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Devin Funchess might be Panthers' only real candidate to be No. 1 WR

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The learning curve for Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess just became more steep.

With Kelvin Benjamin out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Funchess, a second-round pick out of Michigan, becomes the most likely candidate to be the No. 1 receiver.

But the 6-foot-4, 228-pound Funchess is injured as well, tweaking his hamstring late in Wednesday’s joint practice against the Miami Dolphins, the same practice in which Benjamin suffered his injury.

Funchess did not participate in Carolina’s final training camp session at Wofford College.

But the expectations for him are there.

“He and Kelvin are different type players," coach Ron Rivera said. “Kelvin is a big, stout, physical guy, where Funchess uses his size to position himself. He'll have to step it up and learn that style and technique of play.’’

Ted Ginn Jr. believes the Panthers have the players that can replace Benjamin. He reminds they have no choice.

“This is the NFL. We're in a league where if a man goes down, a man has to step up," Ginn said. “We're pretty loaded all the way around between the Z, the F and the X. We all gotta go out and play hard.

“The coaches are the ones that have to mastermind the scheme. We just gotta go out and play. That's all we can do."

Here’s a look at Carolina’s receivers without Benjamin:

  • Devin Funchess – He showed flashes in the preseason opener at Buffalo, catching two passes for 53 yards. He has the speed and size to make plays. He just lacks experience and time in the system.

  • Corey BrownAn undrafted rookie out of Ohio State last season, speed is his best asset. He caught 21 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns last season and is best suited to play the No. 2 receiver spot.

  • Ted Ginn Jr. – Has 211 catches for 2,794 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight seasons. Had 14 catches for 190 yards and no touchdowns last season at Arizona. He’s fast and a decent deep threat with the ability to stretch the field, but not a No. 1.

  • Jerricho Cotchery He started last season as the No. 2 receiver, but moved more to the slot after Brown emerged. Cotchert was being used primarily as the slot receiver in camp. At 33, his experience is valuable. But he hasn’t been a threat to be a No. 1 in the last six seasons.

  • Jarrett Boykin He was solid as Green Bay’s No. 3 receiver in 2013, catching 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns. He lost that job last season while injured and finished with three catches for 23 yards. He’s a No. 2 receiver at best and has been inconsistent catching in practice. There were questions about whether he would make the roster a few weeks ago. Now he appears to be a lock.

  • Brenton Bersin He caught 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown in his first NFL season a year ago. The depth had improved so much, he was battling for the sixth spot with Boykin heading into camp. With Benjamin and Stephen Hill (knee) out for the year, he now has a chance to be among the top five. Again, not a No. 1.

  • Mike Brown Signed as a free agent from Jacksonville during the offseason. He has 39 career catches for 534 yards, but he had only seven catches for 88 yards last season. He’s small at 5-10 and 200 pounds, but he’s shown flashes in camp. Like the rest, not a No. 1.

  • Damiere ByrdAn undrafted rookie out of South Carolina. His best chance to make the team was as a returner, but with Benjamin out, that could change. He caught only 68 passes in four college seasons and had only 20 receptions last season. But he has impressed coaches with his speed. Still, likely a practice-squad candidate.

  • Paul Browning He wasn’t even on the roster when camp opened, but he had the winning two-point conversion catch in Friday’s 25-24 preseason victory at Buffalo. He probably won’t be on the roster when camp ends.