had 10-plus yards to go in order to get a first down (47 catches for 568 yards and two touchdowns in that category).
And remember: Benjamin put up those numbers with Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis–the new cast for The Hangover: Part IV–tossing him the rock. So imagine the things he could do with a quarterback like Philip Rivers.
At 5-foot-10, 172 pounds, Benjamin is tiny but fit well in the Chargers’ scheme, where the receiver could do damage with the ball in his hands. Benjamin also had the ability to take the top off defenses with his speed. Not only that, but there was a chance he could make an impact in the return game, too.
But what the Chargers ended up getting was an injured, inconsistent receiver.
There was a risk involved in signing Benjamin. 2015 marked the first year where he became a full-time starter. He did play in all 16 games in back-to-back seasons, but he didn’t make an impact in any year up until last season. Before the 2016 season, Benjamin had just 1,683 career receiving yards and never finished with more than 18 receptions in a season from 2012-14. He also fumbled the ball eight total times (lost four) during his time with the Browns.
But the 26-year-old did start off strong this season before falling off the rails. So what happened?
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Did losing Allen for the year make a big impact? It did to an extent. When Allen went down in Week 1, Benjamin was essentially forced into the No. 1 receiver role–and he did a decent job. From Weeks 2-5, Benjamin had 21 receptions (31 targets) for 362 yards and two touchdowns. He would have likely thrived more with Allen by his side, but he didn’t shut down without him. That said, he’s not a No. 1 guy–and he hasn’t been a No. 2 or even No. 3 guy as of late.
Is Benjamin still bothered by injury? After Week 6’s win against the Denver Broncos, Benjamin showed up on the practice report with a knee injury. A few weeks later, it was reported that he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 PCL sprain. He only missed one game (Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins), but he’s been ineffective in the last three games he’s played in (four catches for 37 yards and zero scores). Whether or not he’s still dealing with the same injury is unknown, but maybe the Chargers should have sit him instead of rushing him back to action. If he is 100 percent healthy, then there is a bigger problem at hand.
Is it the lack of chemistry and confidence? Rivers and Benjamin got off to a slow start in training camp, but like we mentioned before, they connected early on in the season. Unfortunately, he’s dropped some crucial catches this year, ones that could have changed games. We’ve already seen key third-down drops from him in the beginning of the year, and last week against the Tampa Buccaneers, Benjamin was on the verge of making a potential game-breaking 79-yard touchdown catch from Rivers, who placed it perfectly into the hands of Benjamin. Benjamin dropped the catch, and from that point on the Chargers fell apart.
Benjamin has also fumbled the ball five times (three on offense and two on special teams; three were lost). He might have been the reason why cornerback Jason Verrett tore his ACL earlier in the year. After Benjamin muffed a punt against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, Verrett went to try and recover the fumble and hurt his knee. In Week 6, the Chargers had a 99.8 percent win probability vs. the New Orleans Saints, and with just under five minutes left in the game, Benjamin fumbled the ball after making a catch. The Saints came back to win that game.
Is it because he is wearing No. 12, the number former Chargers receiver Robert Meachum wore? That has to be it. The curse of Meachum is the only realistic answer to our question.
Overall, Benjamin was signed to be a difference-maker. We’re 13 weeks into the season, and he’s not even a starter. I’m not calling him a free-agent bust because it’s been one season, and we all have witnessed a player who could turn it around in a heartbeat (see Gordon, Melvin). It’s just unfortunate to see a player with potential fail to produce.
I guess we’re used to that as Chargers fans.