clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Devin Funchess the next great NFL tight end?

New, comments

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White says the Michigan's Devin Funchess has a much brighter future at tight end than he does wide receiver.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan wide receiver/tight end Devin Funchess is next to go under the microscope. For the purposes of this breakdown I went over to Draft Breakdown and watched Funchess play against Appalachian State, Notre Dame, Utah, and Ohio State. Those represented the first, second, fourth and 12th games of Michigan's season, respectively.

I'm not gonna lie to you, I chose Funchess because I thought he would be a fun guy to break down considering the fact that he had been both a wide receiver and a tight end. If he was any good at either or both positions, that would make him a potential match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. I honestly hadn't seen much of Funchess last season because I didn't watch Michigan. I was genuinely excited to see how he played. Little did I know that Funchess' film would make him such an enigma for me. If ever there was a time I needed that fifth game to firm up my evaluation of a guy it was this time.

But I didn't have it, so I'll just try to explain why Funchess' draft value isn't crystal clear for me yet.

First off, how about we start with this: Funchess scored three touchdowns against Appalachian State in the first game of the year. Why does that matter you ask?

Well, because as you can see up above, the Appalachian State game just so happens to be one of only four of Funchess' games from 2014 available at Draft Breakdown. I had no idea before watching any of that game that Funchess had three touchdowns that day. As it turns out, Funchess only scored one more touchdown the rest of last season.

One. Uno. Dassit.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like he sucked in the other three games I watched. He played pretty well in each contest, in spite of some iffy play from his quarterback, Devin Gardner. However, there is a good chance that seeing 75 percent of his touchdown production for 2014 in one game could definitely skew my evaluation of him into a more positive light than other evaluators currently have him. I'm being up front about that, so hey, if what I say is a lot different from other evaluations, that's probably going to be the reason why.

At the same time I will also say this, I do think there is some upside to watching a prospect's best game of his last season. The draft is all about projections, trying to make an educated guess about a guy's floor and ceiling. Those with the higher ceilings tend to get taken earlier because front offices and coaching staffs tend to believe they can coach a guy up enough that he will ultimately realize his full potential. If you watch their best game of their final season, then at the very least, you'll see a tangible representation of what that prospect's ceiling looks like in the flesh.

Before you bring it up, I don't care about the level of competition, either. If I had a prospect's full set of games from his last season to choose from, I would almost invariably still try to choose one of his best games, if not his best game, to use for my evaluation. On the other hand, if you can't impress me on your best day, that will tell me a lot too.

This guy Funchess did indeed impress me against Appalachian State. The play from that game that stood out to me in particular was when he ran an over route, caught the pass maybe 10 yards from pay dirt and proceeded to give a nasty stiff arm to an App State defender on his way into the end zone..

That was one of the few times in four games I watched that Michigan's offense had enough time to allow a play like that to develop. However, the pass was still a little off the mark. First, Funchess had to jump up and adjust to the ball in the air which showcased his athleticism. Then, instead of trying to outrun the defender or just accept being knocked out of bounds, Funchess decided to show the li'l fella that he was out of his weight class.

I realize that the defensive back from Appalachian State is nowhere close to being an NFL defensive back, but here's my thing on that. I love players who dominate when they are supposed to dominate. The great ones dominate everybody, but great players do not grow on trees. I will take a "good" player who dominates lesser competition and gives as good as he gets against top competition any day of the week. It's a hell of a lot better than the player who is inconsistent no matter who they play against.

I should go ahead and say that Funchess is not going to be a wide receiver on the next level. I know he somehow ran around a 4.5 in the 40 at his pro day and that's great, but on tape he played last season at a speed a lot closer to the 4.7 he ran at the Combine. That 4.7 is a pretty good time for a tight end, but below average for a wide receiver.

Don't get me wrong, 40 times aren't and end-all, be-all, but they do matter. Put the slow 40 with the slow film and the fact that Funchess is rarely sudden in his change of direction and it adds up to a tight end.

Only problem with that is the fact that Funchess wasn't exactly the most willing blocker in the four games I watched. Sure, he got his guy every now and then, but all too often he would totally whiff on defenders out in space. It was usually a lack of effort to blame on those plays.

That isn't to say that Funchess is a guy who loafs. Hell, he had a couple of plays where he showed tremendous hustle. Once, he tried to stop Michigan's hated rival Ohio State from scoring a defensive touchdown after his quarterback fumbled. He didn't quite make it, but it wasn't for lack of effort.

There was the long running play against App State all the way on the opposite side of the field from Funchess where he ends up in the same frame as the running back before he finally gets tackled. That's was some hellafied effort right there.

