Fantasy Football: Does Devin Funchess Have a Volume Problem?

Will Devin Funchess see enough targets from Cam Newton to pay off his fantasy price tag in 2018?

Last season, the Carolina Panthers made it clear that Devin Funchess was their number-one wide receiver when they decided to trade Kelvin Benjamin after Week 8 to the Buffalo Bills.

Funchess went on to finish the season as the WR22 in PPR leagues.

Over those eight games after the trade, Funchess saw a 23.1% target market share and a 29.4% red zone target market share. He also scored five of his eight total touchdowns in this span.

Now heading into the 2018 season, the fantasy community seems to be skeptical that Funchess can churn out another WR2 season. With his draft stock dropping a full round over the last month, we are currently seeing his average draft position at 89 in PPR Formats, making him the 38th wide receiver off the board.

Is there a clear path to volume for Funchess to continue his upward trend and out-produce his current value, or is there too much competition on the Panthers roster for targets to force him to take a step backwards?

Panthers' Number-One Receivers

Cam Newton has been a very successful fantasy quarterback ever since he entered the NFL in 2011.

We all know about his excellent rushing ability, as that is his bread and butter. But let's take a look at how Newton's number-one receivers have fared over his career.

Player Year Target Share Targets/G RZ Target Share PPR Rank
Devin Funchess 2017 22.2% 6.9 23.8% 22
Kelvin Benjamin 2016 21.0% 7.4 22.1% 27
Ted Ginn 2015 19.4% 6.5 12.3% 33
Kelvin Benjamin 2014 26.6% 9.1 28.3% 16
Steve Smith 2013 23.3% 7.3 26.7% 38
Steve Smith 2012 28.0% 8.6 23.7% 19
Steve Smith 2011 24.9% 8.1 18.8% 8

We can see the inconsistency that Newton's top receivers have experienced, as their year-over-year fantasy finishes have been all over the place. Newton tends to spread the ball around in the Panthers' offense, as we can see only one of his top receivers has averaged more than nine targets per game.

A couple things to take away from this: the Panthers' top receiver will typically see over a 20% market share and will normally perform at a fantasy WR2 to WR3 level.

The red zone usage is also encouraging for Funchess' outlook. Newton has been known to trust his big bodied receivers in the red zone, as evidence by Funchess and Benjamin's red zone target shares.

Funchess himself has seen 30 red zone targets over the past two seasons, catching a touchdown at a 26.7% clip on them.

As stated earlier, Funchess is being drafted as the WR38 this season. Based on the numbers above, Newtown has never had his top receiver perform any worse than that with the majority of them finishing well better than 38th.

What Will the Offense Look Like With Norv Turner Calling Plays?

The Panthers said goodbye to offensive coordinator Mike Shula after five up-and-down seasons. They have brought in old-timer Norv Turner to replace him heading into 2018.

Turner is known for the production he gets out of the tight end position, as he produced big seasons for Antonio Gates with the Chargers, Kyle Rudolph with the Vikings, and Jordan Cameron with the Browns.

The wide receiver position under Turner has seen mixed results in terms of statistical outputs. The encouraging thing that stands out for Funchess is that the best statistical seasons under Turner were all turned in by receivers with a similar body build (6'2" or taller and 215 pounds or heavier.

Vincent Jackson, Josh Gordon, Jerry Porter and Randy Moss all succeed in Turner's offensive system. While that is elite company to compare Funchess to in terms of skill set, when we combine their seasons under Turner, they averaged 131 targets per season.

Competition for Targets

The primary argument against Funchess heading into 2018 is that the crowded group of pass-catchers in Carolina will not allow enough volume for him to produce as much as he needs to in order to pay off his draft cost.

Greg Olsen is back and appears to be healthy after an injury-plagued 2017, and Christian McCaffrey will continue to be featured in the pass game. Also, the Panthers spent a high draft pick on rookie D.J. Moore and added Torrey Smith via free agency.

Funchess put up a solid season last year while only averaging 6.9 targets per game, so let's see if we can figure out if those targets will go down.

According to our projections, Newtown is projected for 491.8 pass attempts in 2018. One vital part of figuring out Funchess' potential volume is projecting Olsen and McCaffrey's workloads, as well.

Over the course of seven years playing together, Olsen has seen 21.1% of Cam Newton's pass attempts, and now he enters his eighth year in the league at age 33.

The addition of Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator should bring an increase to Olsen, as his system heavily features tight ends. Our projections have Olsen pegged for 135.7 targets (27.6% target share of Newton's attempts).

In McCaffrey's rookie season, he saw 113 targets from Newton, which is an absolute absurd amount for a running back, but that is just who McCaffrey is. Expectations should be similar for McCaffrey in 2018 seeing anywhere from 100 to 115 targets. Our projections have him seeing 110.2 targets this season.

So, between Olsen and McCaffrey, they should eat up about half of the total team targets, leaving the rest of the targets to be spread amongst Funchess, Smith, Moore, Curtis Samuel, and the rest of the bunch.

What Funchess represents that these other receivers do not is a big physical possession receiver. Funchess should see continued opportunities in the red zone, as he is four or more inches taller than any other Panthers receiver who should see consistent snaps.

Panthers Wide Reciever Height Weight
Devin Funchess 6'4" 225 lbs.
Torrey Smith 6'0" 205 lbs.
D.J. Moore 5'10" 185 lbs.
Curtis Samuel 5'11" 195 lbs.
Jarius Wright 5'10" 190 lbs.
Damiere Byrd 5'9" 180 lbs.

Not only does Funchess project as the lone possession receiver, but our projections also have Funchess finishing the season with a healthy 108.7 targets.

With Olsen aging and some unproven talent behind him, it's hard to see Funchess failing miserably as the Panthers' number-one wide receiver. A repeat of last year's numbers seems well within the range of outcomes.

Funchess Seems Like a Safe Gamble

Funchess has progressed in each of his first three seasons, and now there seems to be some doubt surrounding him heading into 2018 due to target competition and a new offensive system. His price is low in fantasy drafts right now, making him a solid value.

He was able to produce a WR2 fantasy season last year on 111 targets, and he projects to see a similar workload with some upside for more if things fall his way.

Funchess should continue to be featured in the red zone as he has been throughout his career, probably only trailing Olsen in red zone targets in Turner's tight-end-favorable system.

It is hard to see Funchess' volume plummeting with his career trajectory continuing to point upwards, and currently being drafted as a fantasy WR3 or WR4, Funchess seems like a safe gamble at his current price.