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Reception Perception: DeVante Parker and finding route-to-route consitency

The exciting rookie DeVante Parker caught a touchdown in each of the last two games and was an obvious candidate for Matt Harmon's Reception Perception treatment this week.

The statistics used in this column are those acquired from the Reception Perception methodology for evaluating wide receivers. To see full results of the project’s first full offseason, check out the tables at Backyard Banter. Additionally, use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series. Every week at Footballguys I'll profile one receiver whose recent numbers stand out as interesting. If you have a suggestion for the column, file it on Twitter. 

Back in early October, Reception Perception took a look at Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews, as a veteran who produced numbers out of nowhere.  One of the causes for Matthews’ emergence was the injury to DeVante Parker, the Dolphins 14th overall pick in 2015 who missed training camp with a foot injury.

One side note mentioned in the Matthews piece was that even just a casual glance at Parker while charting his teammate showed just how unready he was for NFL action. The exact phrase used was “Parker still looks like Bambi on the ice running his routes.” Of course, that was back in Weeks 2 and 3. Here now, nearing the onset of Week 14, it’s clear time did Parker some good, time that included several stretches where the rookie barely saw the field. When an injury to Matthews opened the door for Parker to play 85 percent of the team’s snaps the last two weeks, Parker responded with touchdown receptions in back-to-back games.

We should not be surprised by DeVante Parker’s slow start, extrapolated to a painful pace by the injury, or that he’s making highlight reel plays now that he’s on the field. In the offseason leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, I joined Matt Waldman for an RSP Film Room examination of the popular Parker. We came to the conclusion that Parker would flash early in his NFL career, but how he worked to sustain that production was the question. Despite elite athletic tools, fluidity and an above baseline-level of timing in his game, there were some nuanced aspects of the receiving game noticeably absent from Parker’s college film.

With those questions still in focus, we’ll examine Parker’s last two games through the Reception Perception lens.

Alignment Data

We know that the Dolphins current top pass-catching threat, Jarvis Landry is primarily a slot receiver. He’s a tertiary threat in the Miami offense, who offers sustaining production, with only the occasional flare for the dramatic play. 

One of the reasons DeVante Parker appealed to Miami at the 14th overall selection was his ability to complement their entrenched young player. Parker’s long, lean 6’3 frame was the ideal build for an outside big play threat. Through this two-game trial period, he was just that. Parker played 90.7 percent of his snaps outside, splitting almost evenly between the two sides, and was on the line of scrimmage more often than not. 

The Dolphins hope that Parker develops into the role more traditionally carved out for No. 1 receivers. His big play potential can shine, and he opens up space for Landry underneath. All that optimism hinges on whether Parker properly grows into that role.

 

Target Data

Plenty of opportunity came the way of Parker the last two games. We mentioned his snap share, but the rookie also saw 10 targets against the Jets and tied for the team lead with five against Baltimore in a low-volume passing game plan.

The interesting variable here is that the two games could not have been more different, and it’s no coincidence giving the offensive coordinator change that occurred between them. Miami ran an ill advised far too pass skewed game plan in Week 12. In Week 13, after Bill Lazor got the boot, the Dolphins threw just 19 passes, and Lamar Miller handled 20 carries for the first time all year. As such, Parker ran an eye-popping 52 routes against the Jets, and just as striking 16 against the Ravens. 

Parker’s volume averages out to a modest 22.1 percent target per route rate. Running 52 routes against the Jets certainly inflated his raw target totals, but the ratio presented here shows that the Dolphins may not yet be at the point where they will rely on Parker. One reason for that reluctance may be his inefficiency. Despite all the opportunity, Parker only caught a pass on 10.3 percent of his routes, and dropped at least one pass (could argue for a second but I charted with the benefit of the doubt).

While there is certainly some quarterback culpability to lie at the feat of the painfully mediocre Ryan Tannehill, perhaps we need to carefully dig through Parker’s play, as well. That is what Reception Perception is here to do, after all.

Success Rate Versus Coverage and Route Analysis

Receivers truly reveal who they are as NFL players when you examine them on a route-by-route basis. Some evaluators brushed off concerns about Parker’s inconsistency when evaluated by this measure, and perhaps that brought along some misnomers. However, he’s shown all the potential that he carries in his athletic frame during his two-game stretch in the sun.

 

If you’ve followed Reception Perception for nay stretch, and taken in some of the analysis when it comes to young athletic receivers, this chart does not surprise you. To get the best out of these players, teams strip down the assignments. Seeing Parker check in with 60.3 percent of his 68 routes as nines, slants or posts fits that mold. 