It's not his effort that I'd question, it's whether he is ready for the kind of contact he'll get as a tight end in the NFL. It's one thing to be flexed out wide catching passes and shit, but at some point Funchess is going to have to line up in a three-point stance beside an offensive tackle and block a 280-pound defensive end. It won't be his bread and butter, of course, but if he can't do it at all, then I'm not sure he has a position on any team. Name any of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL and I guarantee you they all spent some time as a "stud" tight end blocking on running plays last year. I'm sure they didn't always do a great job of it, but they at least tried.

As I said before, Funchess definitely has enough speed to play tight end according to the film. What I'm not sure about is if he has enough speed to be a true matchup problem. The fact that he wasn't very quick in and out of his breaks in those four games makes me wonder if he could consistently get open against an average NFL linebacker. For Funchess to be a true matchup problem, he would have to be so dominant against linebackers in the passing game that opposing defenses would have to put a nickel corner or safety on him instead. If he is dominant enough to dictate personnel, then creative offensive coordinators can use that to open up the passing game and to open up the running game. If opposing defenses feel comfortable matching up a linebacker on him, well, those kinds of tight ends come a dime a dozen.

From what I saw, I believe Funchess can play faster. He just needs to work on his footwork and route running more than anything else. That will improve his quickness in and out of his breaks and make him into that legitimate mismatch on offense.

Then there are Funchess' hands. At times, they look excellent; other times, they look suspect as hell. You know what, I shouldn't say that. What I should say is that his hands looked suspect as hell against Notre Dame. There was a stretch in the middle of that game where he had one definite drop and a couple other suspected drops on quick slants. Given the fact that a lot of his catches will be contested on the next level, those three plays make me nervous.

On the other hand, he made at least one incredible catch in that game and the other three.

Here is a guy who is 6'4 with a 38.5-inch vertical and he knows how to go up and snag the football. That's the side of Funchess that makes you want to forgive all the other bad shit he did in those four games. Those plays give you a glimpse of what kind of weapon he could be on the next level.

Those plays also make you wonder what kind of damage Funchess could have done had his quarterback been a little bit better.

That's another reason this evaluation was so confounding.

Devin Funchess, like Arizona State wide receiver Jaelon Strong, had a pretty shitty quarterback situation. Both players didn't have many opportunities where the ball came right on the money. They both had to do a lot of adjusting to bad balls even when they were wide open. That's good in that you get to see them make a lot of difficult catches look easy, but it sucks because you would like to see them in position to make more plays to see if they actually were successful or not.

You also end up wondering how bad quarterback play affected their mindset every game. Gardner got Funchess killed in the Utah game, #blowded up. To his credit, Funchess fully laid out for that catch even knowing he was about to get blasted, but the collision caused him to release the football.

Later in the game, Gardner almost got him killed again by leading him into another hit, but Funchess was able to adjust his body while catching the ball so that he made the defender miss the knockout hit.

I'm telling you about those two passes because later in the game Funchess was again running a quick slant and Gardner once again threw it out in front of him. This time, Funchess alligator-armed the ball and it fell incomplete. I would have graded Funchess down on that play, but having seen those previous two, I wasn't mad at him at all. That's how having a bad quarterback can negatively effect skill position guys on offense. I just try to keep that in mind as I evaluate them.

There's is one other thing that excites me about Funchess' potential: his ability to run after the catch. Michigan moved Funchess around and employed a lot of different methods in order to get the ball to him, including quick 5-yard stop routes as well as various wide receiver screens. They did this because they knew he was dangerous with the ball in his hands. I didn't see him break a bunch of tackles and take one to the house, but what I did see was Funchess fighting for every single extra inch he could get after every catch. You can never have enough playmakers on your team, and Funchess is clearly a playmaker.

But he is still far from a sure thing.

I see Funchess as a solid second-round pick. It's hard for me to see him as a first-round pick because of his blocking and the lack of burst and suddenness on film.  At the same time, I imagine some teams who really know how to utilize and maximize pass catching tight ends may have him rated much higher than that. The Saints, Patriots, Chargers and Broncos are examples of teams that I think could have him rated as a first-rounder. I don't know if any of those teams will be on the clock in the first round at a time where he is the highest rated guy on their board, but I definitely wouldn't be surprised if it happens.

If Funchess can gain a little weight and become at least a competent blocker, I think he will end up having a nice long career in the NFL. Maybe not a Pro Bowler, but a long-time starter and contributor. The potential is there for him to be a Pro Bowl type, but there is also a chance he could be a big time bust. A guy like that screams second-round pick, and that's exactly where I would target him.

SB Nation presents: Ranking the best 5 tight ends of the 2015 NFL Draft