Who To Target & Who To Avoid In The Wake Of Kelvin Benjamin’s Injury (Funchess, Sleepers & More)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Yesterday we received the devastating news that the Panthers had lost Kelvin Benjamin for the season to a torn ACL.  He was the team leader in targets (146) and touchdowns (9) a year ago and it’s not like they made any significant acquisitions to supplement him this offseason (unless you count drafting Devin Funchess).  So where does the team go from here (barring signing a veteran)?

They could lean on Jonathan Stewart and the running game more, which isn’t unthinkable.  Of course you have to throw the ball, at least occasionally, so there is going to be opportunities for arguably the weakest receiving corps in the league.  Who should we trust?  Let’s take a look at the options:

Greg Olsen
It’s hard to think that he’s going to be a benefactor, as he’s already been a fixture in the passing game and getting better and better each season:

  • 2012 – 69 receptions (104 targets), 843 yards, 5 TD
  • 2013 – 73 receptions (109 targets), 816 yards, 6 TD
  • 2014 – 84 receptions (122 targets), 1,008 yards, 6 TD

Maybe he gets a few additional opportunities in the red zone, which obviously would help increase his value, but how much higher can he really go?  He was already the third tight end on our rankings and he’s not going to catch Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham for one of the top two spots.  He’s the team’s best weapon, but that’s something we already knew.

Devin Funchess
A second round draft pick this past season, he transitioned from tight end to wide receiver while at Michigan and does bring mismatch potential.  However he is a rookie who had concerns surrounding him upon entering the draft:

NFL.com
Has mismatch-caliber size, but lack of vertical talent and below-average hands might negate the size to an extent. Funchess was used outside and inside at Michigan and had success from the slot. He has the feel of a hybrid player who can be a big guy at wide receiver or a mismatch nightmare as a move tight end with more weight on his rangy frame.”

Walter Football
Funchess is potentially a special prospect as a tight end, but his value decreases as a receiver. Funchess dropped a number of passes against Michigan State that could have gone for big plays. He showed a lack of ability to win contested catches, and that is concerning for a receiver who isn’t a true speed threat. Funchess also struggled to get off of the Spartans’ press coverage. Adding strength for tight end to improve his blocking would be the best path for Funchess to pursue as a prospect. 

In other words expecting Funchess to step up and fill the void would be a dramatic mistake.  There’s potential, but there also is a chance that he is a relative bust in his first season.

Jerricho Cotchery
He had a three season stretch that saw him catch 82, 82 and 71 passes…  Of course that was from 2006-2008 while a member of the New York Jets.  Now 33-years old he posted 48 receptions for 580 yards and 1 TD in his first season as a Panther and would certainly be miscast as a “lead” receiver.  You could argue that he’s miscast as a complimentary receiver as well and isn’t going to make an impact.

Ted Ginn Jr.
Since 2008 his biggest season is 38 receptions and he managed just 14 as a member of the Arizona Cardinals last year.  Does anyone really expect significant production from the 30-year old who is more of a threat on special teams?

Jarrett Boykin
Here’s an intriguing name, especially after posting 49 receptions for 681 yards and 3 TD for the Packers in 2013.  Granted that was with Aaron Rodgers at QB and he was a complete non-factor last season (3 receptions in 13 games), but the injury to Benjamin certainly opens up an opportunity.  Prior to being drafted NFL.com described him by saying:

Boykin is an athletic receiver with a ton of size. He is a slow mover who is not taking the top off any NFL defenses, but his long strides make him look fluid in the open field running intermediate routes. He has good hands and a large catch radius to go up and get the ball. Teams needing a red-zone threat and a receiver who can snag the ball on timing routes will consider him a fifth-round talent.”

The red zone aspect is certainly a potentially important factor for the Panthers, who lost their biggest TD threat.  It’s hard to imagine Boykin making a major impact, but in deeper formats he’s an intriguing player to watch.

Corey Brown
Brown was undrafted in 2014 yet played in 13 games last season and managed 21 receptions for 296 yards and 2 TD.  He isn’t big, at 5’11”, and NFL.com described him by saying:

Adequate-sized, monotone, fairly nondescript receiver lacking exceptional athletic traits for the pro game and will need to prove himself in the return game to stick.”

In other words it’s hard to get excited.

Sources – NFL.com, ESPN, Walter Football

Make sure to check out all of our 2015 Pre-Season Rankings:

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