Each week the Carolina Panthers play in 2018, the Observer will choose a potential game changer — the player most likely to make a huge impact on the game. This week’s choice:
Wide receiver Devin Funchess
But atop that list? Funchess.
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Easily the most physically imposing of Carolina’s receivers at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Funchess finished last season with more than 800 yards and eight touchdowns.
The circumstances: After the 2017 season, the Panthers fired Mike Shula and brought in Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator, meaning a renewed emphasis on getting the ball out of quarterback Cam Newton’s hands as fast as possible. And the result, over the first two games of the season, is clear:
Running back Christian McCaffrey has 20 receptions, most on the team and second-most in the NFL (behind New Orleans’ Michael Thomas). Funchess, meanwhile, has half that many catches for 118 yards.
So how does that square with Funchess’ role as the No. 1 receiver?
What they said: “It don’t mean a thing to me,” Funchess said with a grin Thursday. “I just go out there and do my job for my guys, and make sure I catch the ball when it comes to me.”
And make no mistake — Funchess will get his fair share.
“Devin’s doing everything he’s being asked to do. He’s not getting a lot of looks,” Turner said. “This last game, his opportunities came — three or four of them came — actually on scrambles and that type of play. He had seven balls, and he’s going to get his.
“It doesn’t happen all in one game or two games, but he’s going to get his opportunities and I think he’ll make the most of them.”
The opportunity: If there was ever a time for Funchess to get a heartier share of targets, this week’s matchup against Cincinnati would be it. The Bengals’ top cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, has irregular size for his position at 6-foot-2 and 196 pounds.
And even then, Funchess still has the advantage.
“When you have a receiver like Devin, regardless of how big your corner is, there’s not too many corners who are gonna match up with a guy with a statute like Funch, you know?” receiver Jarius Wright said. “Not only is he 6-3, 6-4, but he’s also 230, 235 pounds. He can compete with anybody.”
It’ll be up to the fourth-year receiver out of Michigan to keep Cincinnati’s daunting defense at bay — after all, there’s only space underneath for McCaffrey to operate so long as defenses still have to honor Carolina’s wide receivers.
The attitude: That task starts with Funchess, who’ll be searching for his first touchdown of 2018.
Not that statistics matter to him.
“I play football, man. I don’t count stats,” Funchess said. “I play football to make sure we get the ‘W’ at the end of the day Sunday.”