Overhauled: Miami Dolphins Receiving Corps

The Miami Dolphins spent their offseason loading up on talent and overhauling their receiving corps, hopefully providing new weapons for the newly-extended quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Joshua Soden, our resident Fins fan, looks at the revamped depth chart and gives us an idea of what to expect.

In 2014, the Miami Dolphins fell short of making the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, finishing 8-8 for the second year in a row under head coach Joe Philbin. In an effort to get over the hump, Miami made a big splash this offseason landing former Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh for a record six-year $114M contract. Suh’s signing grabbed the headlines, but Miami quietly revamped nearly its entire receiving corps, jettisoning costly veterans and replacing them with younger, cost-controlled alternatives.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill enters 2015 with a freshly signed contract of his own. How will he adapt to his new receivers and can they be an improvement on 2014’s group?

Who’s Out

Mike Wallace

Where did it go wrong for Mike Wallace in Miami? He was the prize of Miami’s 2012-2013 offseason as general manager Jeff Ireland paid him handsomely to give Tannehill an explosive target. In 2012, Miami’s receivers could not stretch the field vertically or be a big play threat, and Brian Hartline led the team with a 0.6% DVOA, ranked 43rd in the league. Wallace had been a Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh, averaging 17.5 yards/reception in four seasons. In his two seasons as a Dolphin, his yards/reception dropped to 12.8 and he never eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, a feat he accomplished twice as a Steeler.

Wallace’s signing is viewed as a bust because he failed to deliver the home runs that he was known for in Pittsburgh. He takes the brunt of the criticism, but there is plenty of blame to go around. A critical function of the deep passing game is offensive line protection, and Miami’s has been either a tire fire or mediocre at best the last two seasons, ranking 31st last season and 16th in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins also had an adjusted sack rate of 6.9% in 2014, putting them among the bottom third of the league.

Wallace was largely a square peg in a round hole, but his play in 2014 was actually very good, and Miami may be hard pressed to replace his production in 2015. He tied a career high with 10 TDs, and while his DVOA was -14.8% in 2013, it spiked up to 11.8% in 2014. His DYAR also went from -24 in 2013 to 221 in 2014. Add it all up, and Wallace was easily Miami’s most valuable receiver in 2014.

Despite his production, Wallace appeared to have worn out his welcome in Miami. Things came to a head in the Dolphins’ Week 17 loss against the Jets when Wallace was benched after only being targeted once in the first half. Wallace was traded to Minnesota, the team that offered him more money than the Dolphins in the 2012-2013 offseason, for a fifth round pick.

Brian Hartline

It would be a disservice to Brian Hartline to simply look at his numbers from 2014 and conclude he was overpaid. He was coming of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and it appeared that he was Tannehill’s favorite target. Looking at the statisticNew-England-Patriots-Malcolm-Butler-Miami-Dolphins-Brian-Hartlines, Hartline’s receptions and yards fell off significantly from 2013 to 2014. He ended the season with 36 fewer receptions and more than 500 yards less than he had in 2013. At face value, the numbers look poor, however his DVOA actually jumped up 3.3%, which suggests Hartline’s production woes are partly to blame on lack of opportunities in the offense.

Hartline was always more of a high-volume producer than an explosive player. Coming into 2014, Miami switched offensive coordinators and hired Bill Lazor. Tannehill seemed to develop chemistry very quickly with rookie Jarvis Landry, who led the team in receptions. A combination of the emergence of Landry and the change in offensive philosophy may explain why Hartline’s numbers dropped so significantly.

Brandon Gibson

Of the four major departures for Miami, Brandon Gibson’s is the easiest to justify. In 2013, Gibson played primarily in the slot and seemed to be developing a good rapport with Tannehill before rupturing his patellar tendon. While he made it back to the field for the start of the 2014 season, it was clear he was not the same. His DVOA and DYAR both dropped precipitously, with a -43.60% shift in DVOA and 159 less DYAR. His drop-off in play coupled with Landry’s quick assimilation to the NFL made Gibson expendable.

Charles Clay

It appeared Charles Clay was not someone that the Dolphins wanted to move on from. Drafted in 2011, Clay elevated his game to a near Pro Bowl level in 2013, piling up 759 yards and six TDs. In the offseason, Clay had an arthroscopic knee procedure done, which he then aggravated during training camp. His season started slowly, but by the end, Clay appeared to be fully healthy and productive despite a general downtick in his numbers across the board.

The Dolphins placed their transition tag on Clay after failing to come to a long-term agreement with him. Clay was ultimately offered a contract by the Buffalo Bills that Miami simply could not match.

Who’s In

Kenny Stills

If you’re going to try and replace the explosiveness that Wallace brings to the table, Stills is an excellent candidate. He led the league in DVOA his rookie season with 40.1% and while his DVOA took a slight dip in 2014, he increased his DYAR by 79 which suggests he actually was a more valuable player. His 30.3% DVOA in 2014 still dwarfs Wallace’s 11.8%.

