Just one quarter into the 2016 season, Kenny Stills instantly became the most vilified Dolphins player for the brand new season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill took the shot gun snap on an unusually sun-drenched day at Century Link Field in Seattle. As Earl Thomas broke on what he believed to be a sit down route, Stills turned on the jets and found himself five yards behind the last Seattle defender with a descending football perfectly en route the number 10 on his jersey.
The ball caromed off his hands sending the obnoxious twelfth man into an uproar while the minority Dolphins fans stood with their palms pressed against both temples on their foreheads.
Going back to his time at Oklahoma, Kenny Stills has been an elite level vertical threat from the beginning of his football career. Immaturity and character concerns away from the field caused the former two-time All-Big 12 receiver to fall to the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
In New Orleans, he carved out a niche as a big play threat and a game-breaker that had earned the trust of all-pro quarterback, Drew Brees. With five touchdowns and 20 yards per reception as a rookie, Stills became a focal point in one of the NFL’s most prolific passing attacks. He caught 63 passes on just 85 targets for nearly 1,000 yards in his second NFL season.
I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that, for just a third round draft choice, the Dolphins acquired a 23 year old receiver that could do everything, and more, than Mike Wallace could for a fraction of the price.
Stills’ first year in Miami left plenty to be desired, but that could’ve been said about the entire operation. Miscast in an offense that was more horizontally focused without any real rhyme or reason to the route concepts, Stills hauled in just 27 passes for 440 yards on 63 targets. His 6.98 yards per target was a dramatic drop off from the 10.95 figure he posted in his sophomore season with the Saints.
Insert Adam Gase.
The rookie head coach of the Miami Dolphins implemented a route tree that is heavily dependent on setting up your teammates for success. It’s an offense that requires selfless receivers willing to sell routes all game with little to no chance of that route ever seeing a target.
For reward of his efforts, the built in shot plays within this offense began to take hold for the diminutive Stills. After the Emerald City Emasculation (that’s what I’m dubbing it), Stills has made a habit out of scoring touchdowns from lengthy distances.
Of Stills’ seven touchdown receptions in 2016, zero of them have come from inside 24 yards. Three of them came from over 50 yards and that’s the first time a Dolphins receiver has accomplished that feat since Mark Duper – not bad company.
In his second season with the Dolphins, Stills is nearing his peak New Orleans form averaging 9.48 yards per target and inching closer to Miami’s first playoff berth since 2008.
His effectiveness on the field can be measured in stats, but it’s the work that shows up on the coach’s film that is earning the 24 year old a big pay day. Stills caught just one pass for 11 yards in a November 6 meeting with the New York Jets. He only played 15 snaps before he came off the field with a stomach virus and didn’t return to the game.
Scoring 14 offensive points while he was available, the Dolphins needed to house a kickoff return and kick a field goal following a Jordan Phillips interception that set them up inside the 20 just to get to 27 points on the afternoon. Without Stills the offense possessed the ball six times and was responsible for just three points.
The aforementioned clear-out routes are a dirty job that only work when the receiver sells each route like he’s the primary target.
In a July press-conference, Adam Gase profusely praised Kenny Stills for his veteran presence and understanding of the offense. Gase has dropped nuggets through the entire season that Stills is a player that he admires and it was made apparent in the pre-season when Stills was the focal point of the offense.
Things cooled down to the start the year but, eventually, the offense found its footing. When it did you could either find the tatted up #10 celebrating another deep touchdown reception or attracting coverage to open things up for Devante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Dion Sims, anyone in the Dolphins passing game.
Shall we peak some screen grabs?
The above imagine is an empty set against man coverage with a single high safety. Stills needs to clear the space for Leonte Carroo’s out route.
The fade is sold well enough to get the 49ers corner to flip his hips and remove himself from the play. Carroo would catch it and go in for six.
This image above is a credit to the offense as a whole. Dion Sims is supposed to come back against his motion and have a clear path to the end-zone after the completion.
Landry executes the legal pick, Stills gets his man to turn his back, and the Dolphins get a walk-in touchdown. This is what I mean when I talk about manufacturing touchdowns.
Here is a deep crossing route from Landry. Stills needs to get off press and get downfield before Landry makes his in cut.
The timing is in perfect sync as Stills has turned the defender and opened the area of the field that Ryan Tannehill throws the ball into. On opposite side of the formation, Devante Parker is bracketed in cover-2 and his go route occupies the deep safety.
As you read the narrative behind this writing, you might think this is more of a credit to Adam Gase and his system. And it can be. It functions as a praise to the coach and to a player that is executing his scheme and doing whatever he can do to help the team win.
Jarvis Landry is every bit as selfless and deserving of the praise that Stills gets in this write-up. But Dolphins fans already know about the man they call, “Juice.” Just remember to share some of the love to our other 24 year old stud receiver.