Running back has impressed Kingsbury enough to carve out roleDarren Urban
The day Eno Benjamin was drafted, the local fans who shared love for both the Cardinals and Arizona State begged on social media for the Cardinals to take the ASU running back.
Once, twice, the team passed on him, before finally thrilling that subset by making Benjamin a seventh-round pick.
From there, however, the marriage between player and team was rocky. Benjamin was inactive every game of his first year, and even into last season, it looked like the back's future would probably be somewhere besides where he became a college star.
It's what makes Benjamin's spot now so surprising.
"I would've never expected him to come this far," coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
No player on the roster has been praised more this offseason than Benjamin. And not the baseline coach-speak praise Kingsbury can sometimes dole out, but legitimate compliments to a player who he wouldn't have before.
"Early on I didn't know if he could figure it out," Kingsbury said. "Professionalism and work ethic and understanding his role and all those things. Each year he has just gotten progressively better. He's one of the hardest workers on the team now. Always upbeat, always into it. Just really come a long way."
The smile never comes off Benjamin's face, even now. When he was a rookie, that hit a little different when the football wasn't coming together.
Running the football, Benjamin could do. The other stuff, like knowing where pass rushers might be coming from when pass blocking, was a much harder task. And after being a star running as a Sun Devil, he wasn't exactly equipped to play special teams either.
"The mental part is the biggest difference," Benjamin said. "Being able to stay focused for so long."
In college, he said football was only three or four hours a day. In the NFL it is a more-than-eight-hours-daily job.
"It's being consistent and them knowing what they are going to get from me on an every-day basis," Benjamin added.
Playing behind Chase Edmonds, an intelligent player who knew all aspects of the job, didn't help. But with Edmonds departing as a free agent, the opportunity was there and, despite the signing of Darrel Williams and the drafting of Keaontay Ingram, is Benjamin's job to lose as James Conner's tag-teammate.
"I'm not sure we can replace Chase like that," Kingsbury said. (But) I've been really impressed with Eno every time he's had a chance to run the football and he's really improved in the pass game."
Benjamin's career stats won't draw attention. After "redshirting" 2020, he played in only nine games last season, gaining 118 yards on 34 carries, with six catches for 42 yards. He did have a highlight-worthy touchdown run in San Francisco while bulling over former teammate Dre Kirkpatrick, but what has caught Kingsbury's eye is what was done away from game day.
Maybe Benjamin would've been aided in his NFL career had he gotten away from the area where he was a college star, but he disagrees. In fact, he said it has helped.
"The people that are rooting for me is another reason I go so hard because a lot of people know what I am capable of," Benjamin said. "Now it's up to me to show that."
If Benjamin ever had the same thought as his coach - that he wouldn't make it as a Cardinal - that's gone now.
"My confidence," Benjamin said, "is through the roof."