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Team Needs: Wide Receiver

Time to continue our breakdown of the Dolphins' mostp ressing offseason needs.  Last week, we talked about the offensive line.  Today, let's turn our attention to one of the "flashier" positions: wide receiver.

2008 Key Contributors: Ted Ginn (56-790-2), Greg Camarillo (55-613-2), Davone Bess (54-554-1), Brandon London (3-30-0), Ernest Wilford (3-25-0)

2008 Performance
It was an interesting year for the wide receivers of the Miami Dolphins.  On the plus side, it's rare for a team to have 3 50+ reception wide receivers in the same season.  And it's been fun to watch these young receivers progress.  And the team's 19 total dropped passes was the 3rd lowest in the NFL in '08.  On the flip side, the Dolphins ranked just 17th in the league in yards after catch, with just 1566 yards.  Now let's quickly touch on each of the 5 receivers from 2008.

Ted Ginn's 2nd season was an up and down one.  He showed some tremendous flashes of talent from time to time.  Those games that stand out are week 8 vs Buffalo (7-175), week 10 vs Seattle (the terrific catch for a TD off of the flea-flicker, having to defenders draped all over him), and week 17 vs the Jets (his 2 huge catches - one for a TD and the other for a long gain, coming back to the ball and making the play against 2 defenders).  But more consistency is needed from Ginn.  He still doesn't run crisp routes consistently and he sometimes looks a little disinterested when the game begins unraveling.  But for his 2nd season, it's was an above average season.  And one of my favorite statistics, catch percentage, went up from 48% his rookie season to 60% this past year.

What can you say about Greg Camarillo?  He's just a classic "do whatever it takes" kind of wide receiver.  He isn't particularly fast or flashy.  But he makes plays when plays are needed to be made.  And it still disgusts me that he missed the team's final 5 regular season games and their playoff game with his torn ACL.  Why do these kinds of injuries always seem to happen to the good people in this league?  Why can't Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson or some of the other mouthy receivers ever suffer something like this?  Camarillo was on pace for an 80 catch, 900 yard season before his injury.  And my lasting memory of Camarillo in 2008 will be that 11 catch performance against the Broncos in Denver.  Camarillo's 66% catch percentage is also rather impressive.

I really enjoyed watching Davone Bess grow this season.  And, again, I don't want to toot my own horn too much, but I did call it as soon as Bess was signed on Sunday night of last year's draft weekend.  And with that said, he still surpassed my '08 expectations for the undrafted rookie.  Simply put, Bess was just remarkable.  In fact, Bess had the 2nd best season by an undrafted WR free agent in his first season in NFL history.  While his numbers aren't flashy, consider this statistic.  Bess caught 72% of the passes thrown his way while only dropping 3 balls in 75 targets.  The kid has hands of glue and is as quick as any player in the league.  He has one year remaining on his rookie contract and truly has a great future ahead in this league as a complimentary receiver.

While Brandon London wasn't particularly involved in the offense much in 2008, he was a key special teams contributor and has the tools to evolve into a very good receiver.  He's big, physical, and can run well.  And he has very good hands.  To me, I'll always remember his critical 3rd down catch against the Jets in week 17, lunging to snatch the ball in mid air on the quick slant - keeping the drive alive, which resulted in the game's final touchdown and a 21-17 lead.

On the other hand, there is Ernest Wilford.  The biggest free agent bust of 2008.  The guy got a $6 million signing bonus as part of his $13 million deal and does absolutely nothing.  He gets outplayed in practice and then blames his failure of a season on the coaches, saying that "they never game me an opportunity."  Well, Ernest, when you play like crap in training camp and practices during the season, it's hard for the coaches to really feel encouraged to play you in an actual game, you know?

The Big Question
So Greg Camarillo (once he makes his way back from the ACL injury) and Davone Bess make terrific complimentary, slot receivers.  The big debate seems to be if Ted Ginn can ever develop into a true #1 receiver.  I'm leaning towards the idea that he likely isn't a legitimate #1 receiver at this level - but rather, is a great #2 receiver.  And his ability to stretch the field would be a great compliment to a true #1 type receiver.

So how will the Dolphins find a #1 receiver?  That's the big question.  And while many think the Dolphins, being led by Bill Parcells in the front office, aren't likely to make a receiver a top priority simply because Parcells' teams never make receiver a priority, something tells me that's not entirely accurate.  Great teams tend to have an elite receiver.  In fact, 3 of this year's 4 conference championship game participants have at least 1 elite receiver.  That's not a coincidence.

