The eight-day lull between new free agent acquisitions was finally broken early Tuesday evening, as numerous news outlets reported that Devin Funchess is expected to sign with the Packers on a one-year deal.
The reaction from Packer backers was predictably mixed in that many were excited to see GM Brian Gutekunst and company seal the deal on a veteran wideout who can possibly add much-needed firepower to last year’s underperforming receiving corps. But the fact that the acquisition in question was an unfulfilled former second-round pick and not Robby Anderson or Emmanuel Sanders — both of whom have signed elsewhere — hardly had a satiating effect on a restless fan base starving for a true difference maker — one who can ultimately lift some of the burden off Davante Adams’ shoulders as the type of weapon that needs to be accounted for.
Though Funchess will never be confused with DeAndre Hopkins, the 6’4″ converted college tight end has shown small samples of consistent production, with his signature season taking place in 2017 that saw him start 16 games while gaining 840 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns.
Though Funchess never developed into a reliable pass catcher (see his 51.9-percent career catch rate), the Indianapolis Colts saw untapped potential in the 2019 offseason, when they inked him to a one-year contract. At the time, Warren Sharp of Sharpfootballanalysis.com reported that Indy’s head coach Frank Reich described the former Michigan Wolverine as a “physical monster,” while also lauding his footwork and route running.
On that note, Sharp went on to indicate Funchess’ “outstanding” 80-percent success rate on curl and out patterns, two staple routes for any receiver who spends much of his time lined up in the slot.
Establishtherun.com’s Evan Silva later expanded on that point by tweeting that the error-prone pass catcher was actually impeccable as an inside receiver in that he had never dropped a single pass on his 55 targets from the slot. All of 23 of his drops, he added, occurred with Funchess lined up as an outside target.
Why the Panthers ever thought that a collegiate tight end with middling-to-below average straight-line speed (feel free to look up his 4.7 40 combine time) could flourish as a big-play threat on the perimeter is puzzling to say the least.
The Colts braintrust seemed to be on the right track with their designs to turn the soon-to-be 26-year-old into an inside force until those plans were dashed when Funchess went down with a broken collarbone.
But now that he’ll soon be one of the newest members of the Packers offense, the coaching staff will look to place Funchess in the best position to prosper and that can’t be good news for current free agent Geronimo Allison, who was a largely a non-factor as Green Bay’s primary slot man.
His 2019 campaign was hardly a year to remember for the Florida native, who ranked 141st among NFL receivers with a 61.8-percent catch rate, per Sports-reference.com, and recording a Jason Witten-like 8.4 yards per reception. After gaining a season-high 52 receiving yards in Week 4, Allison progressively fell out of favor with head coach Matt LaFleur and company, as he went from taking 86-percent of the team’s offensive snaps in Week 5 to playing an average of 53.8-percent of snaps during the last four games of the season.
The arrival of Funchess likely signals the end of Allison’s time in Titletown given the similarities between both athletes. In many ways, in fact, Allison and Funchess are the same player. Both are big long-striders with a penchant for dropping catchable balls.
The difference here is that Funchess is the more accomplished performer with a better pedigree. The Packers have seen enough from Allison to determine that he’s nothing more than an end-of-the roster piece in dire need of a change of scenery. If the one-time undrafted free agent can change that perception remains to be seen.
The new kid on the block, on the other hand, comes with the tantalizing upside of being a smooth mismatch nightmare for smaller safeties, much like he was during his glory days in Ann Arbor. His body control and run-after-catch prowess he’s only shown in spurts far exceeds anything Allison can offer on a down-in, down-out basis. This new one-year deal can work out very well for all parties involved if “Funch” can start hauling in most of the passes tossed his way.