If you haven’t heard, the Buffalo Bills acquired Kelvin Benjamin on Halloween, sending a 2018 3rd round pick and a 2018 7th round pick to the Carolina Panthers to complete the trade. I’d also like to congratulate you for emerging from under that rock if this is the first you’re hearing of the deal.
With a short week to prepare for the New York Jets, it seems unlikely that the Bills would play Benjamin in a game some 56 hours after acquiring him; however, they should do just that. There are clear pros and cons to activating Benjamin, but those positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
For starters, activating Benjamin would force the Jets to respect his presence. Even if Benjamin were to appear in a limited number of snaps, any time he steps onto the field, the defense needs to account for him. If Benjamin doesn’t know the playbook, it’s to be expected, but he doesn’t need to know the playbook to help out in the red zone. It’s simple enough to line him up if the Bills are inside the ten-yard line and say, “Okay Kelvin, you run a fade here.” He doesn’t have to do much more than that to make a positive contribution in his first game in a Buffalo Bills uniform.
Even if the offensive powers that be feel uncomfortable using him as anything other than a decoy, he can make an impact. In a red zone scenario, a defense will obviously have to roll extra help towards him in order to defend his strength and size. This additional attention opens the field up for other players like Andre Holmes, LeSean McCoy, Jordan Matthews, and Zay Jones. Speaking of McCoy, Benjamin’s presence makes it very difficult to commit an extra safety to the box as a run-support defender. If one plays deep, another will need to help the corner on Benjamin’s side of the field, giving Shady some extra room to operate.
Some would say that activating Benjamin is a luxury the Bills don’t have, since it’s hard to justify keeping a player active who may only be able to contribute on 10-15% of the offensive snaps. Considering that much of Buffalo’s inactive list is already accounted for, however, it is easy to refute this point. The Bills have 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, and 3 of them (tackles Conor McDermott and Seantrel Henderson, and guard John Miller) have spent multiple weeks on the inactive list. Cornerback E.J. Gaines and tight end Charles Clay have already been ruled out for the game, which leaves only two other players to deactivate for the game. Linebacker Ramon Humber is questionable, as is free safety Jordan Poyer, so it’s quite possible that both players will not play. If one (or both) men can suit up and play, then it stands to reason that players from their positional group will be deactivated instead. Linebacker Deon Lacy is someone who could find himself on the inactive list, as could safety Shamarko Thomas if the Bills’ starters are ready to go.
For what it’s worth, head coach Sean McDermott said that the strong play of rookie linebacker Matt Milano allows the Bills to avoid rushing Humber back to the lineup, so I’d be willing to bet that he’ll be the sixth inactive player. With all of this, Buffalo doesn’t even have many players who are worth activating over Benjamin in the first place. General manager Brandon Beane said that Benjamin is a “50-50” bet to play in the game during an interview on WGR.
At worst, by activating Benjamin, the Bills are giving themselves a first-class decoy for the Jets to take into account. At best, the Bills are giving their new number one receiver a good situation to make a strong first impression. Even if he’s only used in very specific packages and situations, it’s worth making Kelvin Benjamin active on Thursday night.