Futures: Michigan WR/TE Devin Funchess
By Matt Waldman
(Beginning today, Matt Waldman’s Futures column moves to Wednesdays through the 2015 NFL Draft.)
Is Devin Funchess a wide receiver or a tight end? The easiest answer is It depends on the team and scheme. NFL.com quoted an anonymous NFL personnel executive who compared Funchess to Jimmy Graham.
On the surface, it’s a convenient answer that dovetails with the executive’s take on the Michigan star and the basic argument Jimmy Graham faced during the 2014 offseason when he wanted to get paid.
I also find the comparison wholly off-base. Statements like that make my job as a content writer easier, when these anonymous folks disseminate (intentionally or otherwise) takes from left field.
The most immediate response that I have to the question Is Devin Funchess a wide receiver or tight end? is actually a question: Can he succeed at either?
I haven’t seen enough to provide a definitive opinion on Funchess (I’ll eventually deliver in April), but I have seen enough to say that having doubts about Funchess making a smooth transition to the NFL is a valid question.
Funchess has the potential to play either role, but the luminescence of those common threads that differentiate the game of an all-around “football player” from a mere prospect — awareness, physicality, and integrated technique — are not lighting up in Funchess’ game.
Graham was an inexperienced third-round pick with a 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame who could not even make a blocking dummy hit the ground with a correct punch when I watched him in Mobile with Anthony McCoy. Graham earned his admirers despite a limited game and sample size because of his rare athleticism for his size, his work in tight spaces, and his excellent ball skills that translated well from the basketball court.
Funchess is neither 6-foot-7 nor remotely in the neighborhood of 265 pounds. The Michigan prospect is 30 pounds lighter than Graham, and the Saints’ tight end did more with a far smaller sample size as a pass catcher than what I’ve seen thus far from the Wolverines prospect
There are also enough plays on tape to wonder if Funchess can get big enough to become a move tight end. If he does, will he have the athleticism to become an NFL mismatch?
Another question that arises: how physically and technically capable is Funchess of developing into an every-down perimeter receiver? I’m not sold on his perimeter speed.
Fortunately, there’s also a scenario where both answers could be negative and he still develops into a productive weapon in the league. Graham, Marques Colston, Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Reed, and Jarvis Landry have provided ample evidence that a prospect can have clear limitations as an athlete and technician and still thrive in the right offense.
But the doubts remain for me about Funchess because I’m not seeing in him the bevy of complementary factors that all of these “limited athletes/technicians” listed above possess. If a tight end prospect lacks the size or skill to play inline and he lacks the athleticism to run top-end routes, then it becomes more important that he has a dangerous all-around game with the ball in the air. If a wide receiver prospect lacks the game-breaking speed to stretch the field on the perimeter against cornerbacks, then he better have excellent mitts and handle physical play at the catch point.
Funchess has rough spots that could hamper his development in either direction, and it makes him less a no-brainer than some believe. Today’s Futures features five plays against Notre Dame that I’d present to a personnel executive as visual examples of questions that will need confident answers before a team decides what Funchess’ role will be in the NFL, much less how good they should feel about pulling the trigger on him in May.