Cam to Canton?

Courtesy of Miami Dolphins

While a lot may be said about Jeff Ireland’s capabilities as a general manager, he did provide the Miami Dolphins with one of their greatest ever players, Cameron Wake.

Throughout his career in the NFL, Wake amounted 364 tackles, 100.5 sacks, 99 TFL, 22 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception. Palm Beach Post has since ranked Wake as the third greatest Dolphins player over the past 20 years behind only Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. With JT already in the Hall of Fame, and Zach Thomas a finalist this year before being snubbed again, is Cameron Wake Hall of Fame worthy?

Early Career

Derek Cameron Wake from Beltsville, Maryland, played his college ball for Penn State after enrolling in 2000. The 6-3, 236-pound linebacker/defensive end had a productive college career amounting 191 tackles, including 24 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries and an interception. Wake was also the team’s top special team player after blocking seven kicks during his career with the Nittany Lions.

Prior to the 2005 NFL Draft, at Penn State’s Pro Day Wake ran a 4.55 40-yard dash. In comparison, rookie defensive end Jaelan Phillips ran a 4.56. It is therefore very surprising looking back, as to how on earth Wake went undrafted. While he may not have been as dominant in college as what he was in the NFL, the fact that Wake was repeatedly passed on by so many is puzzling to say the least.

Having gone undrafted, Wake thought he had his shot when he was picked up by the New York Giants in 2005, however he was subsequently cut before the regular season began. Just imagine a defense featuring both Wake and Jason Pierre-Paul is frightening.

With his hopes and dreams of becoming an NFL star in tatters, Wake eventually took a job as a mortgage broker in 2006, watching his peers compete in the NFL with vengeance. Had it not been for his mother’s determination to see her son’s dream a reality, encouraging him to quit his job and focus all of his efforts on the NFL, his career would have been very different.

Having quit his short career as a mortgage broker, he eventually got his shot in the Canadian Football League with British Columbia, yet Wake remained skeptical.

“I had never even watched a CFL game in my life. I’d never heard of a team. I didn’t know a single person in Canada. I was completely oblivious to the whole league.”

Cameron Wake speaking to ESPN in 2013

While Wake only earned $48,000 per season playing for BC, his production levels were off the charts. In 36 games Wake totaled: 137 total tackles, 39 sacks (season high of 23 in 2008) , 6 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and 1 TD. In his two seasons in the CFL he was twice named a CFL All-Star, and twice named the “Most Outstanding Defensive Player”, eventually being named to the CFL all decade team. Teams were certainly interested now. As such, he managed to transform his fortunes from $48,000 salary to career earnings of over $60,000,000.

Miami Dolphins

After every team had passed on Wake during the 2005 draft, they were not about to do it again. Following his stint in the CFL, Wake now attracted interest from over 17 NFL teams and working out for 8. Not everybody in the Dolphins organisation was sold on the prospect of giving Wake the 4 year contract worth $2.6 million with $650,000 guaranteed, as he was unproven in the league aged 27. Nevertheless, it was Bill Parcels who ultimately was the calming figure in the Dolphins front office imploring Jeff Ireland to take the gamble and to get the deal done. The rest is history.

To make it easier you:

NFL Honors:

  • First Team All Pro Honors- 2012
  • 3x Second Team All Pro Honors- 2010, 2014, 2016
  • 5x Pro Bowler- 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016
  • PFF’s 2010s All Decade Team (2nd)
  • 100 Sacks Club
  • 6x NFL Top 100

Dolphins Honors:

  • Miami Dolphins 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Second highest sacks in Miami Dolphins history
  • 4x Don Shula Leadership Award- 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
  • Dan Marino Most Valuable Player – 2013

Wake burst on to the scene in his first start of his NFL career against the Bills in 2009, he recorded two sacks, four TFL and a forced fumble. He had arrived in the NFL with a chip on his shoulder, determined to make up for lost time. His explosiveness and killer first step caused even the best of offensive tackles nightmares week in week out. From 2009-2018 Wake totaled a franchise leading 604 pressures. Furthermore, in the period from 2010- 2016, Wake earned a top 5 pass rushing grade among edge rushers every season bar one (2011), while leading the NFL in 2014 and 2015.

