A Funchess Time Will be Had by All

With David Gettleman's sanity being questioned overnight with the acquisition of Shaq Thompson, the "slash" player from Washington U., the Panthers' GM made a move the next day that made so much sense on so many levels, the same people questioning the man's sanity suddenly had a change of heart as the team gave up several draft picks to vault to the top-third of the second round to select Kelvin Benjamin v 2.0.

Devin Funchess of Michigan State was the target, and once the name was called out, I went "Ohhh I gotcha! I see! NICE!" - or something to that effect. I suspect those who know the Carolina Panthers' offensive system and scheme see things largely the same way.

You Can't Take 'em All Home with You

Due to the loss of some free agents, the Panthers had three fifth-round picks; their organic one and two "compensatory" picks that cannot be traded.

The "no-trade" rule was no handicap, however, as Gettleman pulled the trigger with the picks he could trade - namely, our own late-round second, third-rounder, and their organic sixth-rounder that IS trade-able to launch up to the 9th spot in the second round to grab him. 57th overall to 41st - that's the price to be paid.

First, I had voiced an opinion several times both in print and in our Draft-bash Google Hangout on the night of the first round that "hey guys, we might trade up in the second round for someone since we have all these middle-round picks."

That's exactly what we did. Our own Mel Mayock is the one who reminded me that we can't trade those two compensatory 5th-rounders, but I shrugged and said that we could use our regular 5th and 4th along with our 2nd or 3rd and move up that much more. As it turned out, the price wasn't even quite as high as I had thought, but so much the better. 

Call it precognition, a lucky guess, or the educated guess that it really was. I knew we couldn't keep all nine picks on the final roster and unless we just wanted to trade away a pick or two for more picks in future drafts, which is almost never done as an end in itself, it would likely be that we'd use them to "go up and get" a specific guy, as I said. It was the most logical course that I could see and frankly shouldn't have been such a shock that it was to some.

Devin Funchess really IS a Kelvin Benjamin version 2.0. At 6-4 1/4" (listed at 6'5") and 232 pounds, he's a very slightly smaller physical specimen than the 6-5 240 lb Kelvinator. Even the "knocks" on him out of college are similar - that he's a big WR that had 20 drops in college over 3 seasons. 

Sound familiar?

Funchess is also not quite the speed-merchant that I was looking for at #25 with Perriman out of UCF, who caught passes from Blake Bortles in college but had his most productive year after Bortles left. He's the kid who has the size to play outside and sub 4.30-speed. 

However, after the fact, I did more research on why we "passed" on Perriman: his propensity for dropping passes far surpasses that of either Funchess or Benjamin out of college, and is a boom-or-bust candidate that Gettleman doesn't want to risk a first-round pick on.

With Funchess' size, the Carolina Panthers now have the second-biggest starting WR duo in the NFC South after Tampa Bay's V-Jax and Mike Evans while being a more physical pair than those in Tampa Bay.

Remember, when Cam Newton misses his throws, he tends to miss high. With a strong arm mixed with youthful exuberance and adrenaline, "high" throws aren't all that uncommon among young NFL QBs.

The problem is that they often tend to get tipped and lead to picks. A pair of tree-like receivers should really help Cam and the Carolina offense round off some rough edges to Cam's game and one can see that the Panthers really are "building an offense around their QB."

It also tells me they're not letting Cam walk this off-season and that they most certainly wish to keep him around and lock him up with a long-term contract. It's also some subtle "leverage" that Gettleman will undoubtedly use to keep Cam's price tag at reasonable levels.

Cam Can't Take his Receivers with Him, Either!

The argument is an easy one to predict: Cam threatens to walk if he doesn't get the contract number he and his agent feel is right for him. Gettleman comes back with "I understand your wanting to look out for yourself and I don't blame you a bit. I would be doing exactly what you're doing if I were in your shoes. But tell me - where will you go that has receivers that big? The Bucs? They just got their guy in Winston. The Bears might come close, but they still are attached to Cutler and besides, do you wanna play eight games a year at Soldier Field?"

This is the sort of back-and-forth that goes on a lot behind closed NFL doors in contract talks. With millions of dollars on the table, it's literally an internal high-stakes poker game. First one to blink, loses.

Cam should see that the team is doing as much as it reasonably can to help tailor an offense to Cam's unique talents as well as his limitations. He'll likely never be a super-accurate passer. It's just not in him to run an offense with Tom Brady-like precision in the passing game. Just the opposite - with the hulking Newton at QB being probably the best power-running QB in NFL history already, massive FB Mike Tolbert putting his 265+ pounds from a compact frame into NFL defenders, Jonathan Stewart's 240 pound frame pounding the rock, and with not one but three targets nobody likes to tackle (Kelvinator, Funchess, and TE Greg Olsen), Carolina's offense will be unique.

Let the Funchess Begin!

