Every Panthers fan remembers the sorrow in the air when Kelvin Benjamin went down last August. The dead hopes and dreams of a third consecutive NFC South title and any hope for a great season. As we know, the Panthers and Cam Newton overcame his absence to achieve a league-best 15-1 record, a third NFC South title, and an 18-game win streak making them NFC Champions with a chance to win the Super Bowl. But what if I told you that Kelvin Benjamin's injury played a huge part in Carolina’s 2015 success?
Without a doubt, there was seemingly no part of Cam’s game that was affected negatively by the absence of Carolina’s number one receiver. Cam even seemed to become a better quarterback without Benjamin to lean on. Cam even became an MVP without his number one target. He also seemed to become a little more aware of his running abilities, leading all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns with 10. I have a theory as to why this is.
I'm sure many have noticed that throughout Cam Newton's career often forces passes when nothing is open. Those forced passes tended to be high or toward Carolina’s best receiver, and in 2014 that was Kelvin Benjamin. Even though Cam is magical with his legs, he often chose to force a dangerous pass in hopes of the big play rather than check the ball down or buying a few yards with a scramble. However, last year’s questionable wide receiver core left Cam no choice but to mature as a passer. Without a security blanket like Benjamin force passes to when no one was open, his lesser receiving options made him focus on the decision and precision more. Newton proved all the doubters wrong about him, however, after being voted the Offensive Player of the Year and the NFL's Most Valuable Player. What Cam really proved was that No Benjamin=No Problem after leading the league with 45 total touchdowns, 3,837 passing yard, and an amazing 636 rushing yards.
While Benjamin’s absence wasn’t the only reason Cam improved to MVP status or for Carolina’s success, it interestingly looks to have played a substantial part. As Panthers fans, we all just hope that Cam can carry his magic into the 2016 season, and not go back to his old ways. If Benjamin’s absence truly did contribute to Newton’s development, his return will ironically make him better as well. I'm thinking this year will show that Cam+Benjamin=Big Problems For Defenses.
By Powell Haynes
Follow him on Twitter @powellhaynes12