So how might the Dolphins go about obtaining this legitimate #1 wide receiver?  I give you the 3 potential ways.  And keep in mind that the players I talk about are just those who I feel can be truly legitimate #1 receivers - not role players or complimentary players.  The Dolphins have enough of those at the WR position.

Potential Trade Targets
Anquan Boldin - This is the guy many are drooling over - myself included.  It's not everyday that a 28 year old stud receiver (who happens to be a Florida guy) could potentially become available.  But remember, it's not really known if Boldin will again seek a trade this offseasn, especially after the success that his team has had in 2008.  And he does still have 2 years left on his contract, so the Cardinals don't have to be pressured to move him this offseason.  Andm of course, it would take a ton to pry him away from Arizona - likely Miami's 1st round pick and then some.

Chad Johnson - We all remember last offseason when Chad Johnson said into a camera for Dolphins' VP of Football Operations Bill Parcells to trade for him.  And Johnson's relationship with the Bengals seems to be on-again, off-again.  And the Bengals are currently offering a free Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco) jersey to customers who spend $50 or more at the team's store, possibly signaling a break-up is in store for the Bengals and Johnson.  But is Johnson the kind of player, especially at his age (31), the Dolphins want to bring aboard?  Probably not.

Potential Free Agent Targets
T.J. Houshmandzadeh - "Housh" picked a bad time to have a disappointing season, for his standards.  Despite catching 92 passes, he averaged just 9.8 yards per catch and had just 4 touchdowns.  Of course, not having a legitimate NFL quarterback throwing you passes will hurt your production.  T.J. is 31 years old, though, and is seeking a long-term contract.  But he's as reliable as they come, averaging 89 catches over his last 5 seasons and is just a year removed from his best statistical season.  But is he the kind of player the Dolphins want to invest in long-term?

Antonio Bryant - 2008 was Bryant's long awaited breakthrough season, finally living up to the potential he showed in college at Pitt.  And it only took bouncing around to 4 different teams for him to do it.  But '08 was a remarkable season for Antonio - topping 100 yards receiving 6 times for Tampa Bay, including one 200 yard performance.  For the year, Bryant caught 83 balls for 1,248 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Now, at the age of 27 (he'll be 28 in March) and entering the prime of his career, Bryant is slated to become a free agent.  The Bucs have said they are interested in re-signing him, but the price tag could potentially be too much.  They could also "franchise" him, but that's probably unlikely.  The question, if he makes it to the open market, becomes if Bryant's price tag is too rich for Miami's blood as well.

Potential Draft Targets
This class of wide receivers is far superior to last year's dismal class.  Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, though, are expected to be long gone by the time the Dolphins pick.  Percey Harvin could very well end up going back to school - and even if he came out, is he a prototypical #1 receiver?  I would argue he isn't.

That means that players the Dolphins will have a shot at include Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland), Louis Murphy (Florida), Mohammed Massaquoi (Georgia), Derrick Williams (Penn St.), and Kenny Britt (Rutgers), just to name a few.  But I'm really not sold on any of these players being true #1 receivers at the next level - except for Britt.

I think Britt's going to be an exceptional pro.  I saw him play for the past 3 years at Rutgers and the kid's got everything to be a legitimate #1 receiver.  And he doesn't why away from big games, either.  He actually has a knack, if anything, for making plays at key moments.  The only question with Britt is his top-end speed.  He's likely going to run in the low 4.5s at the Combine.  To me, that's fast enough.  Anquan Boldin isn't particularly fast, either.  What kind of pro is he?

Also important to note, in terms of Britt's possibilities of being taken by the Dolphins.  One, Bill Parcells is known to have extra affection (if you can call it that) for players from New Jersey.  And two, I know for a fact that the Dolphins had scouts at at least two of Britt's games this season.  So he's squarely on Miami's radar as of right now.

My Thoughts
If the Dolphins are going to address their need at WR, I'd expect it to be through the draft - and that's despite Bill Parcells' tendency to not go with flashy picks early in the draft.  The free agent class doesn't really offer up much - Housh is too old for a young team like the Dolphins and Bryant is too risky for the price tag he's going to carry.  And it's unlikely the Dolphins would trade first-day draft picks for a WR.

But if their "guy" happens to fall to them in round 1, no matter which WR it happens to be, I could see the Dolphins pouncing.  But we also know enough to understand that if their targeted WR isn't taken, this regime will not reach for another player at that position and will then simply take the next best player they have on their draft board.