Scanning Through the Dolphins Receiving Corps for Fantasy Answers

Matt Harmon looks at the role of the new additions, and a holdover, in the Miami Dolphins pass catching corps in a search for fantasy answers.

Some charts and data referenced in this article are derived from the Reception Perception methodology. For clarity on these unique stats, please use this reference page.

Every year there are several NFL teams whose wide receiver corps presents headaches for fantasy owners. This is particularly true in cases where an offense experiences major turnover, and brings in new faces. Sifting through these crowded quagmires are a challenging, but necessary evil for those interested in making a run at a fantasy league championship. One receiver group that lacks immediate clarity is that of the Miami Dolphins.

With the departures of Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, The Miami Dolphins let over 200 targets walk out of the facility. All three of these receivers were players that the team had previously invested big resources in. With all three, but particularly in the case of Wallace, the Dolphins were disappointed in the returns. Nevertheless, their roles will need to be filled if the passing game, and Ryan Tannehill are going to continue to develop. 

Fortunately, the Dolphins front office left no stone unturned to reinvigorate their pass catching group with bodies. The team used the free agent and trade markets, while also exhausting a first round pick, in their attempts to add talent to the arsenal. These new additions certainly make Miami’s offense more interesting than it has been in prior years. Yet, the crowded group also looks to be a hotbed for fantasy football headaches.

Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, and holdover Jarvis Landry each possess unique skillsets in relation to each other. There should be specific spots and roles for each player to fill in the passing game. The key for fantasy owners will be sorting through the group to try and find some clarity.

Kenny Stills steps in for Mike Wallace

One of the castoffs from the New Orleans Saints’ early offseason fire sale, Kenny Stills was sent packing to Miami for a third-round draft pick. A curious move at the time, as Stills is widely regarded as a solid field stretcher, and an ascending young player. Not long after, the Dolphins sent their own deep threat away, by trading Mike Wallace to the Minnesota Vikings.

Stills and Wallace play the same sort of game, and they came out eerily similar under the Reception Perception microscope:

 

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

As pure deep threats, Wallace and Stills are in the same class. Both maintained SRVC scores in the 50% range on their nine routes. Both players’ figures are above the charted NFL average for that particular pattern. Their corner and post route scores fall in the 60 to 70% range. Stills slightly out-produced Wallace on go routes, recording 26.7 PTS over his eight-game sample, compared to 22.2 PTS from Wallace.

What Reception Perception quantifies is the idea that Kenny Stills should seamlessly take over the field-stretching role from Mike Wallace in the Dolphins’ offense. The organization overpaid for Wallace’s services several years ago, and expected him to be more than that. Ironically, problems with the deep ball were a staple of the mercurial receiver’s time with the team. While Ryan Tannehill is far from a proficient deep passer, some of the blame lies at Wallace’s feet too. The veteran receiver had trouble getting on the same page with his quarterback. Which manifested itself in poor ball tracking, and running at consistent speed in his routes. As such, Mike Wallace posted a 66.7% contested catch conversion rate on 12 attempts over his Reception Perception sample. That figure is right around the NFL average.

Kenny Stills, on the other hand, recorded a sterling 80% contested catch conversion rate on 10 attempts over his sample. The younger receiver showed better ability to be in the expected spot, and adjust to the ball than Wallace. The vast difference in these success rate statistics gives some optimism that not only will Stills replace Wallace, but also the Dolphins may actually leave less long plays on the field this year. 

Reception Perception illustrates that Kenny Stills should provide the Dolphins with a fine replacement for the departed Mike Wallace. The question for fantasy owners, is how much of the passing pie will Stills command? Wallace was thrown at 108 times last year, per Pro Football Focus, good for 18.3% of Tannehill’s passing attempts. Because his role and game are so specific, Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings should not threaten Stills. Whether he reaches that volume will depend mostly on the development of DeVante Parker. If Stills manages to impress this summer, and Parker takes a little longer to get off the ground, the veteran could approach, or pass, Wallace’s 2014 target level. Should that end up being the case, Stills will hold solid WR3 value; with the possibility of major scoring weeks, due to his big play ability.

Of course, you must be prepared for variance in his play, and that his targets may taper off as Parker gets more comfortable. At this early stage, Stills’ ADP looks pretty friendly, in MFL10s and best ball formats especially.

