First Things First
Due to popular request I thought I would give us Bronco's fans some notes to ponder on the junior WR out of Vanderbilt. The first thing to establish, is what is this going to cost? Well, on my own board I have him as the #9 WR, though he has spent much of the last few months in the #7-#8 range. Basically, the pro days of bigger, faster WRs are starting to bump him down. Overall I have him going between #58 and #64, so, late 2nd round, early 3rd.
The ideal way for Denver to acquire Bennet would be to trade down, either in the first or second, to no later than #56, just to be sure. Taking Bennett with our #42 is bad draft management, but I am not against it if our back is to the wall. If you get the players you want from the draft, you had a success, even if you didn't leverage the draft to its full potential. Leave the idealistic theorizing to the ivory towers. But if we want Bennett, we need to be prepared to take him early. Which leads us to the second question.
Why would we want him?
Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt
Bennett is spelled B-R-O-N-C-O
Is he fast? HT and others have made their wishes known that a field stretching WR opposite Marshall, pulling away the safety help would be of tremendous benefit to the Broncos. You won't get any argument against that here, and I will lead off this overview of Bennett by stating that this is the one area where we could do better.
But speed comes with qualifications. Bennett has an uncanny knack to track down deep balls that are thrown his way, and against most corners in the NFL he has a very fair chance of battling for the underthrown deep ball, which is becoming an art form at the NFL level. And his acceleration is nothing to scoff at either. He accelerates as fast as anyone, but he just seems to hit a maximum stride sooner than most. But make no mistake, that acceleration puts him on an even playing field with unprepared deep help, which faces the near instantaneous choice of committing to Bennett or coming up into Marshall's work area. Great safeties won't be fooled. Bennett simply can't pressure the deep help for long enough, but I would hazard the guess that most safeties, relying on instinct, would react to Bennett's burst off the line. And this is where it starts to get interesting.
From Bennett's worst asset to arguably his best, we turn now to look at his route running ability. Body control is most evident in his spectacular catches, but if you rewatch those same plays unfold, you see that body control being used to dominate defenders off the line, make crisp cuts and to find the ball.
Off the line he has tremendous hands, using them well to battle bump coverage and physical defenses close to the line of scrimmage. The defenders are routinely left grasping and reacting to his fluid movement when he starts into his routes. At Vanderbilt he was often double teamed, and as a result his ability to fight off initial bouts of trash became heightened. It should be good enough to be serviceable from day one against NFL quality DBs. In terms of measureables defining this characteristic, he has an unusually long wingspan for his height, and he has a solid upper back and torso with a thick chest and broad shoulders. He finished 8th among WRs at the combine for 225lb bench press reps.
While he will be serviceable getting into his routes at the NFL level, he should really shine at executing the route itself. He has an elite understanding of his body's leverage and gravity, and it shows in his plants, cuts, stutter steps and acceleration. He couldn't be more fluid if he was a dancer. He has low hips and the ability to give subtle shakes and feints, and does it without breaking the timing or fluidity of the route. He does lack suddeness in his movement, which is a tough characteristic to pin down. Basically, he can excell at a route, where he can size up his defender and apply mental effort, but he would probably not be an effective kick or punt returner.
Which brings us to the final aspect of his route running, and by far the most NFL critical of the skills he needs to have to make an impact early: finishing it off. And what stands out here more than anywhere else is his football intelligence. Before we look at his ability to catch, we should first note his awareness before the catch. He reads zones well, and does a great job of showing a target to his QB, bodying out defenders for the lane. He is one of the first on the field to react when his QB is in trouble, and great and coming back to help. He has a mature understanding of his role as well, and knows that he is on the field to help the team win, and all the ways that he can contribute. When catching, he uses his long arms naturally, looking passes in and presenting an outside shoulder to his QB. All in all, he can singlehandedly present opportunities at the last level of his route running, and he is never out of the play.
Rounding out the Image
We'll close with a highlight video and some stats, but first we will consider the other elements he could bring to a #2 WR role in Denver.
First, his blocking. Aggressive defines it best. He has mastered the cut block and uses it well, and shows a great ability to get his hands into a defender and maintain a physical presence. Brings attitude to his blocking game and even does a good job of pestering bigger pass rushers. Has a good "grasp" of how to get his hands into defenders without getting caught.
Whether this could translate to the NFL or not remains to be seen, but Bennett is not a star who becomes a no-show in critical situations. If anything he raises his level of play to keep up. He shows end-zone awareness, and does a good job of stretching the endzone to its limits. He can get better at controlling his body around the sidelines, as far as keeping his feet in bounds goes, but all in all he is on the right track in that area, and shows all of the intangibles to be able to pick it up.
Lastly, no discussion of Earl Bennet would be complete without talking about the kind of character he brings to a team. He is the antithesis of the prima-donna WR, and the archetype of consistency. A leader by example, he gives 100% in film study, in practice and in the game. He has always had a team first attitude, and has never had qualms about his role, and what it means to the success of the team, whether he is catching TDs, blocking in the running game or bailing out his QBs.
Denver and its fans have been missing the days of Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. We have missed the dependability of WRs that show up every game and leave everything they have on the field. We miss the grit and determination of a Broncos WR corp that fights to stay in it and creates chances when the defense does its best to take those chances away. It isn't really about skill or speed. Its about desire. The desire to be better and the willingness to do anything in the name of that. We miss that, and it is heartbreaking to see it come and go in brief flashes of inconsistency and undependability.
It doesn't have to be that way.
View video on Youtube here!