Remember, the coaching staff did not play Parker out of desire. His increase in looks came when Rishard Matthews went down on the first drive of this Jets game. Miami knew he struggled with getting his feet under him early in his rookie season debut. When pressed into action, it only makes sense to just ask Parker to do what he is most likely to succeed in. 

However, Parker ran a fair amount of comebacks, outs and digs to sprinkle in some differentiation. Those more advanced patterns can tell an awful lot about a player. Long term, Parker has all the traits to be a strong NFL route runner, but he still needs work, as you’d expect.

 

SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)

Parker performed well on two of those more nuanced difficult routes. His 80 percent and 66.7 percent SRVC on digs and outs, respectively, are positive indicators for his future as a route runner. He also did well enough on posts. Parker is so smooth for his size; he can dip his hips and earn effortless separation on the route that cut to the middle of the field. He will rack up big plays early on in, and throughout, his career on that pattern.

However, his comeback score was dreadful, and his marls on curls weren’t much better relative to the league average. Parker still needs experience in order to master the timing portion of the receiver game. He wasn’t that player in college, and Ryan Tannehill has not developed that relationship consistently with any receiver matched with him in Miami. Perhaps Parker bucks the trend, but he must improve in being more decisive at the break-back points and the recognition on when to execute on those routes.

The real curious marks come on the frequently run nine and slant. Parker is an explosive player, leading one to assume he would be an immediate dynamic vertical threat and able to dust corners in the short slant game. While his touchdown against Baltimore showed he’s always open over his head with a truly special sense of ball skills, his SRVC on nine routes raises concerns.

  

(Red indicates the figure is below the NFL average, Green is above and Yellow is within one percentage point)

The reason for his poor SRVC scores in the vertical game come back to the same issues many observers overlooked coming out of Louisville. You’d frequently hear analysts praise DeVante Parker for his release of the line of scrimmage, but that was misleading. Some would even acknowledge that he had only one move off the line, but were satisfied that it almost always worked. You have to adjust for the jump in competition waiting at the NFL level.

While Parker could frequently blow past college corners in press with his insane fluidity on his simple one-step release move, it was more than fair to wonder if he’d get away with such a lack of nuance at the pro level. You even saw in his game against Florida State (the one Waldman and I broke down), that future draft picks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams gave him trouble. They knew what he was doing, and Parker lacked the counter punch to answer, or even vary up his release technique.

That predictability, and lack of deception on his vertical routes still dogs Parker as a rookie. As such, you see him with ghastly scores of 35 and 41.7 percent on nine routes and against press, respectively. Parker will continue working through those issues as the season progresses, and it’s likely they hold him back from flat out taking over a game in his rookie year.

Nevertheless, Parker is still playing solid football in spurts. His 73.1 percent SRVC against zone helps illustrate that. Parker is just too athletic to get lost in zones, and we must credit him with being an advanced study in field awareness. There were times in college where he’s find himself in the wrong spot, and get lost in zone coverage in midst of a play. His positive SRVC against zone indicates he’s improving in this regard.

Going Forward

At this point, it look like DeVante Parker has all but locked up a starting gig for the rest of the season. He is a major piece of the future of this franchise, and should spend this time getting his feet wet. However, in order for him to reach his immense potential next year and beyond, the team can’t allow for complacency, and we should not settle for anything as the audience either.

It would be easy to accept the big plays Parker made as signs that he’s read to breakout. However, Devin FunchessReception Perception study from last week painted a cautionary tale in assuming that a rookie had “arrived” based on splash plays or raw stats. Funchess followed up the games recorded in that study with a one-catch outing, and had his role reduced to 32 percent of the snaps by his own team. 

Route-to-route consistency is what we look for in rookies when trying to crown them as true arrivals. That reality led Reception Perception to predict big things for Odell Beckham in his rookie season prior to his one-handed Internet braking catch. Allen Robinson’s route-to-route consistency illuminated by Reception Perception caused the stamp of approval to go on with extreme optimistic confidence in the idea he would breakout in his second year.

We saw the flashes of greatness from DeVante Parker in this two week trial run, and man, were they impressive. However, to this point, we are still waiting for that route-to-route consistency. His lack of nuance in patterns, and deficient techniques off the line, are anchoring him in this department. We could see it down the stretch, no doubt about it. Let’s just remember to keep our expectations in check until we do, even if DeVante Parker will be one of the most fun players to follow down the stretch. Parker could well end up being one of the better wide receivers in the NFL, but we need to wait for true indicators of greatness before penciling that in.