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What You Need to Know:
- As Carolina’s lead receiver over the 2nd half of last season, Funchess ranked 19th among WRs in PPR points and 15th in non-PPR.
- The return of a healthy Greg Olsen and the addition of 1st-round rookie D.J. Moore make it unlikely Funchess plays the same role in 2018.
Funchess as a #1 WR
Funchess got his 1st crack at lead WR duties last year and fared reasonably well.
The Panthers dealt WR Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo last Halloween, a few days prior to Week 9. Over the season’s final 8 games, Funchess hauled in 30 of 53 targets for 483 yards and 5 TDs. That landed him 19th among WRs in PPR points and 15th in non-PPR.
Funchess’ 56.6% catch rate over that stretch underwhelmed. But it was just a tad below his 56.9% mark over the first 8 games alongside Benjamin. And it was a big improvement over his 49.2% and 39.7% catch rates in his first 2 NFL seasons.
Funchess also averaged a big 16.1 yards per catch over those final 8 games. That was way up from his 10.8-yard mark over the 1st half of the season and topped his 15.6-yard average over his first 2 campaigns. Funchess’ 9.11 yards per target during the 2nd half of last season would have ranked 15th among 85 WRs who saw 50+ targets.
Pro Football Focus ranked Funchess 42nd among 117 WRs in their 2017 receiving grades. He finished 33rd among 86 WRs in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. So by all accounts, it was a solid campaign.
Changes in 2018
Unfortunately for Funchess, he’s not a great bet to play the same role this season.
For starters, he benefitted from Greg Olsen’s absence last year. The TE broke his foot in Week 2 and didn’t return to his usual role until Week 15. In 5 games without both Olsen and Benjamin, Funchess averaged 7.8 targets and 17.7 PPR points. In 4 outings with a healthy Olsen (including 1 playoff game), Funchess averaged 5.5 targets and 7.9 PPR points. Those latter numbers extrapolated over 16 games would have ranked just 41st and 52nd among WRs.
Funchess will also face increased target competition at his own position after the Panthers spent the 24th overall pick of this spring’s draft on D.J. Moore. The 6’0, 210-pounder doesn’t boast Funchess’ size, but he dominated market share at Maryland and tested as a 97th percentile athlete. Moore’s combination of talent and the draft capital give him a shot to leap Funchess in the pecking order this season.
Carolina also returns 2017 2nd-round WR Curtis Samuel and added veterans Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright in free agency. Christian McCaffrey will continue to play a major role in the passing game after leading all RBs with 113 targets last year. What was a barren group of pass-catchers over the 2nd half of last season suddenly looks deep heading into 2018.
That’s an even bigger problem for Funchess considering the Panthers have consistently been a run-favoring offense since QB Cam Newton arrived. Carolina has never ranked higher than 19th in pass attempts under Newton and has finished in the bottom 10 in 5 of his 7 seasons.
“We’ve just scratched the surface”
On the bright side, Funchess just turned 24 in May and should still be on the ascent. He set career-bests across the board last year, including in catch rate and yards per target.
“He’s still growing. We’ve just scratched the surface with Devin,” GM Marty Hurney said in February. “He is now in the position that really maximizes his skill set, and now we just want to see him continue to grow.”
Funchess is also in the final year of his rookie deal, giving him a little extra motivation this season.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Funchess performed well as Carolina’s lead receiver over the 2nd half of last season, scoring as a top 20 WR across fantasy formats.
That role figures to be short-lived, though. TE Greg Olsen was either out or limited for over half of that time. The Panthers spent a 1st-round pick on WR D.J. Moore this spring. And RB Christian McCaffrey will continue to play a big role in the passing game. That’s a lot of target competition on an offense that will continue to lean on the run.
There’s room for Funchess to improve his efficiency. And the 6’4, 225-pounder should continue to play a big role in the red zone. But an underwhelming target projection has him looking like no better than a WR3 in 2018 fantasy drafts.