Despite hearing reports about the Colts being “all in” on Tyrell Williams, their first free agent signing will be former Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess. He’ll be signing a one-year deal worth $13 million once the new league year opens on Wednesday at 4pm EST.
STEPPING UP IN CAROLINA
While with the Panthers and Cam Newton, Funchess made the most of his opportunity, particularly when Kelvin Benjamin was traded to the Bills during the 2017 season. While filling the No. 1 role in the Panthers offense, Funchess caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns on 111 targets. Not only did Cam Newton deal with injuries last year, but so did Funchess, who saw just 11 targets after Week 11.
FIT IN THE COLTS OFFENSE
Now moving over the Frank Reich offense, Funchess won’t be leaned on as the top option in the offense, but rather the outlet when Andrew Luck is under duress. While watching Funchess with the Panthers, he’s not the type who’ll create yards of separation but rather one who’ll snag a ball in traffic with strong hands. When you consider the fact that they already have T.Y. Hilton in place as the field stretcher and someone who goes into the slot on a semi-regular basis, Funchess makes for the perfect compliment.
It usually takes some time for a team with a new head coach to become comfortable enough to throw the ball 600-plus times, but we watched Luck chuck the ball 627 times in his first year under Reich. They’ve built an offensive line that can protect him, have a solid – though not elite – run-game, and are now adding targets for Luck in the red zone. The defense has been improving, though, which could force the pass attempts to dip a bit in 2019. Still, there’s a solid floor in place and plenty of targets to go around.
It seemed the Colts tried to find the next Donte Moncrief in their offense last offseason with Ryan Grant, though that idea crashed and burned as the season went on. Ultimately, it was Dontrelle Inman who stepped into the starting lineup and played extremely well down the stretch while Grant became a role player. It seems they’re trying to rectify that role with Funchess, though he’s a much better compliment to Hilton than Grant was ever going to be. Funchess is 6-foot-4, 232 pounds and knows how to use his body to box defenders out. Since coming into the league, Funchess has seen 51 red zone targets. On those targets, he caught 23 of them, with 16 of them being touchdowns. By comparison, Hilton (in that same period) has seen 57 red zone targets, catching 25 of them, with just 10 of them being touchdowns. It’s also important to remember that Hilton had Luck throwing to him while Funchess had the oft-inaccurate Cam Newton throwing him the ball.
When looking at the offense as a whole, wide receivers made up for just 52.4 percent of the targets, which ranked 27th in the league. Whether that’s a product of the offense or just limited receiver talent doesn’t matter, because given the large output in pass attempts, it still amounted to 337 targets, which was the eighth-most in the league. If you were to morph Grant and Inman into one receiver, they would’ve combined for 90 targets, something we wouldn’t mind seeing for Funchess, especially considering how well he’s performed in the red zone.
When you see a player signed for one year, it’s logical to be skeptical of his role and/or future with the team, but when you see it’s $13 million, you better believe they have a clear role for him and are going to do everything they can for him to succeed. Why? Well, his salary of $13 million ranks 14th among wide receivers in 2019. This doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to produce, but rather guaranteed to get the opportunity to produce.
His primary competition right now would be last year’s sixth-round pick Deon Cain, who was having a solid training camp, but tore his ACL during their first preseason game. He’ll likely be back for the start of the season, but it’s essentially going to be his rookie year, so you don’t want to rely on him. It’s also possible the Colts go out and draft another big wide receiver, which is somewhat likely considering Funchess’ one-year deal, but again, it’s a rookie wide receiver. It’s rare you find a receiver who walks into the starting lineup on day one and contributes significantly, unless of course it’s a high-round selection, but would the Colts have spent $13 million on Funchess if that were their plans? From everything the Colts are telling us, Funchess will be in the starting lineup alongside Hilton in Week 1 of the 2019 season.
There will be many who don’t like this move based on what happened with Funchess towards the end of his Panthers career, but you shouldn’t be one of them. Funchess provides a big-bodied wide receiver for Luck to throw to, something he really hasn’t had in his career. If Funchess can produce with Cam Newton as his starting quarterback in an offense that threw the ball 563 times or less every year he was there, he can produce in this offense. He’s not going to be the star of the show as long as Hilton is around, but he can be a quality supporting act. His presence shouldn’t take anything away from Hilton, but rather take away from Eric Ebron, who saw 21 red zone targets last year, which ranked third among tight ends. Funchess isn’t likely to be a league-winner, though he presents WR2 upside if Hilton were to miss any time. With Hilton in the lineup and no other major additions to the offensive starters, Funchess should be able to creep into the top-40 wide receiver conversation. My early 2019 projection: 82 targets, 48 receptions, 619 yards, 6 touchdowns