The Miami Dolphins selected Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. A month after that selection, Parker underwent surgery to replace a screw in the foot he broke in college, a procedure that prevented him from taking part in most of Miami's training camp and preseason activities. He was able to play in the final preseason game, but he is obviously behind the rest of the team in terms of readiness to play and game shape.
This past weekend, with Miami's offense struggling to find rhythm early in the contest, a game the team won 17-10 over the Washington Redskins, Parker officially made his NFL debut. Unfortunately, it was a debut that was limited to just one snap played. It was not the game Parker or Dolphins fans expected.“I expected a little bit more than one play,” Parker said on Wednesday. “I’m fine with one. I just want to wait for the right time to get me out there.”
Does Parker's role need to expand, and expand quickly, for this week's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars?
The Dolphins are being very deliberate with the workload they are giving to Parker as he return from the surgery. They are trying to look big picture, protecting his long-term health, rather than the immediate gains of getting him into the game now.
“It’s just a matter of him getting healthy,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said this week. “We can’t put him out there and have him be a liability to himself or to us with his foot. He’s working, he’s close, he’s getting closer by the day, but we have to make sure he’s right.”
"I just wasn’t comfortable with certain things," Parker did admit about last week's practices leading into the Washington game. "I think my foot, I get better every week, I feel like. This week I’m looking forward to doing different things."
The Dolphins need Parker to be healthy and become a large part of the offense this year. They may not need him this early in the season, however. Keeping him on a "pitch count" early in the year, slowing working him into the lineup and into the offense may mean he is better prepared when the calendar turns to December and the "rookie wall" normally jumps up to smack first-year players in the face.
Against the Jaguars, the Dolphins may try to add more of a role for Parker. Nine different Carolina Panthers players made at least one reception against the Jaguars last week, with Jerricho Cotchery and Jonathan Stewart leading the way with four each. Miami used seven receivers in their win over the Redskins, with second year receiver Jarvis Landry leading the way with eight, and Rishard Matthews and tight end Jordan Cameron each catching four passes. The Dolphins could add Parker into that group, giving Tannehill another option to which he can spread the ball, and, maybe more importantly, giving him an option to replace tight end Dion Sims as a target. Sims, who was targeted once in the game and sustained a concussion on that reception attempt, is still working through the league's concussion protocols. The addition of Parker could make up for the loss of Sims, at least as a receiving option.
Miami has to get Parker more involved in the offense. He is a first-round draft pick, expected to become a number one, franchise wide receiver. He and Landry are the faces of the wide receiver corps of the future for Miami. The "future" word is the key, however. If Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, Matthews, Cameron, and Landry can all contribute against the Jaguars, there may not be a reason to rush back Parker.If the Dolphins can continue to win early in the season without Parker being a major force, then they could be better positioned for when he is healthy and ready to be turned loose later in the year.