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The Wilford Effect

With all this talk about the rookies recently, I think that there's one new acquisition that might actually be getting overlooked in many fans' eyes.  The signing of former Jaguars WR Ernest Wilford is really going to have a nice positive effect on this Miami offense.  At 6'4, 233, he may not be flashy.  But he's big and physical and will provide our quarterback (whoever it happens to be) with a reliable target on key plays.

Reliability is something that the Dolphins lacked a lot of last season.  Consider that there was no wide receiver on the Dolphins roster last season who caught more than 50% of the passes that were thrown their way (excluding Greg Camarillo, who was only targeted 10 times, catching 8 passes).  The receiver with the highest catch percentage last year in Miami?  Derek Hagan, with a success rate of 50%.

Last season with Jacksonville, Ernest Wilford had a success rate of 61%, catching 45 passes on 74 total targets.  That's rather impressive when you consider some of the success rates of the game's top receivers:  Randy Moss - 62%, Braylon Edwards - 52%, Terrell Owens - 57%, Chad Johnson - 58%, Steve Smith - 58%, Larry Fitzgerald - 60%, and Torry Holt - 63%; just to name a few.

But it's not all that fair to compare Wilford's success rate with the above because the players above were also targeted much more often.  But if you take a look at the success rates of players who have around the same amount of targets, you'll still see Wilford's figure stands superior: 

Ernest Wilford:  61% (45/74)
Donte Stallworth:  61% (46/75)
Brandon Stokely:  56% (40/71)
Drew Carter:  51% (38/74)
Drew Bennett:  45% (33/73)

As you can see, Wilford's numbers remain impressive when you talk about other wide receivers in his class.

But this is only part of the impact (and improvement) of the acquisition of Wilford.  The man is also a first-down machine, something the Dolphins sorely lacked last season.  And for comparison's sake, we will look at Wilford's numbers as compared to the player he's replacing here in Miami, Marty Booker.

And before we get into anything, I did want to point out one key stat.  Last season, following the trade of Chris Chambers to San Diego, most of us figured that this meant Marty Booker would really have to step up and play well.  After all, he was now starting opposite of a rookie wide receiver.  Instead, Booker went on to struggle.  Rather than being the reliable set of hands that Miami's quarterback could turn to, Booker "officially" dropped 7 passes (though, as many Dolphin fans know, that's being generous).  Wilford, for comparison, dropped just 2 last season.

Moving on to my "moving the chains" point, one of the most important stats you can look at for a wide receiver is their 3rd down production.  And this is where Ernest Wilford is really going to make a big impact in Miami.  Below are the stats for both Wilford and Booker on 3rd downs in 2007:

Player Targets Receptions Success % 1st Downs
Ernest Wilford 28 19 68% 17
Marty Booker 33 12 36% 10

That's quite a difference, isn't it?  And what's more impressive is that in that medium range of 3rd and inches to 3rd and 7, Wilford has caught 14 of the 18 passes thrown his way for a total 14 first downs.  Compare that with Booker's numbers in that same range (9/21, 7 1sts) and you can clearly see the major positive impact that Wilford is going to have on this Dolphins team.

Of course, it's important to remember that you are not going to see many, if any, deep balls thrown Wilford's way.  That's just not his game.  Consider that 11 passes were thrown 21 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage in Wilford's direction in '07, and just 1 was caught (for 35 yards).  This is due to his lack of long speed.  But whats even more impressive is how reliable Wilford is in balls that travel between 1 and 20 yards in the air.  On those passes, Wilford caught 44 of 59 passes (75% success rate).

Wilford is also going to have a big impact inside the redzone for the Dolphins, supplying the Miami QB with a nice big target in the endzone.  Last season, Wilford had 2 touchdowns in "goal to go" situations in 5 chances.  One was a 6 yard touchdown on 1st and goal.  The other was a 17 yard touchdown reception on a 3rd and goal.  Meanwhile, Marty Booker also had 2 catches in "goal to go" situations.  However, none of them were for touchdowns.

So the signing of Ernest Wilford may have been a bit overlooked at the time, and still might be overlooked by some as we speak.  However, once the season starts, I'm sure that many Dolphin fans will be pleasantly surprised by what Wilford will bring to this offense.