Panthers' Devin Funchess: We know we have best WR corps in NFL

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Devin Funchess turned to fellow wide receiver Damiere Byrd when the Carolina Panthers broke huddle early in Thursday's practice and whispered, "Byrd, you're going to get one."

Then Funchess saw the coverage and said, "Never mind. It's going to be me."

A year ago as a rookie out of Michigan, Funchess may not have recognized the coverage well enough to predict a long touchdown catch.

This time, he not only recognized the defense, he executed the route to perfection -- running away from safety Tre Boston in the right corner of the end zone to haul in the pass from quarterback Cam Newton.

Much has been made about the spectacular return of Panthers No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year's training camp. But Funchess is having a pretty good camp.

"We know we have the best [receiving] corps in the National Football League," said Funchess, including tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson, as well as the running backs, in the mix.

"We've got a dangerous offense, just like last year, the No. 1 offense. We're just trying to keep that up and keep it going."

Arizona, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and a few other teams might have something to say about Carolina having the best group of receivers. But when you consider all the Panthers accomplished last season with Newton throwing a career-best 35 touchdowns without Benjamin -- then factor in Funchess is far and away better than he was this time a year ago -- then the case can be made.

You definitely could make the case for Carolina having the biggest group of receivers with a lineup of Benjamin (6-foot-5), Funchess (6-4), Olsen (6-5) and Dickson (6-5). Add Stephen Hill (6-4) or Brenton Bersin (6-5) and you could field a small-college basketball team.

The Panthers also have plenty of speed with Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown and the emerging Byrd.

"Yesterday, there was a nasty lineup, me, [Benjamin], Ted and Greg," Funchess said. "So they got to double somebody. Cam missed it. We ran it back and we still [were] open. It's going to be difficult for the defenses to see what's really going on."

Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said he has playmakers seven or eight deep. He's not ready to proclaim this group the best in the NFL, but he likes what he has.

He liked what he had last season even after losing Benjamin and Hill to knee injuries.

"Some of the coaches were getting on me when I said, 'I've got every arsenal I need,'" Proehl said. "They said you're setting yourself up if they don't produce.

"I said, 'If they don't produce, I'm not doing my job.' I'm just telling you like I see it. I've got a ton of talent. When we lost Kelvin and Stephen, I was sick to my stomach for them. But I knew we were going to be all right."

The Panthers were counting on Funchess to step up last season. He didn't come close to the rookie season Benjamin had in 2013, when the former Florida State star caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.

Funchess caught only seven passes with no touchdowns in the first eight games. But he finished strong, catching seven passes for 120 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season finale, and that's carried over.

Proehl said Funchess is "night and day" ahead of where he was a year ago.

"They can see me more comfortable and fluid within my route running and how I'm going about the game," Funchess said. "I've got a feel for the game and know where I'm supposed to be and where I'm supposed to get."

Funchess also is showing more of his personality off the field. He never would have made such a bold prediction about the receiving corps a year ago, whether or not he believed.

"They told me I had to," Funchess said with a laugh. "I wasn't much of a media guy in college and last year. I'm just more comfortable with that, too."