Carolina’s general manager Marty Hurney shocked the NFL fantasy community by trading away the Panthers’ top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, to Buffalo. The move unofficially elevates Devin Funchess to the primary wide receiver role through no effort of his own. Funchess and Benjamin are similarly sized and styled wide receivers, which might explain why Hurney felt he could deal one of them. But it also makes Hurney’s assertion that he made the trade because he wants to get more speed on the field somewhat ominous to Funchess’ position. Funchess is not a speed receiver, either.
Funchess was already seeing more targets lately in the absence of tight end Greg Olsen. But other than two games against the Patriots and Lions, when he caught 14 of 17 targets, Funchess sports a catch percentage of only 46% on the season.
Russell Shepard is the second starting wide receiver, with speedsters Curtis Samuel and Kaelin Clay behind him. None of the three has caught over two passes in a game yet, but could one of them become the top dog in Carolina ahead of Funchess?
What are the odds?
Tight end Greg Olsen is still a few weeks away from returning to the lineup after breaking his foot. He is the only other established receiving threat on the team. Ed Dickson had one big receiving week replacing Olsen, but since then has not topped 40 yards in any game.
Rookie Christian McCaffrey can line up in the slot and provide another receiver, but while he is catching a lot of passes, he isn’t running amok through the league. He is not enough of a threat to take heat off Funchess.
If Funchess will be the guy for the Carolina Panthers, the team has to send Curtis Samuel streaking down the field and hope Cam Newton hits him often enough to draw coverage away from his big target.
Can he do it?
Funchess is only a third-year receiver himself and has never been expected to shoulder the load. He is a large target, runs decent routes, and his quarterback will throw it to him in crowds. The opportunity is there for Funchess to step up and be a stud.
But five of the Panthers’ last eight opponents sport NFL fantasy D/STs with top-third rankings against wide receivers. Carolina’s running game isn’t scaring anyone into cheating up close. Until Olsen gets back, there is no established receiving threat. Even when Olsen returns, there is no deep threat.
Without a few Panthers stepping up their game, Funchess could sport weekly lines of four or five catches on 12 targets. That being said, with Benjamin gone, the other young receivers may jump at the chance to show their stuff and all will eventually be right in the Panthers’ world.
But for now…
Funchess will get targets and targets is the name of the game in fantasy. But he only caught half of Newton’s passes when Benjamin drew the attention of defenses. I do not trust him to be a top flight NFL fantasy wide receiver week in and week out.
I am sitting him this week against Atlanta and probably until Olsen returns to the Carolina lineup.
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