The Patriots thought they had their offense solidified for years to come when they locked up Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to long term deals, but they had no idea what was in store for the 2013 offseason. Yes, Gronkowski was battling injuries and that was big news, but the Aaron Hernandez situation went completely off the rails, Hernandez was arrested for first degree murder and charged with two more murders in the summer of 2012. Not only did the Patriots have a public relations nightmare on their hands, they also had a player with a huge price tag sitting in a prison. Two years later, the Patriots are Super Bowl champions again and Rob Gronkowski is healthy and dominant again, but there is still a huge void with the loss of Hernandez. This may be the draft that New England decides to replace the talented but demented Hernandez, and Devin Funchess of Michigan may be able to fill his shoes.
Devin Funchess, the 6'5, 230 pound tight end out of Michigan played his high school football in Michigan too. Funchess attended Harrison High School and had a decorated career before joining the Wolverines. Funchess led the team to the Michigan Division II state title as a junior, making 34 catches for 709 yards and five touchdowns. Funchess had to focus on defense as much as offense as a senior, which did lead to a drop off in offensive production. Funchess finished his senior year with 21 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, he made three sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and three pass breakups. Funchess was also named to the Detroit News Blue Chip list.
When Funchess arrived at Ann Arbor, he was immediately submitted into the lineup, although not always as a starter. Funchess started five out of 13 games and showed the coaching staff and Michigan fans that he was going to be a handful to cover and fun to watch. Funchess finished 2012 with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Funchess's immediate impact was noticed nationally as he was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team and the ESPN.com All-Big Ten Freshman Team.
Funchess continued to improve his sophomore year, starting nine of 13 games, totaling 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns. He was named the Big Ten Tight End of the Year, All Big-Ten First Team and Sporting News All-Big Ten Team. Funchess had his best game vs. Minnesota, making seven catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. He followed that performance with a 4 reception, 112 yard, two touchdown explosion vs. Penn State. Funchess was voted All-Big Ten second team by the coaches and first team by the media. Funchess was also honored as the Big Ten Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year.
2014 was more of the same from Funchess; strong statistics and continued growth in his overall game. Funchess finished the season with 62 catches, 733 yards, and four touchdowns. Funchess wasn't as explosive as his freshman and sophomore year, but part of the reason was that defenses were keying on him. He still managed to add thirteen catches to his total from a year before and prove that he can produce even when he is the target the defense is trying to stop. Once again Funchess was voted All Big-Ten Second Team by the coaches and Funchess also started every game for the first time at Michigan. Funchess blew up vs. Appalachian State, making seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns. The following week he had nine catches for 107 yards at Notre Dame, so his explosive week against a lesser opponent in Appalachian State was not an aberration. Funchess became a weapon, and Michigan used him as much as possible.
Funchess decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the draft as a true junior. Funchess didn't have a great combine (4.70 in the 40, 17 reps on the bench, 38.5 vertical leap, and 122 inch broad jump) but players that are 6'5 and know how to use their large frames can get away with being slightly slower. If Funchess is to become a complete tight end in the NFL, he'll need to get stronger to become a better blocker. One reason Funchess may not be a strong fit in New England is redundancy- he is very similar to Tim Wright, but having three tight ends who are matchup nightmares is not the worst scenario, especially for a gifted game-planner like Belichick. The Patriots need more weapons in the passing game, so even with the presence of Wright, Funchess may still be an option for New England.