On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns lost in overtime to the Denver Broncos, 26-23. Though many did not expect the Browns to even be in that game thanks to the vaunted Broncos defense, Cleveland nearly upset the undefeated Broncos—blowing multiple opportunities in the fourth quarter and overtime to seal the deal.
Since that loss, fans and media pundits—well, those not asking continuous questions about Johnny Manziel—have been throwing around blame in regard to why the team lost. However, caught up in the blame game and disappointment from the loss, fans are missing what was a pretty impressive performance by wide receiver, Travis Benjamin.
Prior to their matchup against the Browns, the Broncos had not allowed one 100-yard receiving performance on the season—which is pretty incredible when you look at who they played. Steve Smith Sr. (two catches, 13 yards), Jeremy Maclin (four catches, 57 yards), Calvin Johnson (eight catches, 77 yards), Golden Tate (five catches, 57 yards), Mike Wallace (eight catches, 83 yards and one touchdown) and Amari Cooper (four catches, 47 yards) all failed to reach the 100-yard receiving club against Denver.
Instead, it was a player in Benjamin who continued his incredible transformation into the Browns No. 1 receiver who took home the “first to reach 100 against Denver” honors. On the day, Benjamin hauled in nine receptions on 13 targets for 117 yards. He had a long reception of 47 yards, bringing his season total to 31 receptions for 528 yards and four touchdowns.
It was Benjamin’s second 100-yard receiving game of the season, as he notched his first one way back in Week 2 in the team’s win against the Tennessee Titans. Not to take anything away from that performance (three catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns), but the job he did as a receiver against Denver was easily his best performance to date in his career.
Against the Broncos, Benjamin was tasked with having two of the better corners in the league—Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib—lined up against him all day long. Those two have locked down some of the best receivers in the NFL during their careers, however, Benjamin found a way to make a major impact on the game against them.
If I told you before the season started that Benjamin would be No. 8 in the NFL in receiving yards right now, many of you would have told me I was crazy. Instead, not only is he No. 8 in the NFL in receiving yards, he is ahead of the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Odell Beckham Jr. and many, many more highly touted receivers. Benjamin also leads all receivers with 30 or more catches in yards-per catch average at 17 and is tied for No. 8 in receiving touchdowns.
At 25-years old in his second season since an ACL injury nearly ruined his career, the work Benjamin has put in to become a complete receiver can be seen on the field. He is no longer a “one trick pony” with speed, he has developed and harnessed some pretty impressive route-running abilities which have seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
If Benjamin keeps up his current pace, he will finish the season with 1,434 yards receiving on 82 receptions with 10 touchdowns. For those of you who aren’t up to date on your Browns history, that would give him the second highest receiving yardage total ever for a Browns player—only behind Josh Gordon’s 1,646-yard performance from 2013. The projected 82 receptions would tie him with Kellen Winslow for No. 6 all-time, and the 10 touchdowns would tie him with Gary Collins and Paul Warfield for No. 6 all-time.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even supposed to make the team.
As the season goes on, it will be intriguing to see if Benjamin can keep up his current pace. With upcoming matchups against the Rams, Cardinals and Bengals, Benjamin will be tested by some pretty good corners in what are key games for the 2-4 Browns. There is also a late-season matchup against the “Legion of Boom” in Seattle which will really test his ability as a receiver on a national stage.
All of this is leading up to what could be a costly offseason for the Browns, but a very lucrative one for Benjamin. Currently in the final year of his four-year rookie contract in which he made $2.57 million, keeping up this pace will drive up Benjamin’s value on the open market—and force the Browns front office’s hand in the process.
After blatantly ignoring the receiver position in two of the better drafts at the position in recent history, it would be unfathomable for the Browns to let Benjamin walk in free agency. With Gordon’s status in flux on a year-to-year basis, there would be no way Ray Farmer and company could justify not paying a player like Benjamin who has done nothing but work hard, keep his head down and battle back from what could have been a career-destroying injury to a speed receiver.
So as the rest of the week goes on and you are still bashing the team for the loss, go back and take a look at the performance by Benjamin. Enjoy the fact that after years of young players not developing into anything despite being given time to develop, the Browns just might have found a future star. And just imagine how special their receiving corps could be next year, with a defense having to key in on Benjamin and Gordon on a weekly basis.
At the very minimum, appreciate what Benjamin is doing right now for the Cleveland Browns. Because if things do not go well this offseason or he isn’t a priority, this season could be the last you see him in a Browns uniform.