As the 2020 season drew to a close in the most painstaking of ways, one thing was crystal clear, the Dolphins needed a playmaker who could catch the ball. Despite being the 8th highest paid receiving group in the league, the 2020 receivers ranked 25th in yards per reception, and 26th in 20+ yd completions . Now there is of course the argument that this is down to the play of Tua and his alleged “inability to play the ball downfield.”
Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that the Dolphins tied 9th worst in the league for dropped balls and according to NextGen stats were one of the worst units at gaining separation, with Devante Parker being tied for the worst in the NFL. With the additions of Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle along with the return of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, it seems that the receiving room has gone from being somewhat lacking to brimming with potential. The question is, who misses out on making the final roster?
1. DeVante Parker– After an outstanding 2019 campaign where he helped drag the team to 5 wins, all hopes were on Parker to continue his form into 2020. Parker caught 67% of passes thrown his way for 793 yards and 4 TDs. There is no disputing Parker was WR1 last season and therefore heavily covered. Despite a league low 1.7 yds of separation, Parker is a contested catch specialist and managed to lead the team in receptions, yards , 20+ yard plays, first downs but unfortunately also in drops with 7. It is hoped that with the new additions, Parker will have even more opportunities to produce as DBs learn to respect the speed of Fuller and Waddle.
2. Will Fuller- Despite being suspended for the Week 1 opener @ New England, Fuller provides the speed and deep threat that the Dolphins have missed since Kenny Stills, if Stills ever was the answer. Dropped passes against Seattle still haunt us as fans. Despite some injury concerns, there is no disputing the levels of production. Despite starting only 11 games in a lackluster Texans team, Fuller racked up 879 yards and 8 TDs. Having missed voluntary OTAs, all eyes will be on Fuller at mandatory minicamp on June 15.
3. Jaylen Waddle- Given the post draft hype around the “perfect prospect” according to the Jags and many teams around the NFL, Waddle is certain to be a starting receiver. In his rookie season he will likely see most of his snaps in the slot with Parker and Fuller on the perimeter. Nevertheless, Coach Grizzard has expressed an intention to move all receivers around the field.
“We look at these guys for the versatility of all of them to play anything. We can move them around based on formation, so you will see different guys in the slot, and outside, its just more of the formation of it than actual like he is a “slot” receiver”WR Coach Josh Grizzard speaking at the start of OTAs
At Alabama the duo of Tua and Waddle had a 74% completion percentage for an average of 16.6 YPC with a 137.9 passer rating. Although college stats are not necessarily an indicator of success at the pro level, Waddle has the freak speed and elusiveness to score from anywhere on the pitch and he is an immediate impact maker.
The Likely Ones
4. Lynn Bowden Jr– Despite joining the team just one week before the season kicked off, Bowden got up to speed learning the playbook, eventually starting 10 games, stepping up when the team was hit with injuries. Although only making 28 receptions for 211 yards he offered a much needed level of consistency to the offense. Bowden has the instincts and abilities to play all over the offense, his abilities can seriously open up the Dolphins playbook with potential to deploy the wildcat formation along with Malcolm Perry. For an in depth view analysis into everything that Bowden offers I encourage you to read Hussam Patel’s recent article on him.
5. Preston Williams– If only he could stay healthy. Despite showing some promise with Tua after some drops earlier in the season, he remains the biggest unknown. When weighing production value against cost, Williams likely makes the team. With the additions that the Dolphins made this offseason his workload will likely be less, reducing his chances of sustaining injury, although he will inevitably be pushed down the depth chart.
The Main Competition
In 2020 the Dolphins went into the season with 7 WRs. At first thought the Dolphins would be wise to continue this, given how injury plagued the room was last season. However, with the introduction of Hunter Long to the TE room who all have their relative worth to the team, it may result in the Dolphins electing to roll with the conventional 6 receivers. The competition essentially falls on 3 players: Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns.
Following a recent video released by the Dolphins of Tua throwing the ball into tight coverage with Wilson making the reception, fans have been calling for Wilson to make the team. At this time Wilson appears to be the odds on favorite to make the roster; his speed, experience and YAC potential was something that the Dolphins greatly missed last season. However, his worth primarily in the slot may be overshadowed by that of Waddle and Bowden. If cut, Wilson would save $2.85m against the 2021 cap.
Allen Hurns appears to be the forgotten man. In 2019 he was 2nd on the team in yards per reception and had a completion percentage of 67% for 416 yds and 2 TDs. Hurns could play a similar yet improved role to that of Isaiah Ford in 2020.
Finally, Jakeem Grant the Second Team All-Pro kick returner went 36-54 for 373 yards and a TD. Expectations for Grant were high following his “I’m a receiver now” claim. However, it is somewhat strange given his speed and elusiveness in the return game he has never been able to fully translate that as a receiver. Grant has the biggest chance of being a cap casualty with a saving of over $4 million.
Outside Looking In
It is perhaps unfair to not include Mack Hollins as being part of the main competition given his value on special teams. Hollins’ season was captivated by a few plays including his TD catch from Tua vs Cardinals, the catch against the Raiders and ending Stephon Gilmore’s season. If Hollins does not make the final roster there is a chance he makes it to the practice squad; although I believe he has shown enough in big games to be claimed by another team. If that is the case the Dolphins’ locker room will have lost a big character.
Malcolm Perry is another anomaly. Although unlikely to make the team as a receiver, given his potential as a Swiss army knife in this offense, there is a growing speculation that he makes the roster as the final roster as a RB, most likely at the cost of Patrick Laird. Robert Foster also appears to be an odd one out. Last season he only played in 4 games with two receptions. Given the potential of the room it makes it very unlikely that he makes the final roster. As of this time it seems that the futures of Kirk Merritt and Kai Locksley will unfortunately be confined to the practice squad.
All things considered, when healthy the Dolphins now have a top 10 receiving core. A fascinating combination of speed, elusiveness and ability to make plays in tight coverage. In theory everything that you would want from a group of receivers, as long as they can stay on the field. How that room eventually looks come Week 1 will remain to be seen, all eyes will be on minicamp and training camp to see how this competition unfolds. Fins Up!
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