Former Michigan receiver Devin Funchess is making noise in training camp with the Detroit Lions as a tight end. Funchess was initially selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers following a glorious college career with the Wolverines. After hitting a dead end as a receiver, Funchess is working on transitioning into becoming a tight end.
Funchess enjoyed a stellar career at Michigan, corralling 126 receptions totaling 1,715 yards and 15 touchdowns over three seasons. As a freshman, Funchess made just 15 receptions for 234 yards and five scores. Over his final two seasons with the Wolverines, he posted nearly identical numbers going for 748/6 and 733/4.
Things looked reasonably optimistic during his time with the Panthers despite failing to live up to his draft hype. As a rookie, Funchess pulled down 31 receptions totaling 473 yards and five scores. His most productive season came in 2017 as a 23-year-old, where he totaled eight touchdowns and 840 yards on 111 targets making 63 grabs.
Following his most productive season as a professional, things started to tail off the following season. In 2018 Funchess made just 44 grabs totaling 549 yards and four scores. That would be his final season with the Carolina Panthers. Funchess would land in Indianapolis, where he'd be stricken by injuries appearing in just one contest for the Colts in 2019. He'd make three grabs for 32 yards. Funchess' career was derailed by injury and COVID-19, and he's trying to make a comeback three years later as a tight end.
Devin Funchess is trying to rejuvenate his professional career with the Detroit Lions as a tight end.
The three biggest knocks on Funchess are his inability to create separation as a receiver. He didn't win 50/50 battles like the Panthers expected he could. And he's only maintained a catch rate of 51.9% throughout his career. In comparison, newly signed DJ Chark, a 6-foot-4 speedster, has produced a catch rate of 55.5% to date. As a rookie, Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s catch rate was an eye-popping 75.6%.
What about T.J. Hockenson? The Detroit Lions' top tight end has produced a catch rate of 65.6% over his career. Last season in Detroit's new offense with Jared Goff under center, Hockenson managed a career-best 72.6% rate. Hockenson hauled in 61 receptions totaling 583 yards and four touchdowns.
Where does Devin Funchess fit in with the Detroit Lions?
The Detroit Lions need to be much better in the red zone in 2022. The team finished 31st in red zone efficiency last season with a touchdown rate of 46.67%. The only team worse had been the New York Jets at 44.74%. The additions of Chark and Jameson Williams plus a healthy offensive line should vastly improve this number in 2022. If you were wondering, the Buffalo Bills led this category last season, scoring a red zone touchdown on a whopping 66.28% of their opportunities.
Funchess, now a 6-foot-4 tight end, made a nice red zone touchdown grab in Detroit's first preseason game on a fade route.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) August 12, 2022
Keeping a guy like Funchess around could also benefit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson this season. One glaring question that remains unanswered as of now is; how well will he hold up as a blocker? I don't see Detroit keeping a guy like Funchess if he can't block a lick.
Lions tight ends coach, Tanner Engstrand, is confident that he will embrace the assignment to be an in-line receiver but also a blocker.
“He’s getting more comfortable every day,” Lions tight end coach Tanner Engstrand said. “It’s good to see him have a little bit of production, because really as you mentioned, he hadn’t had a lot of targets and maybe production in camp thus far as he’s getting accustomed to feeling it out in the box instead of spread out wide.
“It was really good to see him do that. Get down in the red zone, I mean, he can jump out of this room. And he’s tall and athletic and long, so that was awesome to see him make that play down in the red zone.”
The first thing we’re going to say is ‘is he willing to do it?’ (block) And yes, absolutely he’s willing to do it,” Engstrand said. “And he’s working on it everyday that we’re out there. He’s coming along for those things. It’s not for the faint of heart to be in there, and he does not shy away from contact whatsoever.”
As it stands now, the Lions are expected to go with Brock Wright as their second tight end, leaving a battle between Funchess and rookie James Mitchell for the third spot on the depth chart. Also, I wouldn't rule out keeping four tight ends this season.
There is no need for the Detroit Lions to keep three quarterback's on their active roster, and knowing Funchess' ability to split out wide not only in jumbo sets, but if injuries were to occur to their receiving corps, you can make an argument his versatility can be a valuable asset to this Detroit Lions roster. Or, perhaps the Lions can use a final roster spot on Funchess by keeping one less cornerback to begin the season.
Funchess survived the first wave of cuts, so the organization likely wants to take a longer look at what he brings to the table.