Once again we'll be taking a look int how Miami's rookies are doing. I had a large sample size to go by when reviewing Mike Pouncey, but injuries to Daniel Thomas limited him a bit and I didn't have much to go on. This week features rookie WR Clyde Gates and unfortunately we have even less to judge him on.
Gates was drafted with the 14th pick in the fourth round. He was supposed to be the speed threat to replace Ted Ginn, a professional planker and occasional professional football player. Many were disappointed with the loss of Ginn because of his speed. For those that don't know, I compare Ginn to Big Foot because both make an occasional appearance on a grainy piece of film and give supporters hope for the future, but then they'll disappear quickly either into the wood or out of bounds. Well, Ginn's future now lies in San Francisco. Miami now has Gates who is supposed to bring Ginn's speed, but this time with ability to hold on to a pass.
Gates has terrific top end speed, but the main concern for him coming out of college was that he was raw and wasn't a great route runner. Nearly three full months into the season, it's been hard to judge Gates' progress because he's been behind Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess on the depth chart. Gates has been targeted a total of 11 times in 8 games, but so far he's only caught a single pass for 8 yards. 1 for 11 is disappointing certainly, but in fairness a few of those attempts have been on deep passes and were inaccurate passes even though Gates had a step on the defender.
It's hard to judge Gates' improvement with routes when you don't have film of all his plays, but from what I have seen from him, he appears to do a pretty decent job on running his routes. He makes sharp cuts and doesn't round off his routes, but he doesn't show very good burst coming out of his breaks. Going forward though, I don't think Gates is behind the curve in learning the position and his speed alone is a good addition for a rookie WR that currently resides fourth on Miami's depth chart.
Fortunately, Gates does have a large sample size to evaluate when it comes to the return game. He has limited opportunities as Miami's punt returner, but as a return man, he needs to show a bit better awareness on when to field a punt and when to let it bounce into the end zone. Additionally, he needs to stop taking as many chances returning kickoffs out of the back of the end zone. Despite his great speed, he hasn't shown spectacular ability in the return game. He normally looks to get as many yards as he can on a return, but doesn't do a great job of avoiding tacklers. On the bright side, he doesn't have a poor tendency like many other speedsters by running backwards and laterally to try to make a big return, ultimately losing 5 or more yards in the attempt. Those attempts really come down to risk vs reward and Miami's return game looks to be a bit more conservative in that you get what you can before you're tackled or pushed out of bounds. Not every speedster is meant to be a return man and the jury is still out on Gates as far as I'm concerned. I don't mind him as a return man and he has potential, but he just needs to learn when to field a punt and when to return a deep kickoff. Miami isn't a high octane offense so there is a big benefit to taking the knee and starting at the 20 or taking a chance and starting at the 13.
Overall, it's hard to judge Gates, especially as a WR where his role will be more critical. I'm still happy about the selection and there hasn't been a breakout star discovered yet that was selected after Gates. Notable players drafted after Gates include WRs Greg Salas and Cecil Shorts, RB Kendall Hunter, LB Casey Matthews, OL Marcus Cannon, and TEs Julius Thomas and D.J. Williams.