As you rigorously prepare and research leading into each fantasy football season, injuries are always going to change the landscape. “Next Man Up” will be a brief series that examines players who are now being forced to step into the starting role because of an injury suffered to a fantasy stud during camp.
Devin Funchess — WR, Carolina PanthersThe Panthers got brutal news when Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL earlier in camp. Benjamin was expected to be one of the most targeted pass catchers in the NFL this season. With him out of the loop, there’s going to be a lot of receptions to go around in Carolina. Somewhat surprisingly, the Panthers are yet to dip into the free agent pool at the WR position — which means, ready or not, Devin Funchess is in line for a big workload.
The rookie out of Michigan is going to have a lot more on his plate than anyone thought he would this early on. The plan was to ease him in as the No. 2 WR while Benjamin presumably had a monster sophomore showing. Now Funchess is going to have to learn the ropes on his own as the featured weapon in the Panthers’ passing game.
Funchess is actually a pretty similar WR to Benjamin. They both have good size and thrive on jump balls in the redzone. The major knock on Funchess is that he drops the ball — something that can particularly haunt a rookie. Needless to say, it’s very important he figures that issue out early, because Carolina can’t afford for Cam Newton not to have faith in his No. 1 WR.
If all goes to plan, Cam should be able to trust his new target to find his way into the end zone, though. Funchess caught five touchdowns as a freshman on only 15 catches, and then snagged another six TDs during his 748-yard sophomore season — all while playing TE. As a junior, Funchess was moved to WR after his true skills were recognized. During an injured 2014, he caught 62 passes for 733 yards and four TDs in just 11 games.
Although he hasn’t played since, in Week 1 of the preseason, Funchess put his talents on display, snagging a pair of receptions for 53 yards. Clearly, it’s a minuscule sample size, but Funchess can be a deep ball receiver.
The rookie still has a lot to learn about playing the WR position, though, and he’s going to have to learn fast. But with Benjamin done for the season, Funchess is the next man up, and will be stepping into a role that’s filled with fantasy potential.
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