The Dolphins are set to have much more reliable pieces in 2020 than they did in 2019, a season where everyone expected them to finish close to, if not at, 0-16. While 5-11 seemed to derail the fanbase’s chants of “Tank for Tua”, Miami managed to pick up Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick anyway, and if he plays, he looks to have a better situation than Josh Rosen or Ryan Fitzpatrick did in 2019 with a few ideal components to inherit.
One such inheritance is that of sixth-year wideout DeVante Parker, a former first-rounder that travelled the seas of South Beach a nomad, looking to finally breakout and realize the potential thought of by the Dolphins front office. Said potential was found in 2019, soaring Parker to career highs in catches (72), yards (1,202), touchdowns (9), yards per reception (16.7), and first downs (58, which is 23 more than his previous career high of 35 first downs in 2016).
Parker’s play in particular monsooned in the second half of the season. Through the first eight games of 2019, he caught 28 passes for 400 yards, 14.29 yards per reception, and four touchdowns. In the last eight games, Parker caught 44 passes for 802 yards, 18.23 yards per reception, and five touchdowns.
So what changed for Parker? What suddenly turned on the switch, opened up his third eye, and made him play at a level of consistency we hadn’t seen from him in the NFL?
One obvious explanation is the arrival of Ryan Fitzpatrick. As Parker is known as a jump ball specialist, his skill set perfectly compliments Fitzpatrick’s risky, deep pass happy style of quarterbacking. And when you give your receiver as many chances at the catch point as Fitzpatrick has, you’re bound to be successful on a good portion of said plays.
Another reason is that Parker’s hands were much more consistent than in previous seasons. I always thought a fault of Parker’s was that he was too inconsistent at the catch point—where he’s supposed to be at his best—and that left a lot of significant plays on the field, ones you’d expect him to come down with. That changed as he got more involved in 2019, making more plays than in previous seasons.
Based on his drops splits, you’d be forgiven if you thought Parker’s hands got worse in 2019. After all, Pro Football Reference had him with more drops than in 2017 (6 compared to 2) and a higher drop rate as well (4.7% compared to 4.3%). But Parker made up for this with a higher rate of plays at the catch point than he had ever before, and by far. That was really the big difference maker for him, that he was able to offset the negative plays by including a lot more positive ones.
Parker’s two biggest games of the season (and of his career, really) came against the Eagles in Week 13 and at the Patriots in Week 17. In the former, he dunked on all of the Eagles secondary to the harmonious ritual of seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns. This was a game where Parker was making all kinds of adjustments and spectacular moves on Division III corners, and it’s my favorite game of his career.
In the Patriots game, Parker went up against Stephon Gilmore and absolutely toasted the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, doing so with eight catches for 137 yards against the league’s #1 defense.
With all this in mind, is DeVante Parker’s 2019 success sustainable? It depends on who’s at quarterback.
If Ryan Fitzpatrick is able to keep his starting job (as if), the chemistry the two shared should allow Parker to grasp the second half surge he witnessed last season. If Tua Tagovailoa earns the starting job, I expect Parker’s statistics to regress. That tends to happen when playing with rookie quarterbacks anyway, but Fitzpatrick is much less cautious a thrower than Tua, who took more time to process the field and survey his surroundings.
That may not be the best situation for a rookie quarterback behind a rebuilding offensive line, one that allowed the most quarterback hits in 2019 and tied for the most sacks allowed.
Apart from that, Parker still struggles with separating against man and press coverage, so he’s not exactly a Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen, or Amari Cooper in terms of route running expertise. That didn’t matter with the aggressiveness of Fitzmagic in 2019, but in 2020 and beyond it might with Tua as the future of the franchise. That’s not to rip Tua by any means, but you don’t expect quarterbacks with the 50/50 gambling style of passing Fitzpatrick provides to grow on trees, and that’s not really who Tua was at Alabama.
So to answer the question about the sustainability of Parker’s success, I think we know who he is at this point in terms of skill set. He’s a jump ball demigod that’s developed sensational hands as of late and a key asset to the Dolphins’ plans of rebuilding. Consistent separation isn’t exactly his thing at this point, though with further development from Preston Williams, Mike Gesicki, etc, it could open up more space for Parker.
Still, DeVante Parker has come far from the frustratingly inconsistent player he once was, transforming into the player Dolphins fans thought he would become at long last. At the very least, whoever is at quarterback is in good hands if they chuck up a prayer or two in Parker’s direction.