With the introduction of Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line in 2015, Wake began to exploit every opportunity that fell his way, with Suh’s power demanding doubling. Unfortunately however, Wake’s season was cut short after tearing his achilles in late October; prior to his injury he was the most dominant defensive player in the league. Having overcame adversity throughout his whole career, in typical Wake fashion he came back stronger than ever in 2016 collecting 11.5 sacks, earning Pro-Bowl and Second Team All-Pro honors while only starting 11 out of 16 games. The following season he added another 10.5 sacks and 12 TFL. In total Wake recorded double digit sacks in 5 of his 11 seasons. He averaged 9.8 sacks per season, in comparison Taylor averaged 9.3. In other words, he dominated.

With the dawn of a new era in Miami, it was clear once again that the Dolphins were in rebuild mode, needing to get younger and cheaper, thinking more about the long term vision, rather than attempts to plaster over the cracks like they had done for so many years. Wake then signed for the Tennessee Titans in 2019. In the season following his departure his value could not have been any clearer, the Dolphins pass rush was none existent with Taco Charlton leading the way in sacks. Wake is dearly missed among Dolphins fans.

Hall of Fame Worthy?

According to Armando Salguero, a selector on the Hall of Fame committee, ” A Pro Football Hall of Famer answers three basic questions in the affirmative.

  1. Did he dominate his era?
  2. Did he do anything to change games and more importantly to change the game?
  3. Do the greatest of his peers think he’s a Hall of Famer?

With regards to the first question, if you have made it this far in this article, the answer is clear. It is somewhat intriguing to just pause for a moment and consider what Wakes numbers would have been had he been drafted in 2005. Again it is important to highlight that Wake was 27 when he entered the league, what followed in his career is nothing short of remarkable.

As to the second question, I will just leave this here:

The infamous play that has highlighted Wake’s career. Wakes presence was always felt throughout games and certainly helped to change the games. It is no coincidence that his comeback season in 2016 also marked the Dolphins first post-season appearance since 2008. Nevertheless, the biggest hindrance on Wake’s chances of being enshrined in Ohio is that unfortunately for him and the fans, he played on a team that was never any good, with a defense that wasn’t very good either.

Wake has more career sacks than Hall of Famers Andre Tippett, Howie Long and Warren Sapp and more forced fumbles than Ray Lewis, yet no rings to show for it. Where Wake was an elite edge rusher in the league he played on a team that was bang average at best, never looking like a legitimate contender. Wake did as much as he could to provide a spark within the Dolphins organisation and although it should not be held against him, it might.

Finally in regard to the third question:

“I’ve been around a long time, and he does things that amaze me. It’s those young fresh legs, good cartilage in his knees. I always joke watching tape, seeing Cameron dip underneath somebody, kind of getting pushed around, then he’ll spin around and pop off the ground. He easily does things that older guys can’t do anymore.”

Jason Taylor speaking about Wake in 2011.

“He’s an animal hes a freak of nature. The guy is 36 years old and he’s playing like he’s 22.”

Reshad Jones speaking about Wake in Top 100 in 2018

“Wake has got this move that he’ll bull you and then pull you by and then get the edge, as much as anybody tries to replicate that move, nobody does it like him. For me he’s the most complete 4-3 defensive end in the game right now.”

DE Chris Long speaking about Wake in Top 100 in 2015

Cameron Wake is worthy of being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The story of his career is an extraordinary one. Through all the challenges and setbacks he had, he is the prime example of never giving up. Wake dominated in the league for over a decade and brought a bright spark to an otherwise dull and grey era in Miami. While he may not be a first or even a second ballot, at some point in the future Wake has earned his place in Canton when he becomes eligible 5 years after his retirement. But first we focus on No.54. In the near future though, I fully expect Wake to be placed in the Dolphins ring of honor at the very least. Who knows what the future holds for Wake and his retirement plans, one thing is for sure, his future as a Miami Dolphins legend is set in stone. Fins Up!

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