A lightning bolt travels at a speed of 220,000,000 miles per hour.
Travis Benjamin isn’t quite that fast – he just appears that way on the football field.
Just ask opposing cornerbacks, who hope they can get their hands on the veteran wideout at the line of scrimmage. If not, they know they’re in for a world of trouble. After all, his 10 receptions of at least 40 yards over the past two years since joining the Chargers are tied for the third-most in the NFL.
Philip Rivers knew the Bolts had something special from Benjamin’s very first offseason practice back in 2016. Number 17 aired a ball out and was immediately dismayed, knowing there was no way his newest wide receiver would be able to catch up to the overthrow.
He was wrong.
Benjamin raced under the ball on his way to a long touchdown score. From that moment on, Rivers knew he had something special in the team’s newest weapon.
“I found out very quickly that he’s faster than anybody I’ve ever thrown a football to,” the quarterback said at the time. “He can really fly.”
Benjamin remembers that moment like it was yesterday.
“Oh, I definitely remember it,” he said over two years later. “Catching the ball from a guy like 17, it’s a great feeling knowing that he could just put it up (and) no matter where, I know I’m going to get it. And he trusts me that I’m going to get it. I know it’s a great feeling for a quarterback, too, knowing that he can just launch it and I run up under it, so we’ve got a great feeling for each other.”
Everything about Benjamin revolves around his speed. It’s pretty much all he’s asked about by the media.
If you think that frustrates Benjamin, you’d be dead wrong. The 28-year old takes great pride in his speed, knowing it sets him apart from most in the league.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “Going into my late years in high school, I knew I had special (speed). I started running track late in high school, and I felt myself getting faster and beating people that were supposed to win.”
It’s one thing to have pure speed. It’s another to translate those God-given gifts onto the football field, which Benjamin has done in spades.
Perhaps no game better encapsulates how his speed is a total gamechanger than last year’s 21-0 win over the Denver Broncos. The 5-10, 175-pound wideout had a 42-yard touchdown catch as well as a 65-yard punt return for a score, becoming only just the second Charger in franchise history to score a touchdown on a reception and punt return in the same game.
Overall, Benjamin hauled in 34 passes for 567 yards and four touchdowns in 2017, averaging 16.7 yards per catch. He also totaled six performances with 100-plus receiving yards and two games with 100-plus punt return yards.
The Bolts also started using Benjamin on jet-sweeps as the year went on, looking for any way to get the ball into the hands of the speedy playmaker. He ended up carrying the ball a career-high 13 times, more than double his previous high of six as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns. The wideout averaged 7.4 yards per carry, setting a personal best with 96 yards on the ground.
“I give all the credit to Whiz (Ken Whisenhunt),” Benjamin said. “He’s very creative. He can put us in different places, and it can be the same play, but he has each and every receiver at a different position with different wrinkles off the same play. I appreciate Whiz for each and every thing he does for the offense.”
Still, there's way more than meets the eye when it comes to Benjamin's impact on the field. While his big catches get noticed on Sundays, he might have an even bigger impact on the game when the ball isn’t thrown his way.
If there was an assist category in the NFL like there are in basketball, soccer and hockey, odds are Benjamin would be among the league leaders. While fans notice his 40-plus yard receptions, the way he sucks in the safety over the top to protect against the deep ball opens things up for the rest of the Chargers’ receivers.
“So sometimes I can be the playmaker and sometimes I’ll be the decoy. I don’t complain. I just go out there and work. (I) absolutely take pride (in being the decoy) knowing that it’s a team effort. If you individualize out there and think, ‘Hey, I’m not getting the ball so I’m going to take this play off,’ you’re not getting other guys open. And you wouldn’t feel the same way if the shoe was on the other foot and somebody had to get you open, so I take pride in it. If I’m the decoy, I’m taking the safety with me. We all do what we do to get each other open.”
The results speak for themselves.
Just ask Keenan Allen, who is quick to credit Benjamin for freeing him up underneath. In fact, KA13 believes he wouldn’t have set a franchise record with 102 catches a year ago if not for Benjamin striking fear into the hearts of defensive backs.
“Having his speed to take the top off the defense, it makes the defense scared,” Allen said. “They’re terrified of him. And that opens up the zones underneath for me to do my thing. And then on the jet sweeps, he opens things up (horizontally), too. Not many are able to do the things he can do.”
Benjamin is too humble to come right out and say that opposing cornerbacks are “terrified” of his speed. However, after much prodding, he finally conceded he doesn’t believe there’s a single defensive back in the game who can stay with him stride-for-stride.
“Nah, I don’t think there is,” he says sheepishly. “That’s why they always try to get a hand on me (at the line of scrimmage) and then give (the corner) help over top. Then they’ve probably got a chance. So that’s why I work on my releases a lot at the line. Because once I win there, it’s just speed downfield.”