Sakamoto: Shanahan on Kelvin Benjamin: “I studied him hard coming out of Florida State.”

49ers cornerbacks must match Kelvin Benjamin’s physical presence 

The NFL is a game of match-ups. For this reason, the San Francisco 49ers will have the tough task of containing Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin. At 6-5, 245, Benjamin presents a huge mismatch for these Niners cornerbacks. 

For one, Benjamin is built more like a tight end than a wide receiver. His physique alone should make 49ers DC Robert Saleh re-adjust his game-plan. I asked Coach Shanahan for his thoughts on the big bodied wide receiver in our Wednesday presser, as he had this to say:

My Question:

You’re about to go up against a pretty big wide receiver in Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin, 6-5, 245, whose built more like a tight end. From an offensive standpoint, what does he provide that maybe separates himself from some of these other wide receivers around the league?

Shanahan’s response:

“I think any time, being big’s an advantage if you can get open and if you have very good hands and Kelvin does have that. He’s been a solid receiver. I studied him hard coming out of Florida State. When you have a big guy who has that size who can also come off the ball and get in and out of breaks, he’s going to get some separation. But, when you’re big like that you don’t need a ton of separation. Even sometimes when he’s covered, as long as he’s between the man and the ball, it’s very hard to stop him. When you have elite-type of hands and you have that size and you don’t feel people hanging on your forearms. Guarding him doesn’t mean your job is done. It’s hard to get the incompletion. He also has the ability to separate too. That’s what makes him a threat to be a very good wideout in this league,” Shanahan told me. 

In their week 2 matchup last season, I envisioned Benjamin being a problem for then DC Jim O’Neil and he was. You can read that article here. Benjamin would be a top fantasy football wide receiver that week. He racked up seven catches for 108 yards (15.4) and two touchdowns

Different year. Same storyline.

To think this week will be a different storyline, think again. Benjamin is poised to have his best season yet. Why? Because for the first time in Benjamin’s young NFL career, he has a home-run threat playing running back. Welcome, first-round pick (No.8) RB Christian McCaffrey

The Panthers own version of a swiss-army knife, McCaffrey can do it all. 

His lateral agility, vision, and elusiveness allow Panthers OC Mike Shula to move him around like a game of chess. Panthers QB Cam Newton still has ‘security blanket’ TE Greg Olsen down the seams and posts. Add McCaffrey into the mix, and you have more real estate to operate from. 

McCaffrey is the x-factor. He’s a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. 

Panthers 1st round pick creates mismatch for linebackers

If you line McCaffrey out wide or in the backfield as a traditional running back, make no mistake, it already spells trouble for opposing linebackers. Coach Shanahan echoed that in his presser today. 

Shanahan on McCaffrey

“He can do everything. So it’s just how do you treat him? He’s a good running back. He can run outside. He can run inside. He’s good at screens. He’s good at routes out of the backfield. You can motion him out wide and use him as a wide receiver. He’s developed in those routes too. He causes a lot of issues in some man-to-man situations. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. When a guy can be everywhere and he’s versatile it limits what a defense can do, some of the situations that he can put you in.”

McCaffrey has the speed to beat one-on-one coverage coming out of the flats and on quick slants. His elusiveness and quick-twitch muscle fibers allow him to stretch the field horizontally.

In doing so, this will open up the middle of the field for the likes of Olsen and Benjamin. 

Olsen mainly operates off seams, posts, and out routes. Benjamin can run the full-route tree while being a viable downfield threat.

If McCaffrey can freeze up the linebackers in drop-spot zone coverage, Benjamin should benefit off the deeper 15-20 yard routes, giving Newton the luxury of a larger throwing window downfield. 

There is no 49ers cornerback on this roster who can match up one-on-one. The closest player would be second-year CB Rashard Robinson but even he is a stretch.

Coach Saleh understands this. He will likely play deep-thirds between the 20’s in hopes of containing the Florida State product. It won’t be enough. In the end, Benjamin will prove to be too much for the Niners secondary, especially inside the red zone. 

If the 49ers hope to have any chance of coming out on top against the Panthers, they will need to contain Benjamin. A player who presents so many problems downfield, it will be interesting to see how they hold up week 1. 

Predicted stat line: six catches for 90 yards and one touchdown 

Related Article(s):

49ers’ held pre-draft visit with Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.