Training Camp Preview Part 2: Skill Players

In part one of this series, I chronicled the players that distribute the football and the tight ends. Part two examines the players that finish the plays – the backs and wide outs. I recently read a complaint on a ‘Phins message board about the lack of star power this team has had basically since the Duper Brothers. Odell Beckham Jr., Rob Gronkowski, Adrian Peterson, the Dolphins have not had a sure fire elite talent at a skill position since Ricky Williams and that only lasted two years (he wasn’t elite when he returned and re-returned.)

It’s a horrifying realization that gives even coach Philbin a bit of queasy nausea (the Philbin jokes aren’t going to cease any time soon – in case you were wondering.) The backfield stable might still be an enormous question mark, but the receivers are as good and as deep as this organization has ever seen. That might be overstating things a bit considering the two focal points of that group have a combined three years of NFL experience, but I’m confident they will prove me right.

Wide Receivers

Go-To-Guy: #14 Jarvis Landry –

No player in the history of the league has caught more passes in his first two years in the league than Landry. He’s the unquestioned focal point of this offense and his heart and determination are so great that he’s already the leader of this offense entering just his third year.

Juice with the fresh squeeze
Juice with the freshly squeezed football

 I don’t need to go on about Landry’s positives – every ‘Phins fan can do that for me. I want to temper the excitement on the electrifying 23 year old because he does have limitations. The reception number is nice, but a big percentage of that is in a role as a glorified tailback. He lacks down field ability, he doesn’t have great straight line speed, and the majority of his work is done around the line of scrimmage. Fortunately, for us, he runs like a tailback when the ball is in his hands so he does make his fair share of plays.

The Next Big Thing: #11 Devante Parker –

When I do this piece again in 2017, Parker will be the guy opposing coordinators list first as player to stop for Miami. He has length, he attacks the vertical ball like AJ Green, he catches it in traffic with the fluidity and grace of Antonio Brown and he finds space in the defense like a savvy veteran. I wasn’t high on this kid when they picked him but we began to see a real comfort level with Tannehill and the rookie late in the year. Landry is a guy every team needs as he gets more than his ability should allow him to. But Parker has the game breaking skill that made him the 14th pick in the 2015 draft.

The Third Starter: #10 Kenny Stills –

Kenny Stills was the quintessential poster child for the dysfunction this organization had last year. He was brought in for the traits he showcased in New Orleans only to have Philbin and Bill Lazor completely miscast him. When Dan Campbell took over, he started getting down field more and made some big plays (the bomb from our own end-zone in the Tennessee game is vintage Stills.) All three of these guys offer different skill sets and they counteract each other in perfect unison.

Future Starter/Current #4: #88 Leonte Carroo –

Drawing comparisons to Anquan Boldin, Carroo caught 29 touchdowns over the last three seasons at Rutgers. He’s thick with great hands and a menace for defensive backs to tackle after he secures the catch. It’s speculated that the only thing that kept him from being a first round pick was an assault charge that has since been sorted out. Carroo will likely take over the #3 job if Stills isn’t retained this off-season (Stills is an impending free agent) and could challenge for the gig this year.

Fifth Receiver: #18 Griff Whalen –

Some think he won’t make the roster, but there’s absolutely a place on this team for the former Colt. Whalen has the experience the rest of this group lacks. He can return punts and can step in, in a pinch should someone go down. As much as I love the four ahead of him, only Landry is without any question marks. If Carroo is slow to develop, if Stills underperforms again or if Parker isn’t quite ready for the bright lights, Whalen can hold the fort down. He will also cover kicks and punts like any 5th WR would.

Last Man In: #19 Jakeem Grant –

With the tailback and tight end positions so weak, and the receiver group so talented, it’s a no brainer to keep six on this year’s roster. Grant should be the return specialist from day one with a few special packages developed around his elusive skill set on offense. The human joy-stick plays with a chip on his shoulder that might be larger than his 5-foot-6 frame.

Practice Squad: #15 Matt Hazel –

Another guy that has an uphill battle due to being a holdover from the past regime, Hazel finally got his first crack at some game time late in 2015. This is his last year of practice squad eligibility and, much like Whalen, he could be a safety net to someone like Jakeem Grant in case he’s not ready for primetime.

Camp Casualty: #16 Tyler Murphy –

The drop from Hazel to everyone else is as big as any drop Ted Ginn recorded with the Dolphins. Murphy spent time on Pittsburgh’s active roster last year but as the emergency quarterback when the whole lot were battling injuries. He played quarterback for one year at Boston College before going undrafted.

Camp Casualty: #81 A.J. Cruz –

Cruz spent two years in the arena league and last training camp with the Bears. A white guy with a Hispanic name playing a black man’s position – I don’t like his chances.

Camp Casualty: #87 Rashawn Scott –

The local product was undrafted out of the U and needs to impress to earn a gig with the practice squad.

Camp Casualty: #82 Brandon Shippen –

Also undrafted, Shippen caught only 20 passes at Temple last year.

The plethora of different skills from this group should offset that fact that, amongst the six I have making the team, there is only nine years of NFL experience.

At tailback, I don’t believe the team is done at the position. Arian Foster was given a look for a reason and I think he will ultimately sign here to share the load with Jay Ajayi. Nonetheless, this piece is about guys that are currently here.

Tailbacks:

Starter: #23 Jay Ajayi –

Using Ajayi’s 3.8 yards per carry average isn’t a fair measure of his skill set. When he entered the game, it was predominantly on running downs behind a god-awful offensive line. So the defense knew it was coming and knew they could man-handle the path of least resistance en route to the ball carrier. Not to me Ajayi runs with that “Beast Mode” temperament and has smooth hands as a pass catcher. He has the ability to be a three down back in this league and slid to the fifth round of the 2015 draft due to reports of degenerative knees. Those reports are looking more like a farce with each passing day.

Spell Back: #32 Kenyan Drake –

The rookie would’ve been a household college football name last year if not for backing up the Heisman Trophy winner (Derrick Henry at Alabama.) Drake isn’t ready for the number two job yet – simply put. He is an electrifying return man with elite speed and plus pass receiving ability. He should be placed into a specialty role while he sharpens his pass protecting skill set.

Here For Now: #22 Isaiah Pead –

Pead was electrifying for the Cincinnati Bearcats when the made a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2009 as well as the rest of his college career. His impressive numbers made him a second round pick by the Rams but an ACL tear in 2014 was the end of his disappointing Rams career. After a brief stint with the Steelers, he landed in Miami. An impressive camp could earn him the third tailback spot.

Camp Casualty: #26 Damien Williams –

Like a pleading ex-significant other, Damien Williams just won’t go away. He must send late night texts to Mike Tannenbaum saying he misses him and just so happens to catch Tanny when he’s drunk and vulnerable. As previously stated, I think we’ll bring in another back and then we can cut Williams like we should have years ago. At least he finally ditched Ricky’s old number.

Camp Casualty: #30 Daniel Thomas –

Speaking of players that won’t leave, this guy is back again. We’re like the battered girlfriend who won’t part was with the scumbag abusive boyfriend. Thomas stumbled and fumbled his way back onto the roster at least for August. Third time is a charm, I suppose.

Adam Gase ran the ball 56% of the time last year with the Bears, but that’s because Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery were banged up, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford are both stud backs, and Jay Cutler was his quarterback. Looking at how this offense stacks up, this is going to be a passing team. He might favor the run more in future seasons but, for now, this is absolutely an air raid offense.

 

Contact Travis Wingfield:

E-mail: traviswingfield@yahoo.com

Twitter: @twingfield2

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