Michigan's Devin Funchess Could Be a Matchup Weapon in the Pros

Matt Bowen NFL National Lead WriterApril 2, 2015

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The term "hybrid" is often overused in the draft process. 

We use it to describe a player who has a skill set that can make him a fit in multiple roles, depending on what a team needs. It's all about finding the "value" in a player and maximizing the talent by putting him in a position to succeed, produce and impact the game plan on Sunday.

This brings us to Michigan prospect Devin Funchess.

The 6'4", 232-pounder with a 38.5-inch vertical jump moved from tight end to wide receiver in 2014. He's been labeled as a player who can create bad matchups for the opponent lining up in a variety of spots on the field to utilize his size, length and frame to go get the football. 

Call him a "hybrid" if you want, but the goal isn't going to change when he gets into an NFL system. He's going to catch passes from different alignments. And a smart team, a well-coached team, will find situations where he can make plays.

As one NFL scout told me, Funchess can be featured like former Green Bay Packer Jermichael Finely, who was more of a "big slot receiver than a tight end."

Sep 6, 2014; South Bend, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Devin Funchess (1) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 31-0. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

This is a player who can be used to beat a linebacker up the seam, run a comeback, run a fade, run a post, match up against a cornerback outside or work underneath—in the middle of the field—on third downs to move the sticks against zone coverages. You want to reduce his alignment and get him matched up against a linebacker in a Cover 2 defense? That works. And so does the idea of Funchess running the fade route in the red zone.

Back at the combine in February, there was a negative buzz on Funchess when he posted a 4.70-second 40. That's a slow time for a "stopwatch position" in the pros. But Funchess changed the narrative at his pro day when he ran in the high-4.4 to low-4.5 range and also registered a 6.98 three-cone time. Those are wide receiver numbers. 

The NFL scouts point to that workout in Ann Arbor, the size he brings to the field and the versatility he can create for an NFL offense based on game situation. He has excellent body control, the flexibility to adjust to the ball and a large catch radius. 

Here's an example of that from the Utah-Michigan game in 2014 with Funchess running a deep slant versus a cornerback playing from an outside leverage position.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

The ball placement here is poor as the quarterback puts this throw on Funchess' back shoulder, but look at how the wideout adjusts at the point of attack, flips his hips and secures the ball with his hands to finish. That's good football to make this play in traffic.

In the tape I've watched, there is a lot to like when focusing on Funchess' skill set, and he flashes playmaking ability in one-on-one situations regardless of where he lines up on the field. You can look at the Notre Dame tape to watch Funchess run routes inside the numbers or flip on the Ohio State game and check out the wide receiver winning matchups outside versus the national champs.

In this example versus Ohio State, Funchess runs the deep post against man coverage to win down the field.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

Basic route we are looking at here with Funchess taking an outside release and then stemming inside to gain leverage on the cornerback. That's all he needs to pin the defender and shield him from the ball at the point of attack. Use that size and length to win. Play big and create an explosive gain.

I do think the tape on Funchess from 2013 is better when he did play tight end in the Michigan system, but he wasn't an old-school, on-the-line guy every snap. Instead, he was removed from the core of the formation often (like a wide receiver), and that's where we can see those matchup situations as he draws a safety or linebacker in coverage.

Check this out from the 2013 game against Penn State with Funchess lined up in a stack that allows him to work the deep seam route versus a linebacker.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

The defensive call from Penn State probably looks good on the chalkboard, with the linebacker carrying the seam, but this is a matchup that favors Funchess due to his athleticism. Funchess presses the route up the field, outruns the defender, adjusts to the ball and makes the play. 

I've heard the comparisons made with Funchess to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The former Florida State star has size outside, can find the football and did produce as a rookie this past season, working with quarterback Cam Newton. But I do think Benjamin has more explosive-play ability and acceleration down the field, and he is stronger at the point of attack.

And that's when some questions start to roll in on Funchess. 

There are signs of inconsistency when the drops show up on tape. It's frustrating to watch as he can fail to finish. Plus, there are times when he doesn't go up and climb the ladder to use that size. Too many plays left on the field.

The scouts see it too, and while they do bring up the subpar quarterback play and overall offensive issues at Michigan this past season, there are concerns where Funchess is at in terms of his overall development at the position. There is a somewhat raw feel to his game when focusing on route running, as Funchess can get stuck in his breaks, and he doesn't always play to his timed speed.

That's why Funchess isn't listed in the first tier of wide receivers in the 2015 class and is most likely to come off the board at some point on Day 2 of the draft. But even with the questions and the learning curve Funchess will have to work through in the NFL, scouts still like his talent and the opportunities he can provide on the pro stage.

Like I said above, calling Funchess a "hybrid" player is fine, but he will earn his money in the NFL as a wide receiver who could ultimately be a matchup weapon for the right offense.

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.