Gamble pays off for Bennett

Monday, April 28, 2008 at 1:06am

Earl Bennett’s gamble paid off Sunday.

The former Vanderbilt wide receiver, who chose to bypass his senior season in 2008 to enter this year’s NFL Draft, was selected with the 70th overall pick in the third round by the Chicago Bears.

Bennett knew leaving VU early was a risky proposition, but felt vindicated Sunday.

“Everything worked out good,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets with anything I did.”

Bennett, a native of Birmingham, Ala., left Vanderbilt after catching 236 career passes, the most ever in the Southeastern Conference.

Although some analysts questioned his speed, Bennett was selected Sunday ahead of other highly regarded receivers such as LSU’s Early Doucet, Michigan’s Mario Manningham and Florida’s Andre Caldwell.

Bears executives said they had Bennett ranked more highly than many of the 10 wide receivers drafted in the second round of this year’s draft.

“Really, he’s done it without having a strong quarterback the last two years,” Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s highly competitive, he’s a great route runner and he has excellent hands. He’s very good after the catch and on top of that, his character is impeccable.

“We see him as having starter talent. Whether he becomes a starter as a rookie remains to be seen.”

The 6-foot, 204-pound Bennett was lightly recruited out of Birmingham’s West End High School before producing a storybook career at Vanderbilt.

Despite being in the crosshairs of opposing defense in 2007, he still caught 75 passes for 830 yards and five touchdowns.

When the season ended, figured he had nothing more to prove.

“Any time you come back, you have to face double teams, and there’s the quarterback situation at Vanderbilt,” he said. “I didn’t feel I had anything left to showcase.”

In Chicago, Bennett will join Vanderbilt teammate Chris Williams, an offensive tackle who was drafted in the first round Saturday by the Bears.

“He’s a friend, so I know he’s going to work hard and wants to win,” Bennett said.

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