Devin Funchess Is Going to Be a Steal in Fantasy Football Drafts This Year
Though the NFL's free agency period technically doesn't begin until tomorrow, teams are already well underway getting deals done with this year's group of free agents. Among them, Devin Funchess stands out as a clear winner -- especially for fantasy football purposes.
Funchess' numbers haven't been particularly exciting since he entered the league in 2015 as a second-round draft pick. Through four seasons he amassed 161 receptions, 2,233 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. For reference, JuJu Smith-Schuster has more receptions and receiving yards in his first two seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This isn't exactly a fair comparison -- JuJu is one of the best receivers in the game right now -- but it also highlights an important difference between JuJu's situation and Funchess': volume. The Steelers attempted the most passes (689) in the NFL in 2018, while the Carolina Panthers attempted a middle-of-the-road 563. In his previous seasons, the Panthers attempted the 27th, 20th, and 27th-most passes in the league. Situation matters a lot, and Funchess has had far less of an opportunity to amass counting stats -- which we love for fantasy -- in a lower-volume offense.
Looking further into Funchess' situation, he didn't have the best chance to succeed at all. He was a rookie in 2015 when the Panthers went on their Super Bowl run, and rookies don't often see extensive playing time. Despite that, he still drew the third-most targets on the team. He didn't pop in 2016 either, as he took a back seat to the team's former first round pick Kelvin Benjamin (who they would end up trading the following season), but to be fair, no Panthers had truly remarkable seasons when Cam Newton was completing just 52.1% of his passes for less than 7 yards per attempt.
2017 illustrated what Funchess could do when given the opportunity in a productive environment. The Panthers traded Benjamin partway through the year, and team leader Greg Olsen missed the better part of the season with a devastating foot injury. In those circumstances Funchess caught 63 passes in that season for 840 yards and 8 touchdowns; he was a solid producer for fantasy football that year.
Unfortunately, his production cratered in 2018. The Panthers emphasized first-round picks Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore in the passing game over Funchess, but part of that game plan was a product of Cam's inability to throw the ball downfield for a significant part of the season due to a shoulder injury. It's unfair to judge Funchess too harshly for failing to succeed on his downfield routes when his quarterback couldn't throw that far, a sentiment echoed by his 73.4% Catchable Target Rate (which ranked 72nd among qualifying receivers in 2018) according to PlayerProfiler.com. Even given those circumstances, he still led the team in Air Yards with 1,049.
So here's the tepid takeaway: Devin Funchess was a decent receiver for the Panthers that performed more or less how we could have expected given his opportunities and his quarterback's health.
A Fresh Start with the Colts
It's with that resume that Funchess heads to the Colts at just 24 years old -- the same age as 2018 first-rounder Calvin Ridley, but with three more years of experience. I'm not here to argue whether or not the Colts overpaid for the young free agent. I'm here to tell you he's going to be a huge value in fantasy drafts this year coming off of a down season.
Indianapolis immediately gives Funchess something he was missing in Carolina -- passing volume. The Colts attempted the second-most passes in the NFL last season, vaulting both T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron -- a former castoff of the Detroit Lions -- to the top of the fantasy leaderboards. And while Hilton and Ebron were dominant fantasy assets last year when healthy, the Colts roster is extremely thin beyond them when it comes to pass-catchers. The rest of the receiving corps was made up of a pretty good pass-catching running back in Nyheim Hines, and then a combination of Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, and Ryan Grant. None of those players, or even Ebron, managed to breach 7.0 yards per target during the season despite Andrew Luck's dominance at the quarterback position, but Funchess definitely could this year. He averaged 7.18 yards per target in his four seasons while playing with a less accurate passer.
If it weren't for Patrick Mahomes, I think we'd all be making a much bigger deal about the fact that Andrew Luck threw 39 touchdowns last year, especially considering that he didn't even attempt an NFL pass for over a year previous to that. Eric Ebron's monster fantasy season was a direct product of Luck's ridiculous touchdown count, and it's not unreasonable to assume that Luck can do similar for Funchess next year. After Ebron (13) and Hilton (6), no Colts receiver caught more than 3 touchdowns during the regular season, so there are plenty of scoring opportunities on the table for their newest wideout.
Volume is the basis of success in fantasy football, and the Colts are arguably the best situation in the NFL when it comes to available receiving volume. Andrew Luck can turn players like Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle into assets for fantasy, and players like Eric Ebron and TY Hilton into absolute studs. Given Funchess' past production heading into this Luck-led offense, he's going to shine in Indianapolis.