Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst must impove the overall speed of his wide receiver … [+]
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Green Bay’s top five wide receivers have the type of size many basketball coaches desire. Most track coaches would tell them all to find a different sport.
Allen Lazard stands a towering 6-foot-5. Jake Kumerow, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and newly-acquired Devin Funchess are all 6-foot-4. And No. 1 wideout Davante Adams is the runt of the litter at 6-foot-1.
While the group is physically imposing, they form one of the slower groups in the NFL.
Adams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds at the 2014 NFL Combine. Lazard timed in 4.56 and 4.62 seconds at the 2018 Combine, Kumerow ran the 40 in 4.52 and 4.56 at his 2015 pro day, and Funchess clocked in at a slow-as-molasses 4.70 during the 2015 Combine.
The only speedster in the bunch is Valdes-Scantling (4.37), who fell out of favor in 2019 and had just five catches for 36 yards in the final nine games. At this point, “MVS” might need an impressive training camp just to stay on the roster.
In Brian Gutekunst’s two years as Green Bay’s general manager, this much has become clear: size trumps speed. But for the Packers’ mediocre group to take a step forward, Gutekunst will have to find a burner or two that can be productive.
“You’d love to have a 6-4, 225-pound guy that can do it all,” Gutekunst told reporters last month. “I do like tall, long athletes and we certainly have some of those guys, and I’m excited what they can do moving forward.
“I think you’ve seen across the league what a group of guys who can really run — with how the game is called today and the rules of the game and stuff — I think that’s something we’ll certainly put an emphasis on this year.”
Gutekunst certainly didn’t do that by adding the 225-pound Funchess, who will try resurrecting his career in the NFL’s smallest city.
Funchess, a second round pick by Carolina in 2015, made 40 starts for the Panthers in four seasons. Funchess caught 161 passes for 2,233 yards and 21 touchdowns in that time, with his best season coming in 2017 (63-840-8).
Funchess signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Indianapolis prior to the 2019 season. But Funchess broke his collarbone in the season opener and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve.
While Funchess doesn’t run well, his size and immense wingspan make him a tough matchup for most corners and a tricky player to defend in the red zone.
Before Funchess was injured in Indianapolis, the Colts had big plans for him.
“We knew right away, you could tell day one that he was smart,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “(He was) not going to have a problem grasping the system. Then it’s just a question of getting used to the way we do things, the way we teach things and then our schemes.
“I just thought he showed a very high aptitude for that. Then really as a route runner, for a big guy for his size we’ve said he’s got good feet and he’s got good body control. So I was just really encouraged by his progress.”
Funchess has always struggled catching the football, though.
According to Pro Football Focus, Funchess had a drop rate of 20.5% during his 2015 rookie season and ranked 94th out of 97 receivers in that category. Funchess had similar numbers in 2016, when his drop rate was 20.7% and he ranked 95th among 97 receivers. And in 2018, Funchess had a drop rate of 12.0% and he ranked 87th out of 100 receivers.
“Anytime the ball is in your catch radius, you have to make it,” former Carolina coach Ron Rivera said when Funchess was a Panther. “The guy’s a terrific receiver. He’s made a lot of big plays for us. Unfortunately, he had a couple that didn’t go his way.”
Funchess is clearly just a small piece in Green Bay’s wide receiver puzzle. He could never establish himself as a cornerstone in the Panthers’ passing game, then couldn’t stay on the field in Indianapolis.
The Packers have plenty of players like Funchess — bigger plodders who try winning with size and physicality instead of speed and quickness.
The wide receiver class in this year’s draft is loaded, though. And perhaps Gutekunst can finally give this group a jolt of speed it so desperately needs.
“There’s some pretty big dudes in this receiver class,” Gutekunst said. “But it looks like it’s a pretty deep group. I think this is a little bit deeper class, maybe, than it has been in the past. So I think if you’re looking for something specific, all types are out there.”