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Devin Funchess and the Kelvin Benjamin Corollary

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Devin-Funchess-advanced-stats

The injury imp, alive and well in 2015, has claimed yet another victim in Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin.  The ramifications of a season-ending torn ACL will not only be felt across the Panthers organization, but across the fantasy football landscape with Devin Funchess set to become something of a household name (that will spawn a plethora of awesome fantasy football team names).

But all servings of Cinnamon Toast Funch and Honey Funchess of Oats (G.O.A.T.’s?) aside, we’re talking about a player who’s set to see a massive increase in opportunity.  As Carolina’s second round pick in 2015, drafted only one year and 13 draft spots after Kelvin BenjaminDevin Funchess was going to play a big role in this offense even before Benjamin’s injury.  One of this year’s most polarizing pre-draft prospects, the question is whether Funchess will warrant consideration for your fantasy teams once his ADP catches up to his newfound value.  If he can take advantage of his opportunity, which his impressive prospect profile suggests is likely, the answer is a resounding yes.

Brandon Marshall Clone

Devin Funchess’ similarity to Brandon Marshall represents one of PlayerProfiler’s closest rookie WR comps in 2015 — clearly a good sign.  What stood out to me the most though was Funchess’ 41.4-percent (79th-percentile) College Dominator Rating was almost identical to Marshall’s 42.5-percent (82nd-percentile).  A closer look reveals that Marshall recorded his dominator rating on a Central Florida team that passed for 3,045 yards and 24 touchdowns in the 2005 season.  Meanwhile, Funchess recorded his dominator rating on a Michigan team that passed for 2,042 yards and 10 touchdowns as a team!

Funchess-Marshall-PlayerComparisonMatrix

Devin Funchess-Kelvin Benjamin Profile Comparison Matrix

Devin Funchess dominated his junior season (his first at WR after playing tight end in his freshman and sophomore seasons) despite catching passes from Devin Gardner, who was converted to WR by the Steelers.  He was paired with Denard Robinson (now an NFL running back) during his freshman campaign.  If we know anything about Cam Newton, it’s that he will be by far and away Funchess’ best quarterback teammate.  Knowing that Funchess has proven that he can be a team’s top passing game option despite truly abysmal QB play, the excitement starts to build.

Divergent College Experiences

Devin Funchess‘ critics point to his 11.8 yards per reception (13th-percentile) during his final season at the University of Michigan.  One explanation for this lackluster efficiency was Funchess’ turf toe injury, which he sustained early in the season. Considering that he recorded 15.6 YPR and 15.3 YPR while playing TE during the two seasons prior (including three touchdowns of 40-plus yards), it stands to reason that the 11.8 YPR figure was an outlier.

Regardless, Devin Funchess never approached Benjamin’s 18.7 College YPR (88th-percentile), but Benjamin had pro-ready QB Jameis Winston was throwing him the ball.  Despite playing in the perfect situation at the college level, Benjamin only managed a 29.3-percent (42nd-percentile) College Dominator Rating.  With some combination of Robinson and Gardner as his college quarterbacks, If Funchess had the chance to play at Florida State with Jameis Winston, Funchess would have likely been a first round pick on draft day and his perception in the fantasy football community would be closer to Amari Cooper than Tyler Lockett.  Conversely, if Benjamin had played at Michigan with RB Denard Robinson and WR Devin Gardner throwing him the ball, Benjamin surely would not have been a first round pick in the NFL Draft and his ADP would never have crested the third round as it did this summer.

“X”traordinary Talent

While Kelvin Benjamin was sitting out most of OTA’s with a hamstring injury, Devin Funchess was busy getting reps at all three of the different receiver positions.  This speaks to his underrated versatility as a prospect and is a great sign for his dynasty value.  Per the Charlotte Observer, head coach Ron Rivera will now have Funchess concentrate primarily on learning Benjamin’s “X” receiver position.  While Funchess’ size and athletic profile suggests he would be a better fit at flanker, if the X position is the target hog position on the Carolina offense, than assuming that role would the best case scenario for Funchess’ fantasy outlook.

[KelvinBenjamin]-Wide Receiver-Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin Advanced Metrics Profile

[DevinFunchess]-Wide Receiver- Carolina Panthers

Devin Funchess Advanced Metrics Profile

One of the big, subjective knocks on Devin Funchess is that he “didn’t always fight for the ball in the air.”   While some of that can be attributed to the turf toe injury that limited him throughout the 2014 season, that’s something that can be taught at the NFL level.  You can’t teach is a 38.5-inch vertical leap, which contributes to his 126.5 Burst Score (76th-percentile).  Kelvin Benjamin, on the other hand, recorded a 32.5-inch vertical jump and a 114.8 Burst Score (15th-percentile) on PlayerProfiler

As the “X” receiver in 2014, Kelvin Benjamin had 40 passes thrown to him beyond 20 yards, No. 1 in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, despite possessing a mere 9.96 Catch Radius (40th-percentile) on PlayerProfiler.  Nonexistent vertical explosion and lateral quickness is required for any 6-5 wide receiver to possess a below average catch radius compared to his peers at the position around the league.  Benjamin’s underwhelming catch radius likely contributed to his 22.2-percent Red Zone Catch Rate, which was league-bottom among qualified receivers.  Counterintuitively, the NFL’s biggest receiver experienced difficulty winning on jump balls and deep routes.

The Specter of Injury

Before Kelvin Benjamin’s ACL tear, SportsInjuryPredictor.com rated Devin Funchess with a medium injury risk (33-percent) entering the season.  Now that Funchess is in line to be Carolina’s de facto WR1, he’s been converted to high risk player with a 70-percent chance of missing a game due to injury.  Between the turf toe injury that helped contribute to his “subpar” junior year and a hamstring pull that he recently suffered in training camp, increasing Funchess’ injury risk quotient seems logical.

2015 Outlook

With Ron Rivera’s assurance that the team isn’t shopping for a veteran WR via the trade market or free agency, the expectations are building for Devin Funchess in the fantasy football community.  His ADP is rising quickly, which may inspire fantasy football experts to write cautionary “fade the hype” Funchess pieces.

Don’t listen to them.

As the Carolina Panthers’ clearcut No. 1 WR playing the X receiver role in 2014, Kelvin Benjamin saw his ADP rise will into the single-digit rounds before last summer concluded.  Benjamin proceeded to significantly outperform is draft position.  In an interesting twist of fate, the Kelvin Benjamin corollary provide an archetype for projecting Funchess’ 2015 role and fantasy output.

Devin Funchess is a younger, more athletic, and more efficient version of the player he’ll be directly replacing in 2015.  With a superior 10.14 Catch Radius (77th-percentile) as well as more long speed than Benjamin, Funchess is athletically-positioned to meet and perhaps exceed Benjamin’s fantasy output as Carolina’s starting “X” receiver.  Even if Funchess is unable to eclipse Benjamin’s 146 targets (No. 5 in the NFL) from 2014, Funchess’ college productivity and athletic profile suggests that he will likely be more efficient with his targets.  As Devin Funchess’ ADP continues to march into the single-digit rounds, turn up your speakers, draft him on your fantasy football team, and Play That Funchy Music.

Ray Marzarella is a professional wrestler on the independent circuit and a lifelong New York Giants fan. You can follow him on the Twitter: @rayraymarz