Devin Funchess continues to get a ton of offseason hype, and it's enough to make me wonder if it's actually true. Kelvin Benjamin hasn't fully returned to practices, and Funchess has been the star of OTAs according to those in the know. Funchess converted from tight end to wide receiver his junior year at Michigan, so there's no doubt he was raw at the position, especially his rookie year in the NFL. Now, it appears he has shaved down the learning curve and has poised himself to be the No. 2 receiver on the team, with some chance to be the No. 1. Of course, if Kelvin Benjamin comes back fully healthy, which he is expected to do and Greg Olsen remains his best self, then Funchess will be relegated to, at best, the third-most targets on a team that would rather run the ball. But, Benjamin's rookie numbers were inflated by his number of targets and Olsen is good, but he's still a tight end, and Funchess could pass him up at some point if he has truly made a big step this offseason.
Last season, Cam Newton threw 35 touchdown passes on just 298 completions, which was a touchdown on over 11 percent of his completions. That's pretty amazing, but even more amazing is that Ted Ginn caught 10 of those touchdowns while dropping multiple passes in the interim. Ginn was called upon with Benjamin out for the year and Funchess still learning the position and the offense, but at 31 years old, the journeyman Ginn will have trouble finding playing time this year.
The question is, will Newton's touchdown percentage fall back to his norm, which have been closer to seven percent, and will he be able to supply Olsen, Benjamin and Funchess with enough scoring opportunities to give all three fantasy value, or will Funchess need to demonstrably pass Benjamin as the No. 1 receiver to have true fantasy upside?
I do think Newton showed marked improvement last season and dropped passes did not help his efficiency numbers. Ginn and Funchess were the main culprits for drops last year, with nine and eight each, but the scuttlebutt so far in OTAs has been Funchess' improved hands. Also, all but two of Funchess' drops came before Week 8 last season. He clearly improved as the season went on, with all five of his touchdown receptions coming in the last nine games.
But what about a healthy Kelvin Benjamin? His rookie year, 2014, in which he saw 145 targets, gave him the third-most targets for a rookie receiver since target data has been tracked - starting in 1992. Benjamin caught just 73 of those targets, dropping 11. Now he's been away from the game for over a year and has an improved Funchess to contend with. Of course, Benjamin is going to be a big part of this offense, but he'll need time to get back up to speed and unless there are injuries, there is no way he'll see over 140 targets again.
Unfortunately, there is no Rosetta stone to unlock this mystery of who will lead the Panthers in targets and fantasy points, but Funchess is currently being drafted as the 56th receiver in the 13th round according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Thankfully, there is plenty of value there, especially when you compare him to Benjamin, who is being drafted as the 15th receiver in the third round. I will not be taking Benjamin anywhere close to that ADP, but sign me up for Funchess in the 10th or later.