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Kelvin Benjamin out for year with torn left ACL

The Carolina Panthers' worst fears were realized when the MRI results came back on Kelvin Benjamin's Wednesday morning knee injury.

The second-year wide receiver will need season-ending surgery for a torn left ACL, the team confirmed. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport first reported the news.

Coach Ron Rivera initially believed Benjamin suffered a sprained left knee when the former Florida State star was carted off the field in Wednesday's practice.

"Obviously, we feel awful for Kelvin," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement released by the team. "He's worked tremendously hard to put himself in a position to have a strong year. We're confident he will attack his surgery and rehab with the same determination he has met all challenges before."

Benjamin's season-long absence is a devastating blow to Cam Newton and a Panthers aerial attack that was poised for a renaissance after two years near the bottom of the league.

The No. 28 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Benjamin exceeded expectations as a rookie, beating the NFL's stingiest cornerbacks for 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.

Just as importantly, Benjamin's 6-foot-5, 240-frame offered a huge strike zone that was perfectly suited for Newton's skill set as an inconsistent passer who tends to be wild high when he's off the mark.

Along with Newton, pass rusher Charles Johnson and star linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, Benjamin is one of the five most valuable players on the roster.

With Benjamin in the lineup to attract double teams, post up in the red zone and handle top cornerbacks, the rest of Carolina's receiving options could fall naturally in line. With Benjamin sidelined, rookie Devin Funchess or veteran Jerricho Cotchery will be stretched in the No. 1 role.

The Panthers can still make a run in the wide-open NFC South behind Newton, tailback Jonathan Stewart and a swarming defense. The loss of a difference-making talent such as Benjamin limits their ceiling, however, crushing dreams of an extended postseason run.

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