Michigan Football: Is Devin Funchess a Legitimate Biletnikoff Award Contender?
The Devin Funchess hype train has made a stop at Biletnikoffville, home of the perceived-best receivers in all of college football.
Of course, the Michigan junior is among many others—probably too many—on the watch list that pays homage to stars such as Stanford's Ty Montgomery and Louisville's DeVante Parker, a pair of more-than-worthy candidates for the esteemed roll call.
But is Funchess deserving of such high regard? The Wolverines' tight-end-turned-wideout is in the beginning phases of establishing himself in the Big Ten—that's the first step.
Athletically and physically, he stands out from the crowd; and he's well on his way to being a special player. However, he must first dominate his own yard before being considered among the best on the block.
In order to get to the bottom of the issue, this slideshow will compare Funchess to others on the Biletnikoff list, all the while rifling through pertinent statistics, trends and other things worth mentioning. A definitive verdict will be presented at show's end.
Devin Funchess named to Biletnikoff Award watch list for nation's top receiver http://t.co/L4Nlp0aqhc— MLive Sports (@MLiveSports) July 15, 2014
While the list is long, and perhaps watered down to an extent, the field of competition is packed with enormous amounts of talent.
Remember Tyler Lockett? He's the Kansas State receiver who dismantled the Wolverines during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with 10 catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
But at 5'11" and 175 pounds, he's nowhere near Funchess' realm of superior stature, nor is he of ideal pro stock in terms of physical prowess. But he returns as CBS Sports' No. 7-ranked receiver among 2015 NFL draft prospects, so that's a plus for the senior who absolutely deserves consideration on the Biletnikoff watch list. Name another undersized, relatively unknown on an OK team who's capable of toppling mighty Michigan. ... Exactly. It cannot be done.
Then, there's Montgomery, a mainstay for Stanford, the reigning Pac-12 champs. According to CBS, he's the No. 1-ranked receiver prospect. He certainly has the resume to back such a claim, despite a lackluster, three-catch showing during his team's 24-20 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State on New Year's Day.
For starters, he's riding the momentum of a solid junior year—61 catches, 948 yards, and 10 touchdowns—and plays for one the country's top programs (that wins meaningful games today). But at 6'2" and 215 pounds, he doesn't have prototypical, big-target NFL receiver size in his corner, either. It's difficult to compete with the Funchesses of the world, all 6'5" and 230 pounds of them.
However, if 2013 was of any indication, this fall should be a continuation of the high-production spree.
It had to be easy to stick him on the watch list, which in all likelihood was also the case for Rashad Greene of defending national champion Florida State. As a junior this past season, he reeled in 76 receptions for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns.
Those are solid numbers for the 6'0", 178-pound senior. And his Seminoles stand atop The Associated Press' most recent Top 25. It's good to be Greene these days, no doubt about that. He's a no-brainer for Biletnikoff nods.
Complete list from BiletnikoffAward.com:
University of Southern California
University of Utah
University of Nebraska
University of Pittsburgh
Northern Illinois University
University of Louisiana at Monroe
University of Alabama
Central Michigan University
University of Connecticut
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
University of North Carolina
Western Michigan University
University of Maryland
University of Michigan
Texas Tech University
University of Houston
Florida State University
University of Central Florida
East Carolina University
California State University, Fresno
University of California
University of Kansas
Colorado State University
University of Arizona
Southern Methodist University
Mississippi State University
Kansas State University
Boise State University
Oregon State University
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of Louisville
University of Central Florida
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
San Diego State University
University of Wyoming
University of South Alabama
University of Texas
Ohio State University
University of South Alabama
University of Houston
Arizona State University
University of Mississippi
University of Nevada
University of Cincinnati
Ball State University
San Jose State University
Looking at the Big Ten
B1G on Biletnikoff list: Kenny Bell, Stefon Diggs, Devin Funchess, Christian Jones, Devin Smith and Shane Wynn
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) July 15, 2014
As mentioned before, Funchess is on the ascent...in the Big Ten. Sure, comparing him to national names is necessary, especially since he was thrown into the mix with them. He is of rare size, which helps, too.
But perhaps a more telling sign came during a recent interview with coach Brady Hoke, who believes that the former Harrison High School phenom has what it takes to play at the next level.
Back in June, while chatting at the Sound Mind Sound Body football camp in Detroit, he told me that Funchess was "athletically gifted." Though concise, Hoke's comment was, to an extent, enough for me to at least get on board. It wasn't a lukewarm, "sure, he's good" type of thing, nor did it seem as a way to jettison to a more realistic topic.
It was a "he's good, but let's focus on his college game" type of comment.
Fair enough. I can see why a coach would temper the talks. Why talk about about a guy bouncing for the NFL when said player is eligible for two more seasons with the Wolverines? Hoke probably wants to keep Funchess for as long as possible.
Maybe he should have said, "Devin needs to stay in college for four years. All. Four. Years" as a way to really idle the Funchess draft chatter. He knows it. We know it. Everyone knows it. Funchess has the skills to suit up on Sundays.
But let's get back to the topic at hand: Is he really worthy of national-level attention today? Yeah, watch lists are meant to cover anyone who could potentially do something. But there are five other Big Ten wideouts on the list. It's worth mentioning that Funchess returns with the most yardage, a factor that also likely played into his Biletnikoff praise.
Kenny Bell, Nebraska (6'1", 185)
Kenny Bell is on the ascent, so be sure to pay close attention to the Huskers senior who is probably the best wideout in the league.
Shane Wynn, Indiana (5'7", 170)
Shane Wynn's a super-mini-senior who's fun to watch, but he's not one of the best receivers in the country. The buck stops at the watch list.
Christian Jones, Northwestern (6'3", 225)
Christian Jones, another senior, is a big-bodied target who is considered among the top 20 best WR prospects eligible for the 2015 NFL draft, per CBS. However, I'm not sold on the idea of him being talked about with the best in the NCAA.
The list has dozens of candidates. I stopped counting after 40. That says something, doesn't it? Either that I don't like to count, or that there are way too many guys on the list. (Pssst...it's "there are way too many guys on the the list.")
Devin Smith, Ohio State (6'1", 198)
Devin Smith's another solid conference guy who should benefit by playing for a pretty good team. Along with Bell, he's certainly worthy of Biletnikoff consideration.
Stefon Diggs, Maryland (6'0", 185)
The Terps are newcomers (sacrificial lambs) to the Big Ten, so it's OK if you don't know a lot about Stefon Diggs. Here's a crash course: He's the real deal, at least in terms of college receivers. If not for a broken right fibula that sidelined him for the final six games of 2013, Diggs probably would have finished with more than 70 catches, 1,000 yards and at least nine touchdowns.
Instead, he had to settle for 34 grabs, 587 yards and three scores.
According to Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post, Wynn says he's feeling better and expects to have a productive fall.
Whet your appetite by watching Funchess' 2012-13 highlight video, which is right above. Go ahead and watch it twice.
I'd like to open this slide with a simple explanation of my stance: I like Funchess a lot. He's a star who's yet to fully shine. I'm sure that I'll do some seesawing in regards to him, as there were days in 2013 when he appeared to be an A1 option.
However, the drops were killers, and those are my major concerns and the biggest factors in my decision: Funchess is, without question, one of the best in his league. Throwing him into the "best in the land" conversation is a bit premature, but blame it on the Biletnikoff list's inclusion of everyone and their brother.
Coincidentally, there really is a pair of brothers on the list.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81