Jarvis Landry’s role holds fast 

The one holdover from the 2014 group, Jarvis Landry heads into his sophomore NFL campaign ready to shoulder a consistent workload. The opinions on Landry vary greatly, depending on whom you ask. Some like him as a strong starting receiver in PPR leagues. Others will tell you is ADP in MFL10s of the 27th receiver off the board is lunacy.

Landry’s detractors are quick to point out that he is a limited role player. One who provides a nice option to his real NFL team, but does not offer much upside to fantasy owners. In Landry’s rookie season, the Dolphins did roll him out in a way that was very specific, and did not allow for exciting plays.

Landry ran a slant route on 34.1% of the 223 routes charted over his Reception Perception sample. The average NFL receiver runs this pattern 15.8% of the time. The Dolphins 2014 second round pick ran a slant route more than twice as often as the charted NFL average for receivers. To compound this, his flat route figure of 13% and is on the higher end, as well. The same can be said for his 7.2% screen pass rate. 

It’s not hard to see why Jarvis Landry finished with a less than 10 yards-per-catch average. The Dolphins identified a very specific role for him as a short-area, possession receiver. Joe Philbin and his staff have done plenty to warrant critique, but this is an example of good coaching. They saw Landry’s limitations, and worked around them.

 

You can see that Landry’s SRVC scores drop the further you go up the route tree chart. His marks for the slant and curl route are a good bit above the NFL average for those patterns. Considering just how often he ran slant routes, this positive score is very important. He also racked up 57 PTS on slants, which is by far the most of any receiver charted for Reception Perception.  

These figures speak to the reality that Landry is a role player in the NFL. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially given how well “what Landry does” jives with his quarterback.

Ryan Tannehill, throughout his NFL career, has consistently displayed his comfort with, and preference for the short passing game. The Gibson, Hartline and Wallace trio never provided a reliable presence to mesh with there. Landry immediately appealed to Tannehill’s liking the moment he walked through the door. As such, and given the major differences between him and the other major pieces of the passing game, it’s hard to see Landry’s role decreasing much. As a rookie, he just broke the 100-target threshold. It’s hard to imagine that number decreasing, and given that he is the only returning member of the pass catching corps of last year, he could see his targets go up a tad.

If Jarvis Landry’s game expands just a little bit, and he receives 120 or so targets, he would make for a fine PPR receiver in fantasy leagues. Nothing in Landry’s game suggests he cannot hover around 90 catches for nearly 1,000-yards and 5-7 TDs. With such a low yardage and scoring prediction, it’s hard to know what to make of him in standard leagues. However, he’s quite safe in formats that award a point per reception. All of the turnover in the receiving corps should not affect Landry very much.

Greg Jennings as the wrench in the equation

Before the NFL Draft took place, The Dolphins signed veteran wide receiver, Greg Jennings. The pairing made sense, as the player has history with now Miami head coach, Joe Philbin, from their days in Green Bay. Now that the team drafted a wideout in the first round, Jennings role with the team appears less clear.

First, however slight the chance may be, you cannot write in pen that Greg Jennings makes this team. If Stills, Landry and Parker all clearly outperform him in training camp, its hard to imagine the Dolphins feeling to thrilled about keeping an older player, who does not help on special teams, as their fourth receiver. Teams generally shy away from doing this. Despite giving him a decent chunk of guaranteed cash for someone his age, there is a greater than zero-percent chance Jennings does not make it to the final 53-man roster. 

However, odds are Jennings plays for the Dolphins this year. With that being the case, the veteran is clearly the player who lacks any deal of upside.

Despite getting up there in age, Jennings still has some ability. He still runs good routes, times his breaks well, and can set up defenders to create splash plays. No longer the flashy producer he was as a Packer, Jennings’ time with the Vikings showed a player who relies more on savvy. He can provide a reliable presence for an offense as a short and intermediate outside receiver, who works well with a timing passer.

One area of concern is that, despite being a smart veteran, Jennings struggled to get on the same page with two young quarterbacks in Minnesota. He never could help a sinking Christian Ponder, which is forgivable, but Teddy Bridgewater also seemed to prefer other weapons to Jennings. This was curious, as the two profiled as a good match for each other’s on-field strengths. It bears watching whether this happens in Miami, despite seeming like a good partner for Ryan Tannehill. 

