Football

Michigan’s Devin Funchess not easy to categorize as a pass catcher

Devin Funchess has played wide receiver and tight end at Michigan.
Devin Funchess has played wide receiver and tight end at Michigan. McClatchy-Tribune

Figuring out Devin Funchess’ future position in the pros is anything but an easy task.

On one hand, his size — 6 feet 4 and 232 pounds — tends to lend itself to receiver. On the other hand, his combine 40-yard dash time of 4.70 hints he’d be better inside at tight end, the position he played his first two years at Michigan.

Funchess, to his credit, wants no part of that conversation — at least when asked directly.

“I consider myself as a ball player,” Funchess said.

But the truth is, he probably prefers receiver. Funchess declared for the draft after a true junior season at Michigan in which he caught 62 passes for 733 yards and four touchdowns, while donning the storied No. 1 that has been worn by elite Michigan receivers such as Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, David Terrell and Braylon Edwards.

“I wanted just to get that receiver look on me,” said Funchess, who wore numbers 19 and 87 his first two years at Michigan. “Everybody always had to claim (I was a) tight end, but that was last year. The past is the past, and then I made another mark on it with the future with No. 1.”

So by the sound of it, Funchess — who lists Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Chad Johnson among his favorite receivers — prefers playing wideout.

And go ahead and count NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock among those who thinks the Michigan star would be better served there, too.

“I think he’s got better movement skills than Kelvin Benjamin, who went 28th last year to Carolina,” Mayock said. “The question is, Benjamin from Florida State last year ran 4.61 at 6-5, 240 pounds. I think Funchess will be almost as big, run faster and have better movement skills.”

Still, that 40-yard dash time is a problem. And while Funchess doesn’t have a reputation for being a good — or particularly willing — blocker, it would be harder for him to avoid doing so closer to the box. And it’s not difficult to imagine him turning that 4.70 speed and big frame into a plus, ala Seattle’s star tight end Jimmy Graham, when matched up against nickels and linebackers as opposed to NFL receivers.

Then, as Mayock added, there’s the reality that Funchess, 20, probably isn’t done growing yet.

“He’s not even 21 years old yet,” Mayock said. “He’s going to continue to grow. … Will he gain 15 pounds in the next coming years? Will he be more Jimmy Graham, which would be fine also?

“So I think you have to look at him as a mismatch and evaluate him that way.”

And make no mistake about, it, Funchess believes he’s exactly that, no matter where he plays.

“My size, my speed … I’ve got sneaky speed,” Funchess said. “I get up under defenders real quick. It doesn’t look like I’m moving fast, but I cover ground.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.

Inside the 2015 NFL Draft: tight ends

▪ What the Chiefs look for: The ideal tight end for the West Coast offense is a good receiver with reliable hands who is comfortable working the middle of the field. He’s also a solid blocker. Downfield speed to threaten the seam is a bonus. A “move” tight end is typically a tight end who goes in motion and is not attached to the line of scrimmage.

▪ Chiefs’ needs: After the release of veteran Anthony Fasano, emerging young star Travis Kelce will be elevated into the unquestioned No. 1 role. It’s up to him to improve his blocking and grasp of the concepts within Andy Reid’s playbook, but he could be in store for a Pro Bowl-type season, provided he stays healthy. Demetrius Harris is a big (6-7, 240 pounds), athletic former basketball player who served as the third tight end before his season-ending injury in November. Veteran Richard Gordon and developmental tight ends Adam Schiltz and Brandon Barden fill out the depth chart, so the Chiefs could stand to add another high-upside player here.

▪ Sleeper: Darren Waller of Georgia Tech has the size (6-6, 238 pounds), speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and ball skills to be a really interesting “move” tight end in the NFL. Waller played receiver in college, but he played in a run-heavy offense and is accustomed to blocking. He could be a strong value pick in the mid-rounds for a team that values receiving threats at tight end.

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