June 25, 2016


Speedy WR may be spark team needs

BEREA — It took the Browns three days and four rounds, but they finally added a wide receiver in the NFL Draft.

Cleveland selected Miami (Fla.) speedster Travis Benjamin with the 100th overall selection Saturday, addressing one of its most glaring needs heading into the weekend.

“We’re going to put him in the mix and see what he can do,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Travis is extremely fast and we’re going to use him to our advantage.

“He can go, he can really go. He’s an explosive guy. I can’t wait for you guys to meet him because he’s a hard guy not to like.”

Despite his stature, the 5-foot-97⁄8, 172-pounder is one of just six players in Hurricanes history to gain 2,000 receiving yards.

The others include Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, NFL superstar Reggie Wayne, solid pros Santana Moss and Lamar Thomas and current Redskins wideout Leonard Hankerson.

“I know my speed and my agility will help me get open on a defender,” Benjamin said confidently. “Because I am so quick and elusive, I can run past any defender on the field.”

Clearly, Benjamin had no problems running past his competition while a member of the Hurricanes, either on the football field or the track.

In the latter sport, Benjamin shattered Moss’ school record in the 60-meter dash with a 6.70. And in the former, he was clocked at a blazing 4.26 in the 40-yard dash prior to his junior season.

“We feel like Travis’ best football is ahead of him because there are some unique things about him,” Shurmur said. “He really tracks the ball well down the field, which is a good combination, and when he gets the ball in his hands, we feel like he can score touchdowns. He also impressed us with his toughness, so we feel good about him.”

Benjamin, who graduated with a degree in sports administration while minoring in education, had 41 receptions for 609 yards as a senior. He also averaged 23.7 yards on kickoff returns and 11.0 yards on punt returns.

A year earlier, Benjamin grabbed a career-high 43 catches for 743 yards. He also ran back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State.

Benjamin finished his four-season run at Miami with 3,874 all-purpose yards, 2,146 receiving yards, 131 receptions and 13 touchdowns in 49 games — and he did it against quality teams.

“I am used to getting hit,” he said. “My weight is 175 now, but that has nothing to do with (being too small for the NFL) because I have been playing at the University of Miami, and week in and week out we played top competition every week in the ACC, SEC and all around.”

Cleveland’s other wide receivers, meanwhile, have not been particularly effective against their pro counterparts.

Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs have shown flashes of brilliance, but not nearly enough consistency to be considered No. 1s. Jordan Norwood and Carlton Mitchell are intriguing prospects, yet failed to make a significant contribution last season.

Though Shurmur and Browns president Mike Holmgren both said they “feel good” about that quintet, countless fans and NFL insiders have a different opinion.

“Travis is different than the guys we have, and not just (because of his) speed,” Holmgren said. “He’s small and quicker. He’s a different receiver. We have bigger guys, not slow guys, but they’re bigger.”

Shurmur echoed those thoughts, saying, “We can go into why we like each guy specifically, but as we were addressing needs through the draft, we felt good about picking Travis Benjamin.”

Benjamin, in turn, feels great about coming to Cleveland.

“Talking to teams, they said they would take me in the fourth, fifth, sixth round, but I never thought when Cleveland was up that they would pick me this early,” he said.

“But I’m glad they did. Wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner, anywhere they need me, I will be willing to do it.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.