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Rivera: Funchess 'becoming such a good young pro'

In June, Panthers coach Ron Rivera gushed over receiver Devin Funchess as being "light years ahead of where he was" as a rookie. The high praise out of Carolina just keeps coming.

"He's becoming such a good young pro and understanding what it takes to be successful," Rivera said at training camp this week, per The Charlotte Observer. "And when he's not doing things right, he really gets on himself, so I'm glad to see that maturation that he's going through."

As last year's second-round pick, Funchess was thrust into a starting role after tall-as-a-tree wideout Kelvin Benjamin suffered a season-ending ACL injury before Week 1. That rookie-year transition included its share of bumps in the road, but the 6-foot-4, 228-pound Funchess bloomed to catch five touchdowns over Carolina's final nine regular-season games with a whopping 120 yards in the team's Week 17 win over the Buccaneers.

"I'm more comfortable. I just want to do more," Funchess said. "I want to be a bigger part and help the other guys -- make sure we're all making plays and make sure we get the W at the end of the day."

Analysts from coast to coast predicted doom for the Panthers when Benjamin was lost last summer. Instead, quarterback Cam Newton worked with Funchess and a less-than-starry cast of wideouts -- Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery and Corey Brown -- to throw 35 touchdowns, win 15 regular-season tilts and nab MVP honors.

Funchess won't be facing No. 1 cornerbacks this autumn, not with Benjamin back, but the question boils down to targets and opportunities. The Panthers have shown confidence in Funchess all offseason, and we expect him to pick up where he left off come September.

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