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What happened to development in the NFL?

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The expectations have certainly changed. Has the truth?

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Is Devante Parker making the leap?
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, not so long ago, when the general wisdom was that it took skill position players three years of development before a team could really see what it had gotten in a draft pick. This was true of defensive ends, wide receivers, corner backs, tight ends and quarterbacks. The concept was that the talent level coming from the college game to the professionals was both a huge jump in: level of competition and complexity of the playbook. It took young players the time to develop the skills and knowledge required to be playmakers.

However, the common expectations have changed. If a first round pick is not making an impact in year one, they are questioned. Year two and barring huge injury, the expectations get even higher. I could point to the most blatant example of these expectations, the QB position. Yes, it is the most important position in all of sports. The great Dan Marino did not even start until part of the way through his rookie year. However, “raw, needs to develop”, Tannehill was on the field game one of his rookie season. Other examples of this abound throughout the league, and like I said, looking at the QB spot would be simple. (Not to mention stirring the pot on a Dolphins site)

Rather, I am choosing to focus on Wide Receiver, and in this particular instance, looking at DeVante Parker. There have been big expectations placed on the wide receiver position over the last few seasons with big names making big plays early in their careers. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, and Ashlon Jeffery, among others, have come in and lit up the league almost immediately. It’s easy to say, it’s a put up or shut up league. It’s easy to say that these new kids are more prepared for the NFL. It’s easy to say that a highly touted rookie SHOULD make an impact immediately.

Yet there are other teams around the league where you look up and some wide out is all of the sudden bursting onto the scene. Look at New Orleans, Green Bay, and Minnesota. All of the sudden... look at Brandon Cooks, Devante Adams, and Stefon Diggs. It’s not that these guys appeared out of thin air one day. These were decent college prospects. They got onto loaded teams and began producing later in their rookie deals. They had time to develop.

Devante Parker, according to all possible OTA information, is prepared for a break out season. And that is exactly what Miami needs from him, to break out into the dominant number one WR we drafted him to become. We especially need him to thrive in the red zone, a part of the field in which Miami has been lackluster to say the least. Now, Parker has dealt with some health issues with his foot along the way. And some have been saying he needed to mature. Fine. I get it.

However, I am forced to laugh at some of our beat reporters and their incredulousness at his development. Look at Armando’s article yesterday, or (help us all) Omar’s tweets. They seem shocked. And I am forced to stare at the screen with an eyebrow cocked and mutter to myself about how I’ve grown up my whole life hearing about this infamous 3rd year... Well, I’m not wrong. The phrase has been a part of sports journalism for years. The most common usage of it today is when talking about “draft grades”. Someone will piously mention something about not truly being able to grade a class for three years after the fact. That’s it!

It seems like everyone else besides the mock drafters have forgotten. Development is something that used to happen all over the NFL. And from the product on the field, from Miami to Minnesota to Oakland, it seems to suggest that development still occurs. So let’s try not to get caught up in too much media hype and excitement when they talk about “the light coming on”. The light has come at different times for different players. Yet, seemingly for a vast majority of skill positions, it’s still year three that is the year it happens. Devante Parker isn’t our only skill position player hitting this crucial milestone. So too is Bobby McCain, and that is why I hold out hope for out NCB spot.

Am I crazy? Am I simply reading more into than is there? Have things really changed all that much, despite the 24 hour media coverage and hype?