Charles Clay has officially been recognized for his efforts last season. Clay, who some say was a Pro Bowl snub, was named number 89 on the NFL Network's list of the Top 100 Players of 2014 (voted on by other players).
Clay had a breakout season last year, finally playing with the consistency he lacked through his first two years in the NFL. Clay had 69 catches for 759 yards with six touchdowns through the air and one rushing touchdown. Clay also provided three of the most memorable plays of the Dolphins 2013 season.
The first came against the San Diego Chargers in a Week 11 win at Sun Life Stadium. In the third quarter of a game that was knotted up at 10, Charles Clay took a four-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill 39 yards to gain the lead that the Dolphins would never relinquish. However, it's what Clay did when the ball was in his hand is what made this play so special.
Clay caught the pass at the Chargers' 35-yard line, turned up field and burst in between two San Diego defenders, a diving Manti Te'o and CB Derek Cox to pick up first down yardage. Chargers' safety Marcus Gilchrist then squared himself up on the 21-yard line to make the hit on a Clay, who had worked up a head of steam by this point.
Gilchrist was met by an impact similar that I can only imagine felt like getting run over by an 18-wheeler.
As Clay flattened Gilchrist and stepped over and through the defender who was still trying to tackle him (from his now prone position), Chargers' LB Donald Butler jumped on Clay's back and became the fourth defender to have a shot at Clay on the play.
Clay shook off the attempted tackle and sent Butler flying, which forced Chargers' CB Derek Cox, who was still trailing the play, to hurdle the now-tumbling Butler as Clay strutted into the endzone, sprung by the final block of WR Rishard Matthews on Chargers' safety Eric Weddle. It was an animal of a play that left zero Dolphins fans in their seat and a play that propelled the Dolphins to one of their eight victories.
The next play came three weeks later in Week 14. The Dolphins were in a snowy contest with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Trailing 24-28 with just over three minutes left in the game, the Dolphins found themselves at the Steelers' 12 yard line after a 55-yard run by the often-criticized Daniel Thomas and a short pass to Marcus Thigpen.
With 3:02 on the clock, the Dolphins split Clay out wide to the right facing a 2nd & 6. Clay ran a simple curl route which he caught right at the first down marker. Steelers' CB Cortez Allen tried to throw Clay to the ground instead of wrapping him up and as Clay muscled his way out of Allen's grip, he saw future Hall-of-Fame safety Troy Polamalu barreling towards him.
Clay evaded Polamalu so that Polamalu's grip on Clay wasn't great, then Clay simply spun out of his grasp and broke the tackle of a diving Allen, who couldn't tackle Clay with two tries on one play.
Clay walked into the end zone and gave the Dolphins a 31-28 lead. The rest is history as the Dolphins won the game 34-28 after Steelers' WR Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds by an inch on a near-miracle play with no time on the clock.
The final play came one week later and may have been the biggest of them all (it's a personal preference thing, really).
The Dolphins faced 4th & 6 from their own 45-yard line with just over a two and a half minutes left in the game. The Dolphins were trailing 20-17. The opponent? The juggernaut of the AFC East, the New England Patriots.
The play call was a WR screen to Clay (aren't we glad former OC Mike Sherman was fired?), who was lined up wide on this play as well. Clay had to reach back towards his own endzone to catch the ball and ended up three yards behind the line of scrimmage when he finally got going the right way. The play seemed doomed from the start, but Big Play Clay showed up again to bail out the Dolphins and, at the time, save their season.
Clay started towards the line of scrimmage, weaving his way through blockers and defenders. Clay was hit two yards before the first down marker, but was able to lunge forward and pick up the necessary yardage to keep the drive (and season) alive. The drive went on the be the most memorable in Ryan Tannehill's young career and was the brightest moment of the 2013 season. That joy was slowly ripped out of Dolphins' fans clutches in the final two weeks...... but that's a topic for another day.
Charles Clay was able to put together a consistent season in which he scored a touchdown nearly every two games. Clay was one of Tannehill's most reliable weapons and was often the target on third down situations.
Clay was voted by his peers as the 89th best player in the NFL. That kind of recognition will instill the confidence within Clay that he can come out and do it again. We should all be excited to see what Big Play Clay does next.