Breaking In Eno Benjamin: Former ASU Star Pushes For Greater Role With Cardinals

Eno Benjamin
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No pick excited Arizona sports fans quite like when the Arizona Cardinals took ASU running back Eno Benjamin in the seventh round in 2020. Arizona’s first ASU draftee since the legendary Pat Tillman in 1998, Benjamin, the toast of Sun Devil football for the best part of three years, made the short trip down the street to the Cardinals in Tempe.

Unfortunately, excitement quickly turned to disappointment for both Benjamin and his fans. The former ASU star remained inactive for the entire 2020 season. Last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys was therefore Benjamin’s first time in a Cardinals uniform. Even more surprisingly, it was his first game action since November 2019.

Yet, after a solid performance against Dallas and a prospective role awaiting him on special teams, Benjamin looks set to finally break into Arizona’s rotation ahead of the 2021 season. We take a look at what Benjamin offers and project how he may be used this upcoming season.

Eno Benjamin To See Snaps on Offense, Special Teams

Benjamin Dances With Dallas

With number one running back Chase Edmonds only used sparingly against the Cowboys, Benjamin split the majority of the snaps with fellow second-year running back Jonathan Ward. However, it was Benjamin that impressed in the 19-16 win over America’s team. Benjamin totaled 50 yards on 5 carries, capping an impressive maiden outing in Cardinal red with a touchdown. One of the game’s best performers, Benjamin showcased the skills that made him a fan favorite at ASU.

Of the talents Benjamin displayed, perhaps the most impressive was his vision.¬†Evidenced clearly in his touchdown run, as well as a 38-yard breakaway run that ended up being one of the plays of the game, Benjamin’s ability to patiently navigate the line of scrimmage and find the open field was exemplary; a cerebral quality as a ballcarrier far beyond his years. Benjamin also made sure to demonstrate the athleticism that made him a two-time All-PAC-12 first-teamer. Showing breakaway speed and smooth footwork on both of his highlight plays on offense, Benjamin’s 30-yard kickoff return also gave some insight as to how he can carve out a versatile role on Arizona’s final 53-man roster.

Eno Benjamin To Back Up Chase Edmonds

To be clear, Eno Benjamin is not the second running back on the depth chart. That privilege belongs to former Pittsburgh Steeler James Conner. A key free-agent signing this off-season, Conner provides the Cardinals with the bigger-bodied power back that they’ve lacked recently. In that regard, Conner is chalk and cheese to starter Chase Edmonds, who is more of ‘scatback’. The two are expected to be used in a kind of ‘Fire and Ice’ tandem, not dissimilar to the backfield of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants in the late-2000s.

Therein, the Cardinals have a ‘backup’ running back in Conner that complements the starter rather than simply providing depth. Because of this, Arizona could instead look to Eno Benjamin as the direct backup to Chase Edmonds. Benjamin is stoutly built and is more than capable, even willing to take on tacklers head-on. Although not a bruiser like Conner, he is capable of running between the tackles, thanks in part, like Chase Edmonds, to his elusiveness as a ballcarrier. He has good vision and patience as a ball-carrier, as seen in the game against Dallas. Furthermore, he slots easily into Kliff Kingsbury’s ‘Air Raid’ offense because of his ability as a receiver out of the backfield and split out wide. The similarities between Edmonds and Benjamin could see the latter deployed as an almost direct understudy to the starter Edmonds, maintaining continuity in the backfield rotation.

Eno Benjamin Will Be Key On Special Teams

Whilst his snaps on offense may be merely rotational, Benjamin can carve out a title role on special teams. In 2020, Benjamin’s inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to play on special teams was a defining factor in his absence. Speaking to Cardinals media recently, Benjamin noted how it wasn’t something he was asked to do at ASU. However, it is a role he is looking forward to exploring in 2021.

The preseason has already given Cardinals fans a sneak peek as to what exactly this role may be. His kickoff return against the Cowboys gave some indication as to his ability as a returner. With Rondale Moore as Arizona’s primary returner, Benjamin could take the field as the secondary returner and lead blocker. In addition, there may be some opportunities for Benjamin to become the primary returner if Moore’s offensive role increases.

Benjamin also hinted that he has also been taking reps at gunner during practice. Special teams coach Jeff Rodgers will be keen to replace the production of departed special teams ace Trent Sherfield. Benjamin’s versatility and athletic ability can be integral in maintaining the effectiveness of what was an impressive unit for the Cardinals in 2020.

Having had the chance to demonstrate his talents, no more will Eno Benjamin bow to the inactive list. He will dress on game day because of his versatility and potential to be effective on special teams. Arizona sports fans should look forward to seeing Eno Benjamin find a place with the Arizona Cardinals in 2021.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images