Entering his first full season in Buffalo, Kelvin Benjamin is still going to Carolina in his mind.
In an interview with The Athletic's Tim Graham, the Bills receiver rehashed his tumultuous four-year stint with the Panthers, the organization that drafted him in the first round of the 2014 draft. Benjamin had few fond things to say about his former team.
When asked to assess his time in Carolina, Benjamin said, "I mean, I felt like I would've been even more successful if... Looking back on it, I should've just been drafted by somebody else. I should've never went to Carolina. Truly, I just think Carolina was bad for me. It was a bad fit from the get-go."
Benjamin elaborated on what went wrong with the Panthers, who shipped the former 28th overall selection to Buffalo for two draft picks ahead of the trade deadline in 2017, and appeared to call out his former signal-caller, Cam Newton.
"If you would've put me with any other quarterback, let's be real, you know what I'm saying?" Benjamin explained to Graham. "Any other accurate quarterback like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben [Roethlisberger] -- anybody! -- quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn't in that position."
He later responded to his critics in a Twitter post Saturday:
Benjamin entered the Panthers locker room with Newton already established as Carolina's franchise quarterback and team leader. The duo hooked up 73 times for 1,008 yards and nine scores in Benjamin's rookie season in 2014. But after an ACL injury sidelined Benjamin for Carolina's Super Bowl run in 2015, the wideout amassed just 1,416 yards and nine touchdowns in his next 24 games played with the team.
Newton has constantly struggled with accuracy over his career and never finished with a completion percentage higher than 60 percent during the wideout's four-year stay. But the quarterback also won league MVP during the one season Benjamin was lost to injury.
Newton responded in an Instagram post captioned "All love on this side" to Benjamin's original comments Saturday, saying, "I ain't gonna go back and forth with him. I'm just gonna work, you feel me? That's all it is. You know what it is. Just work, baby."
While the Bills receiver told Graham that he's "trying to get past the past," Benjamin can't help but wonder how his career would've played out if he had been drafted by the Giants, Saints or Buccaneers, as fellow draft mates Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks and Mike Evans had.
"Not at all! I feel like I'm the best one that came out of that class! They were just put in better opportunities to have success," Benjamin said when asked if he was set back by playing with Newton and the Panthers. "If you notice, at the end of the day, my rookie year I was the only one to get to the playoffs."
Although Buffalo currently has a more dire QB dilemma than Carolina does, Benjamin has taken a liking to what the Bills are doing on offense, namely moving the wideout around and even playing him in the slot. "In Carolina, all they wanted me to do was line up at the X and take guys away from the play," Benjamin added.
Newton said immediately after last year's trade that "you can't replace" a receiver like Benjamin, but Carolina did just that this offseason. The Panthers quickly moved on from Benjamin, drafting his replacement, D.J. Moore, who is more of the Steve Smith mold, with the 24th pick of the 2018 draft, and transitioning into a quick-strike offense with Norv Turner calling the shots.
As messy as the dissolution of the Benjamin-Panthers union was, it appears that post-divorce both sides ended up in a better place.