The Miami Dolphins have one of the deepest and most talented wide receiving corps in the NFL. That fact is undisputed. They boast not only one of the game’s best slot receivers, but one of the best receivers overall in Jarvis Landry, as well as breakout candidate DeVante Parker, and productive deep threat Kenny Stills.
Behind those top three dogs sits a host of unproven, yet high ceiling talent. Rutgers receiving touchdown record holder Leonte Carroo, speed demon Jakeem Grant, 2017 NFL Draftee Isaiah Ford, and a plethora of other competent pass catchers fighting for spots on the 53 man roster all have the potential to make an impact this season.
This leaves us with an obvious question: which of these receivers will hold the most importance in Miami’s offense in 2017?
The quick and easy answer would be the man who has held that title for the past three seasons: Landry himself. However, last year proved that other pass catchers can play big roles in this offense, especially if we see Ryan Tannehill continue to grow under the watchful eye of Adam Gase. Tannehill’s deep ball accuracy finally improved after years of failed downfield pass attempts, opening the door for explosive plays from Parker and Stills.
In fact, Stills recorded 9 touchdowns last year, more than Landry and Parker’s receiving touchdown numbers combined (8). After his heart wrenching drop in Week 1 against Seattle last season, Stills proved to be one of the most vital factors to the success of Miami’s offense. Teams could no longer simply blanket the underneath routes to cover Landry and running backs out of the backfield, and if they did, Stills beat them over the top. He was instrumental in adding the deep ball to Tannehill’s arsenal, and was the spark in the Dolphins’ offensive success numerous times. His long touchdowns against the Bills, Chargers, 49ers, Cardinals, and Jets were the products of throws that we’ve seen Tannehill attempt countless times over the past five years, yet only this season did they actually connect. A large part of that success can be attributed to Stills and the rapport that he built with his QB. Stills completes Miami’s receiving unit and he complements the other weapons on this offense better than any deep threat the Dolphins have had over the past decade.
The Dolphins clearly understand Stills’ value too. Otherwise, the team would not have rewarded his production with a four-year $32 million contract this offseason. This year, I don’t expect Stills’ value to diminish one bit. His touchdown numbers may not reach the same level, but that should not be the only aspect of determining what he means to the Dolphins. The simple truth is that no one on the Dolphins, not even Parker, can provide the same field stretching acumen that Stills possesses, meaning he will continue to be an integral part of Gase’s offense and Tannehill’s game in 2017.
DeVante Parker is the biggest wildcard in this equation. While the 2015 first round pick made some big plays last season, his level of production was not what one would evasion from a team’s #1 receiver. And truthfully, that’s what Gase and the rest of the coaching staff are expecting Parker to be given his draft pedigree and obvious athletic talent. Go watch Parker’s toe-tap touchdown against the Ravens, his touchdown catch against the Browns, or his game-sealing score against the Rams, and you’ll get a glimpse of that talent. This season, the Dolphins organization and Dolphins fans alike are ready to see more than just a glimpse.
Now that we’ve seen the potential, the hope and expectation around the building is that Parker, going into his third NFL season, is finally ready to “make the leap.” According to coaches, his work ethic and level of comfort around his teammates are all finally coming together in tandem with his potential. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported that Miami’s coaches are very impressed with how Parker is handling himself, both on and off the field. They are saying the little details that can be the difference between success and failure (diet, sleep schedule, punctuality) are all vastly improved when compared to the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, while that’s all well and good, whether or not those improvements carry through the rest of the offseason, and ultimately into the regular season, still remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, should Parker become a true primary outside receiver in Miami’s offense and maximize his god-given potential, there is no telling how explosive and important he can become.
That leaves Landry, the face of the franchise, the heart and soul of the team, and most importantly, Tannehill’s favorite target over the past three seasons. When it comes to leadership, attitude, and spirit, there is no questioning that Landry is the most important wide receiver, and possibly overall player, on the Dolphins. The rest of the team feeds off of his energy, and it shows on game day.
However, that does not necessarily mean that Landry is far and away the most important receiver on the field when it comes to marching the offense from endzone to endzone. His role in clutch moments is undeniable. We all know that Tannehill is most comfortable looking his way on key third down conversions or when he’s under pressure. But Landry, despite how talented and fearsome he may be, can’t carry the offense alone. As I noted above, Stills opens up the middle of the field for Landry to dominate, and Parker absolutely has the ability to shine as a Julio Jones/A.J. Green/Dez Bryant type #1 boundary receiver this season.
To be frank, it’s simply unfair to denote any of Miami’s big three as the “most important.” Stills might record the most touchdowns, Landry might haul in the most receptions, and Parker might come away with the most yards, but each one provides a unique aspect of their game that benefits the offense in different ways. Each one complements the other, and they deserve equal recognition for the contributions they provide to Gase’s offense. This season, Dolphins fans, and most importantly Miami’s opponents, should be ready to see this trio of receivers shine. Their ability to dominate is unquestioned, and their importance to this offense is undeniable.