The Detroit Lions signed former Michigan standout Devin Funchess on Tuesday. Funchess has had an interesting career since the Carolina Panthers took him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
He came on strong in his rookie year and was part of a strong receiving corps with Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Olson, Jerricho Cotchery and Corey Brown that helped Cam Newton win the league's MVP award and helped the Panthers get to the Super Bowl.
Two years later, he became the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, putting up 63 receptions for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. It seemed like Funchess was on his way to becoming one of the leagues better receivers. Unfortunately, it’s been all downhill from there.
Funchess began to struggle with drops. In 2018, he had the highest drop percentage in the NFL with 13.9%. You might remember his game against the Lions that season where Funchess dropped at least three passes that could have changed the result for Carolina. Instead, the Panthers lost to the Lions 20-19.
It gets worse. That game was in November of 2018. Funchess has played five regular season games since then. He broke his collarbone in his first game with the Colts and missed the rest of the 2019 season. Then in 2020 he opted to take the year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic after signing with the Packers. He would play in the preseason for the Packers in 2021, but would hit the injury reserve before the regular season. The Packers released him a few days later. The 49ers brought him on in late November, but would release him after a couple weeks on the team's practice squad.
Now he’s going to get a shot to play again with the Lions, but there’s a big difference. Funchess is switching positions again. In his early days at Michigan, Funchess played tight end for the Wolverines before switching to receiver. He was pretty good at it. Funchess was the named Big Ten Tight End of the Year in 2013.
In theory, this is a good move for Funchess. The Lions are pretty deep at receiver right now. With Trinity Benson and Quintez Cephus looking decent in offseason practices, the receiving corps may be even deeper than we previously imagined it would be. The tight end corps, on the other hand, is not that deep at all.
T.J. Hockenson is the top dog and fifth-round rookie James Mitchell should definitely see the field once he gets healthy. After that, it’s open season. This is where Funchess could theoretically find a place for himself.
The problem is that Funchess is still going to have an uphill battle. He’s got a lot to overcome before we pencil him onto the 53-man roster: The drop issue, the injury issue, the fact that he hasn’t played a regular season game since September of 2019, and the switch to a new position is a lot. Can he get back on track?
Despite all that, the Lions could be the best place for him to get back to football. The team is coached by a former tight end, they need healthy players in their tight end room, and this team has a knack for revitalizing careers. Charles Harris, Tracy Walker, Amani Oruwariye, and Josh Reynolds all had career years in 2021—and that’s just Year 1 of this coaching staff.
The other thing on Funchess’ side is that he’s only 28 years old. He’s still young enough to have a shot at rehabilitating his career. We’ll see soon enough if he can do that in Detroit.