When Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL during the preseason, the Carolina Panthers’ options at wide receiver looked bleak. Benjamin had shined as a rookie and entered training camp as the team’s clear number one receiver, and Cam Newton’s favourite target.
Following the announcement that Benjamin would miss all of the regular season, little was expected of the Panthers. In large part, this was because it was unclear who, besides tight end Greg Olson, Newton would throw to.
Fast forward to February. The 17-1 Panthers stand one win away from the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history and veteran wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has emerged from the fringes of NFL relevancy to become the unlikeliest of stars in a potent, often unstoppable Carolina offence.
Ginn, 30, was a highly touted receiver and return specialist prospect out of Ohio State. Known for his pure speed and playmaking ability, he had reportedly run a 4.22-second 40-yard dash in college, and, famously, returned the opening kickoff of the 2007 BCS National Championship Game 92 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins drafted him ninth overall — ahead of Marshawn Lynch, Darrelle Revis, and future teammate Greg Olsen.
But up until this year, Ginn was widely considered a bust in the NFL. Known more for fumbles and inopportune drops than for speedy highlight-reel returns and receptions, Ginn bounced from Miami to San Francisco to Carolina to Arizona and, prior to this season, back to Carolina.
Benjamin’s torn ACL in preseason forced Ginn into a starting role at wide receiver, an opportunity he has not squandered. His ten receiving touchdowns this year double his previously career high, and his 74-yard touchdown against the Falcons in December also marked a career high. His 16.8 yards per catch lead all Carolina receivers.
After routing the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, the Panthers awarded Ginn the game ball. Here was one of his highlights from the game, which brought back memories of his Ohio State days:
Ginn may be enjoying the best season of his career, but he hasn’t been perfect. Drops still haunt him. As ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler noted, Ginn flubbed 7.4 per cent of his targets this season, tied for seventh-worst in the league.
But unlike in the past, Ginn has managed to produce more big plays than drops, especially in key moments. If Ginn has Newton to thank for his big numbers, Newton might return the favour and thank Ginn for the MVP award he is expected to win.
Should the Panthers beat the Broncos on Sunday, as they are expected to, Ginn is likely to be one of the reasons why.
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