UM's Funchess says he can do 'damage' with Benjamin, Panthers

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Devin Funchess

Devin Funchess is looking forward to be a full-time wide receiver in the NFL. And after a toe injury limited his production during his junior season at Michigan, Funchess thinks he can prove himself with the Carolina Panthers.

"We never got to see the full Devin Funchess at Michigan because I did play one season at wide receiver, and I was battling through an injury," he said Friday at a Play 60 event at Cleveland Browns headquarters for the NFL's rookie symposium. "I think up here in the NFL I can make some damage."

And on a Panthers team with lackluster receivers, Funchess should have a chance to impress as a rookie. He'll also be playing with quarterback Cam Newton, who extends plays, similar to Funchess' college quarterbacks, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner.

The 41st overall pick in the second round, Funchess said he played receiver coming out high school before moving to tight end in college. Funchess showed potential as a freshman with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns and took a giant leap forward as a sophomore with 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

Then, before his junior season in 2014, Funchess moved back to wide receiver with expectations that his production would keep climbing. Instead, Funchess finished with the year with 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns.

However, Funchess started his final season at Michigan with a superb performance against Appalachian State with seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns — all of which came in the first half. Funchess had nine catches for 107 yards against Notre Dame the following week, but a toe injury held him out of the third game and slowed him for the rest of the season as he caught just one more touchdown and didn't eclipse 90 yards again until the final game (108 yards at Ohio State).

In March, Funchess described the toe injury as a torn ligament, some cracked bones and ruptured cartilage.

Despite playing through that injury, Funchess ended his junior year as a highly-regarded NFL prospect. But he didn't help himself at the combine when he ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, the slowest of any receiver at the event.

Luckily for Funchess, combine performance doesn't dictate position or draft order. He ran around a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at Michigan's pro day, which was closed to the media, and the Panthers drafted him to be a threat on the outside.

"You don't let people bring you down," Funchess said of the reaction to his combine run. "I proved it to everybody at the pro day. It wasn't open, as open as I wanted, but there were videos and film. And you can ask any scout there about what I ran.

"So, I don't really care about what I ran at the combine. I know what I know, and my game speed is faster than what most can run."

Devin Funchess: "I don’t really care about what I ran at the combine. I know what I know, and my game speed is faster than what most can run.”

In Carolina, Funchess will play opposite a receiver who proved last season that a 40-yard dash isn't predictive of success. Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' first-round pick in 2014, ran a 4.61, but finished his rookie season with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.

Funchess thinks he and the 6-foot-5 Benjamin should be able to make life hard for NFL defensive backs. Physically, Carolina's duo could become just as imposing as Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3) were for the Chicago Bears the last few seasons.

"We're going to be a dynamic duo, two 6-5 guys out there on the outside just making damage and causing havoc on the field," Funchess said. "You never see that type of duo in the league, two 6-5 guys on the outside that are athletic and that can run and go up and get the ball. Nobody has that wingspan in the league like us, so it's going to be fun during the season."