The Miami Dolphins were expected to look wide receiver in the 2015 NFL Draft, but all of the top players were expected to be gone by the time the team selected with the 14th overall pick. As the Draft progressed, however, the actual NFL teams proved they do not always select by what is "expected" and Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was somehow still sitting on the board when the Dolphins were put on the clock. It did not take long to realize that Miami was going to use their pick on the big-bodied, soft-handed Louisville receiver.
The Dolphins suddenly had their wide receiver of the future, as well as one who should be able to have success immediately. They had a receiver who could go up and get the jump ball, and one who should allow a re-vamped receiving corps of Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and Greg Jennings to come out flying.
Except, 11 weeks into the 2015 season, that is not what has happened.
Landry is on pace for a team-record 100 receptions this season. Stills is averaging 18.4 yards per reception this year, though he is probably not getting the ball as much as was expected prior to the season. Jennings has completely fallen out of the game plan, and Rishard Matthews, a player who was looking for the team to trade him before the season because he was once again buried on the depth chart, leads the team in yards and receiving touchdowns this season.
But where is Parker?
After missing training camp and the Preseason following foot surgery in June, Parker has just never become a factor for the Dolphins. The surgery, which replaced a screw in the foot Parker broke his last year at Louisville, slowed Parker's growth in the summer, and it may still be impacting his play now. Does the team trust his foot to be fully ready to go? Does Parker trust his foot?
Through 11 games, Parker has four receptions on eight targets, gaining 49 yards. He has not had a pass thrown his direction since Week 3, when he caught three passes for 46 yards.
In the 2015 Draft, six wide receivers were selected in the first round. Due to injuries, Parker is not that far off from the rest of the group. So far this season, they have stat lines of:
- Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders (4th overall) - 51 rec, 736 yards, 4 TDs
- Kevin White, Chicago Bears (7th) - Physically Unable to Return list - Returned to practice on November 24
- DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins (14th) - 4 rec, 49 yards
- Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles (20th) - 16 rec, 163 yards; Missed three games due to an ankle sprain
- Breshard Perriman, Baltimore Ravens (26th) - Partially torn PCL
- Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts (29th) - 11 rec, 167 yards, 1 TD
That does not change that Parker simply is not seeing the playing time expected of a 14th overall pick this far into his rookie season. Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, Parker only saw the field on four snaps.
Asked this week if Parker was entering the "danger zone" where this season could be a lost year for the rookie, Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor looked more at the fact that the team had just 13 completed passes and 41 offensive plays against the Cowboys than anything Parker did or did not do.
"I thought he - 41 official plays makes it hard, but to me I think when he went in the game, I just went ‘Ok, it's DeVante's turn to be in the game.' I wasn't really concerned about what plays were going to get called and really on game day, 99.9 percent of my focus is on winning the game and we try going into the game to handle as much of when guys are going into the game and all of that, so that doesn't get in the way. Sometimes on the gameplan there's specific plays that we're getting guys in and sometimes you say ‘Ok they can go ahead and play.' I feel like he's coming back and I feel like he's ready to go in the game and play. At the end of it, when you look at it, you probably wish he had more, but I know this, in a game like that when we had 13 completions, it's hard to imagine any position room is happy and I usually don't think about it during the game. During the game I'm thinking about winning the game, when it's over I look and say ‘Gosh, I wish I would've gotten more to him, I wish I would've gotten more to him,' when it's 13 completions only, there aren't many that I feel I took care of."
That still leaves the question of when will Parker get into the game? When will be become a part of the offense? The Dolphins are still in the AFC Wildcard playoff race, somehow sitting just one game out of the final spot despite a 4-6 record. The team is still looking to win for this year right now, and it does not appear they are trusting of Parker to be a part of that effort. Will it take Miami being eliminated from the playoff picture to have Parker on the field more than just four snaps?
Whatever the case - whether Parker is just not ready for an NFL offense, whether his foot is not right, or whether he just does not trust his foot yet - the Dolphins need Parker to find the potential that led to a 14th overall selection. Miami needs a redzone threat. They need another receiver to add to the Landry-Matthews duo. The Dolphins need a spark on offense, and Parker could be exactly that.