Stills also had the advantage of having Drew Brees throwing him passes in New Orleans. It remains to be seen if he and Tannehill can develop the requisite chemistry that was lacking between Wallace and Tannehill, but at the very least, Stills is a young, cost-controlled alternative to Wallace.

DeVante ParkerLouisville-Cardinals-DeVante-Parker-Miami-Hurricanes

DeVante Parker was drafted by the Dolphins in the first round of the 2015 Draft. A phrase that is often tied to Parker is “catch radius,” and for good reason. His height, wingspan, and athleticism allow him to bring in catches that other receivers simply cannot. He wins contested balls by plucking the ball out of the air over smaller defenders. Mark Schofield detailed exactly what Parker does so well in his draft preview.

Parker was drawing rave reviews during OTAs before undergoing a procedure on his foot, replacing the screw that was inserted in 2014 before his senior season. All reports are that Parker is making a full recovery and is reportedly on target to be ready for the season opener against Washington.

Greg Jennings

A savvy veteran that knows Philbin well from their days in Green Bay together, Jennings is the senior member of this young group. A smooth route runner with sure hands, Jennings provides a reliable target for Tannehill. While no longer the Pro Bowler he was in Green Bay, Jennings is still a capable player and actually saw an uptick in his value last year playing with Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota.

Jennings may begin the season as a starter as Parker gets acclimated to the NFL, but figures to eventually lose targets to both Parker and Stills as the season wears on.

Jordan Cameron

Jordan Cameron enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 for the Browns, making the Pro Bowl while amassing 917 yards and seven TDs. His numbers suffered considerably in 2014 and two concussions may be partially to blame. Cleveland’s quarterbacks were less than impressive last season with Brian Hoyer leading the way with a -5.3% DVOA.

A converted basketball player at 6’5”, Cameron brings a size and athleticism mismatch that could pay large dividends for Miami in the red zone, where it struggled at times in 2014. The Dolphins averaged 4.51 points/red zone appearance, 22nd in the league, and .522 TDs/red zone appearance, 21st in the league.

Who’s Staying

Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry had one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a Dolphins receiver in team history. He threatened O.J. McDuffie’s team record for receptions and quickly became Tannehill’s target of choice. Landry’s lack of elite size or speed caused his stock to fall in the draft despite out-producing fellow LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in their final season in Louisiana. Miami selected Landry in the second round, and his combination of route running, toughness, and sticky hands had Tannehill looking his way frequently. As a bonus, he also handled kick and punt return duties and averaged 28.1 yards/kick return, a higher average than more established names like Devin Hester, Cordarrelle Patterson and Percy Harvin. Miami’s average line of scrimmage starting a drive was 31.09, the highest number in the league last season.

Landry will hope to improve upon his rookie campaign and show he’s more than just a slot receiver.

Rishard Matthews

Rishard Matthews played a reserve role in 2013 and performed well after Gibson was lost for the season, but saw the majority of his snaps go to rookie Landry last season. A talented player, Matthews might be able to get more on field time with another team, and requested a trade at one point in the offseason. He looks to be the fifth receiver presently, a testament to the depth Miami has.

2015 Outlook

It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much Miami can expect from its group of pass catchers this season. Parker is an unknown quantity. While immensely talented, his foot injury complicates things and may slow his development if he has to sit out the majority of training camp.

Stills is as explosive a receiver as there is in the league, but how will he fit in Miami’s offense? Can he create yards on the short and intermediate routes where Tannehill thrives, and can they connect on the occasional deep ball?

Cameron needs to prove he can stay on the field and produce at 2013 levels to show that season was not just an outlier. Tannehill’s 630 DYAR last season greatly exceeds the 166 produced by Hoyer or the -144 posted by Johnny Manziel, Cameron’s quarterbacks in Cleveland. Lazor should have no problems creating mismatches for Cameron to exploit, as he frequently moved Clay around the formation having him line up in-line, split out, and in the backfield at times.

If nothing else, the Dolphins seem to have assembled a diverse group of receivers, each complementing the other well. Parker’s size and catching ability play well next to the big play potential that Stills has. Both Parker and Cameron bring a size and physicality that Miami did not have last season. Landry and Jennings should both be able to thrive in the space underneath where Tannehill is at his best.

This group boasts youth, depth, diversity and is likely the most talented group of receivers Tannehill has played with. If Tannehill continues on his career’s upward trajectory, these new receivers may be the missing piece that vaults Tannehill into the upper echelon of starters in the NFL.

Follow Joshua on Twitter @joshu_wa.

Joshua Soden has covered the emerging Jelani Jenkins, the fully recovered Rob Gronkowski, and previews the big games.

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