Panthers’ Funchess takes promotion to No. 1 WR in stride
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Devin Funchess doesn’t fit the profile of some NFL wide receivers.
He’s not brash. He’s not boastful. And he’s not one who demands the football.
So it’s hardly a surprise that Funchess downplayed the significance of becoming Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver after former first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo earlier this week.
“Nah, I’m a team player,” Funchess said when asked if he’s excited about the prospect of more balls heading his way. “I don’t care about all of that stuff. I just want to play ball.”
But the move is significant.
Benjamin had more receptions (168) and targets (314) than any Panthers wide receiver since 2014 — despite missing all of the 2015 season because of a torn ACL in his knee.
The Benjamin trade means Funchess is now the primary receiver, a role he has played in the past. Funchess has been Carolina’s most versatile receiver over the past 2 ½ seasons, able to play all of the receiver spots.
“He’s going to be fine,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said “It’s not as if he hasn’t done it.”
Rivera said Funchess’ maturity level has increased significantly since his arrival as a second-round pick from Michigan in 2015. He’s regularly in the stadium earlier than most players watching film or getting ready for the day, Rivera said.
His production is also on the rise.
The 23-year Funchess is in the midst of his best season, on pace to catch 66 passes for 714 yards and six touchdowns this season. His previous high came in 2015 when he caught 31 passes for 473 yards and five touchdowns.
That’s one of the reasons the Panthers deemed Benjamin expendable.
Funchess and Benjamin are similar in build and have comparable skill sets. The Panthers felt they needed to replace one of them so they could add more speed at the other receiver positions.
“It shows that they like me a little bit,” Funchess said of the Panthers keeping him around. “So I was the right guy when they picked me I guess. ... It’s pretty cool.”
He doesn’t believe the offense will look much different with him at a different spot on offense.
“It’s not a new look,” Funchess said of the offense. “We are still doing the same offense. The offense wasn’t built around a certain player.”
Funchess was walking his American Bully dog Chopper when he said his phone started “blowing up” on Tuesday. An extremely private person, Funchess ignored most of the messages — “The right people weren’t calling me so I knew nobody died,” he said — but finally picked up when his godfather from Michigan called him.
Funchess said the news shocked him — as well as his teammates.
But he said players have handled the news “like grown men” and are preparing hard for a critical division game Sunday against the Falcons. In typical Funchess style, he’s taking everything in stride.
“It’s cool,” Funchess said. “I don’t get too high or low. I just roll with the punches. I’m always like this.”
NOTES: Center Ryan Kalil will miss his second straight game and seventh overall with a neck injury. .. Guard Trai Turner (knee) is listed as questionable but is expected to play against Atlanta on Sunday.
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