Last season Travis Benjamin shot out of the gates with five TDs—including grabs of 50, 54 and 60 yards plus a 78-yard punt return—and 249 receiving yards in the first three games. That outburst accounted for 48.9 fantasy points, 38% of his fantasy scoring for the season—and nearly matched his previous season high of 50.5 fantasy points.
The rest of the season wasn’t nearly as productive—just one more touchdown in the next 13 games, though he topped 100 yards twice and 75 yards three more times. Still, San Diego saw enough in Benjamin’s game to give him a four-year, $24 million contract this offseason. Now he’ll catch passes from Philip Rivers instead of Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown, and the resulting upgrade at quarterback is accompanied by increased fantasy potential.
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Even with the fast start—and little competition on the Browns’ roster for the role of offensive playmaker—Benjamin clocked in as just the 28th-most productive fantasy wide receiver. However, it was an unexpected jump from his previous high finish of WR83 as a rookie as his targets increased from three to eight per game and his yardage per game tripled. He established himself as a home run threat and went long on almost one-third of his pass routes… but he was also successful on two-thirds of those deep routes. And Benjamin wasn’t entirely a one-trick pony, enjoying success on routes like the curl, comeback and slant as defenses backed off respecting his speed. Hat tip to NFL Network’s Matt Harmon and his Reception Perception project for the route data.
In San Diego Benjamin will replace the retired Malcom Floyd, who has served as Rivers’ deep threat for the past few years. Last season Floyd accounted for half of the team’s eight pass plays of 40 yards or greater, and he’s averaged 16.5 yards per catch or better three straight seasons and seven of the past eight years. Benjamin did Floyd one better—two, actually—with six catches of 40 yards or greater. That total tied for fourth-best in the league, behind only Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Sammy Watkins.
Benjamin is by no means a Floyd clone; while the Chargers’ veteran was 6-5 and 225 pounds, Benjamin is half a foot and 50 pounds smaller. But he’s not a slot-only guy, rather an outside speedster along the lines of Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders or DeSean Jackson. Also working in his favor: a more accurate quarterback—the Chargers completed a full five percent more of their passes to wide receivers than the Browns—and an improving San Diego offensive line built to give Rivers more time to throw downfield.
But he won’t likely be limited to just filling Floyd’s role, either. A healthy Keenan Allen returns to handle the biggest share of the targets, and Stevie Johnson should work out of the slot. But Benjamin should consolidate the rest of the wide receiver looks spread amongst the likes of Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon last year. And while Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead loom to claim their share of Rivers’ attention—Chargers tight ends and wideouts averaged 20.8 targets per game last season, compared to 20.3 for San Diego wideouts—Ladarius Green left via free agency. And the aforementioned o-line improves should allow Rivers to look for his wideouts more and check down to Woodhead less.
Barring another Allen injury, Benjamin won’t need to be the go-to guy in San Diego. But a current ADP in the mid-40s, after he cracked the top 30 as a Brown last season, seems overly pessimistic. And if your league rewards scoring plays from distance, Rivers’ new deep threat brings that much more to the fantasy table.