To the brass tacks: NFL.com's scouting analysis can be found if you click here to open a new window and view it. 

To boil it down, he's got great size that I mentioned, but like Benjamin, only runs about a 4.6-40. You never get 100% of what you want in the NFL, even if your name rhymes with Barry Bones, so you do what you can and move forward with what you did get.

In this case, I think the Panthers will have to reign-in the "vertical passing game" that supposedly goes along with a balanced attack on the ground in favor of more of a running-game-style passing game. Funchess has decent speed, but only in a straight line and has perhaps a tad more "wiggle to his game" than Benjamin's brute-force in-your-face and above-your-head playing style. 

Funchess is likely about a half-step faster than Benjamin is, and he ran pretty well for his size at the NFL combine....a 4.47 and a 4.53, but in the background his time is shown as a 4.7. Going on game film highlights and the combine, he has more fluid hips than you might think from a guy his size, but the tape shows a guy who doesn't really appear a huge breakaway threat. He does his damage at the time of the catch and being able to force DBs to miss due to the difference in size rather than just out-running them.

He's also not quite as "overpowering" as his size might suggest, and he did play tight end during some of his time at MSU. In fact, he set a record for receiving yards by a TE there with 748 in 2013 before becoming a rover/hybrid-style guy a la Jimmy Graham in order to present match-up problems with the defense.

He'll most certainly bring match-up issues along with him to the NFL, as Richard Sherman is the only corner I'm aware of with the talent to actually cover such big guys effectively, but therein lies the beauty of this approach: We have two guys that command a Sherman-esque cornerback to defend. Nobody has two, let alone the fact most teams don't even have one like that - us included.

Let me explain the concept of the offense for 2015 I have in mind, factoring in Funchess' talents:

#KeepPounding - Even when Passing?

That's exactly the idea. You have a top-five, very physically punishing defense in place as it is. You just added another piece to THAT with the ShaqAttack athlete-without-a-position at the moment, but I'm sure we'll find a spot for him. Click here to read my earlier piece today on da Shaq in a new window.

Now we have literal hulking bookend WRs, both of whom are built like "tweeners" - too small to be a tight end and kind of "too big" to play at WR, but receivers they are. Either receiver is GOING to have a size advantage over whomever attempts to cover them. That much is certain.

If Funchess can be coached-up into being a bit more of a physical after-the-catch runner, and that may take some time for Funchess to figure out himself but will eventually, THEN we'll have our offensive set that we're likely looking for...so long as Mike Shula can call an appropriate game.

I have been saying ever since Ron Rivera took over, our offensive identity should be that of a power-running team. Now that we've added nearly 500 pounds between our two (likely starting) receivers, a pass completion will now be just like a nice run from J-Stew in most respects.

Think of it. J-Stew hits the scales at 240. So does Kelvin. Funchess is only a few pounds lighter. Cam is a few pounds heavier. Even the occasional carry from Mike Tolbert won't give the defense any rest.

What this all means is this offense is now built not to be the scalpel that a Tom Brady-style offense is, but a blunt instrument that is designed to wear down opponents' defenses continuously over the course of four quarters. We'll be beating on the other team with the running game and beating on the other team in the passing game. 

No retreat, no surrender. Kinda like the Wermacht in WWII, forward, forward....always forward, but without the Blitzkrieg part. Brady is the "Harry Potter" in New England. Carolina is now the club-wielding Ogre that everybody is afraid of. If they aren't, they soon will be. 

I'll be looking for other NFL teams to start to wilt late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth under continuous assault from both sides of the ball when they play us. I can't think of any team, including the Seattle Seahawks, that are going to be a more physical group overall on both sides of the football.

The Seahawks themselves likely had a hand in influencing our current look. They won a Super Bowl two years ago and were only a Patriot defender's great play on the goal-line interception away from another one last season. The Panthers have played the 'hawks for what, four years running now that they are on the schedule again this fall?

The 'hawks have Marshawn Lynch, who is probably the most physical runner in the game, but he's on the latter-part of his career with chronic back problems. Our Stewie has his own injury issues and as such, Gettleman didn't stop at playing "Fun Chess;" he also drafted last year's SEC-leading rusher in Cameron Artis-Payne.

The addition of Devin Funchess completes a passing game that was never meant to be "compartmentalized" as in...."this is the possession guy and this is the deep guy" like history suggests teams often do. The Panthers are more brutal about it, recognizing it's a physical sport, and jumping in with both feet in an attempt to be the biggest, baddest group on the block.

It's obvious to me the Panthers want to keep that top-five defense by adding talent through the draft, the way it should be done, while taking targeted pieces on offense that "fit the mold" of what they want the offense to become: a physical beat-down blunt instrument....just like the defense is! Just imagine what we'll have at receiver if Stephen Hill can amount to anything, too.

I wouldn't want to be the opposing team's trainer on the Mondays following a contest against the Carolina Panthers. They'll all be demanding raises!

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