CHARLOTTE – In a draft many believe lacks in first-round talent, the Carolina Panthers traded up Friday night to secure who they believe to be a second player worthy of a first-round pick.
Carolina moved up 16 spots in a trade with the St. Louis Rams and used the 41st overall choice to select Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess, a big target at 6-5, 230 pounds that the Panthers envision teaming with 2014 first-round selection Kelvin Benjamin to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
"When you look at the board and the way it was set, here's a guy that we have rated in the first round," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a guy that's going to bring something a little different to the table in terms of big catch radius, big size with a little bit more speed. I think it's going to be interesting to see the combinations we'll be able to put out there on the offensive side.
"He makes catches in traffic, presents a big target in traffic and takes a lot of big shots, similar to Kelvin. And then you watch him go vertical, and you realize he's a vertical threat, too, going deep and making plays. I kept thinking back to my time in San Diego when we had Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson going vertical - two big targets."
The Panthers were high enough on Funchess that they felt like they couldn't simply sit tight and hope he lasted until their second selection at No. 57 overall. So early in the second round, they contacted the Rams and traded for the ninth pick in the round, sending St. Louis the 57th pick along with Carolina's third-round selection (No. 89) and sixth-rounder (No. 201).
Then they quickly dialed up Funchess, who was thrilled to land in a familiar spot. His mother and most of her family are from Mebane, N.C. – about two hours northeast of Charlotte.
"I was excited, and everybody around me was excited," Funchess said. "I want to thank the Panthers organization for doing that. The owner, Mr. Richardson, Coach Rivera and general manager Mr. Dave Gettleman, I just want to thank them for that and giving me that phone call. It's a blessing."
After the Panthers selected linebacker Shaq Thompson with their first-round choice Thursday, Gettleman sounded like he considered picks on the first two nights of the draft to be too valuable to trade. But after the way the second round started, he decided Funchess was too valuable to stand pat.
"The board was really getting picked clean," Gettleman said. "We had five players up there, and we just didn't know if any of them would be there. We went through the process with our coaches and scouts before the draft even started. As we went through it, we talked about those five and said we would watch the board and see how they fell off.
"A couple of them fell off real quick, and then it was time for us to make the move. We just didn't feel like he was going to be there."
Many believed the Panthers needed to pick an offensive tackle early in the draft, and some speculated when the trade was announced that the Panthers might be moving up to secure one.
"With the way the board was set, very frankly, there wasn't anybody there that we were willing to take a shot at," Gettleman said.
The Panthers view Funchess, who played tight end at Michigan as a freshman and sophomore, to be a perfect target for quarterback Cam Newton. Funchess moved to wide receiver as a junior last season and caught 62 passes for 733 yards and four touchdowns. Between his time at tight end and receiver, he caught at least one pass in each of his last 24 college games before opting to turn pro early. Some questioned Funchess' speed after he ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he bounced back with a 4.48 at Michigan's pro day – not that the Panthers got too wrapped up in the numbers.
"People are going to talk about his 40 time in Indy, but the kid plays fast, and he ran fast at the pro day at Michigan," Gettleman said. "Like with Kelvin last year, you can't coach size. He plays fast. He's a smooth and fluid big man. We really like that about him, and he's a very smart kid."
Added Funchess: "All my film speaks for itself. My game speed is faster than my 40-yard dash time."
The Panthers' belief in Funchess left them without another pick on second day of the draft, but thanks to a pair of compensatory picks in the fifth round, they still hold five picks for the final day of the draft.
"Having those two fifth-round comps gave us the ability to do this," Gettleman said. "A draft pick is currency. You obviously can't trade the comps, but it's a function of us holding our water last year in free agency – being disciplined because of our financial situation with the cap.
"Having those comp picks is huge."