All in all, it appears Jennings, most likely assumes Brian Hartline’s old spot in the passing game. Hartline played a nice role for Miami, and their new addition very well could, too. However, Hartline only recorded 39 catches over 16 games in 2014. He was not a fantasy factor, and was passed up by Jarvis Landry as the safety valve of the offense. Despite being the more experienced player, it’s hard to imagine Jennings ascends to a more valuable role than the youthful option in Landry.

Much like the player he figures to replace, Jennings does not figure to be a big tide swinger in fantasy leagues this year—even if he brings some value to the Miami offense. In actuality, he will probably end up more of a thorn in the side of the owners of other Dolphins’ receivers. If he’s on the team, he’ll absorb just enough targets to hurt those around him, but not enough to matter as an individual player.

Jordan Cameron as a true wildcard 

Even though he is not a wide receiver, by position notations, but it would be foolish to overlook Jordan Cameron when it comes to divvying up the passing pie. After a dynamic 2013 breakout year in Cleveland, Cameron struggled through serious concussion issues, and quarterback transitions, to post a middling 2014 finish. He spurned the Browns’ attempts to re-sign him, and chose to head to Miami.

While Cameron is a year removed from posting some excellent statistics and fantasy numbers, he is still one of the more talented tight ends in the league. In terms of pure speed at the position, he may be unparalleled among his peers, especially when you factor in functional use of said speed. He can rip through the heart of a defense, and take apart the seams, with ease. Cameron comes with risk due to his medical concerns, but if he’s on the field, he’s one of the top tight end threats in the NFL. 

The Dolphins had some admiration for Charles Clay, the player they let sign with the division rival Bills. They always made a point to involve him in the offense, despite his lack of ideal size or speed. Yet, they could not reasonably match the wild offer made by Buffalo for his services. Truthfully, they may have replaced him with an upgrade when they elected to sign Jordan Cameron over agreeing to take on the offer sheet for Clay.

Since drafting Charles Clay in 2011, Miami has consistently shown an affinity for the “tweener” tight end. They’ve always tried to get him the ball, and mostly used him as a traditional tight end. While he profiles as more of a fullback/H-back player, the Dolphins seemed to like him as a seam stretching, downfield tight end. Clay was functional in this role, but Jordan Cameron is the type of player who can dominate in that capacity. The corner, post and vertical routes that the Dolphins called up for Clay are ideal patterns for the bigger, and infinitely more athletic Cameron.

If Jordan Cameron does not have any concussion flare-ups in 2015, after seeing them ruin his 2014 season, he could really surprise in this offense. Outside of Rob Gronkowski, Cameron is in the conversation with Jimmy Graham for one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL. That ability did not all of the sudden evaporate at age 26. At his best, this player could completely alter the state of Miami’s passing game.

If it all breaks right, Jordan Cameron will substantially outpace Clay’s 81 targets from last season. That would mean he siphons off chances from the other players the preceded him on this list. He is the only player who could have a direct effect on all of the wide receivers on the roster. Cameron’s big play ability could hurt Stills and Parker, while his separation skills could make Ryan Tannehill looks his way over Landry or Jennings. He looks to be a smart risk worth taking in fantasy drafts, and an important player to monitor if you choose to invest in any of the Miami receivers. No sure bet to reach his highest potential, and soak up targets, but recognize that this scenario is possible. 

The DeVante Parker effect

Even after stocking the cupboards full of new pass catching options during the free agency period, the Dolphins front office still chose to make a move for a receiver in the NFL Draft. The team took highly touted Louisville senior, DeVante Parker at the 14th overall pick. Parker was widely regarded as the clear third best receiver, behind Amari Cooper and Kevin White, in this year’s draft. He was selected right around the draft range many expected him to be taken.

Sporting a tall, long frame and an eye-popping amount of athletic ability, DeVante Parker is the one outlier of the Miami receiver corps. The rookie is the only player who could theoretically fill the role of the number-one wide receiver. His physical profile stands above his peers on the depth chart. At his best, Parker would combine the best attributes of Stills, Landry and Jennings to assert himself as the clear leader of the pack in the target pecking order.

While Parker undoubtedly has the potential to be that player, his game at the college level leaves some question as to how quickly he gets there. In an RSP Film Room episode with my colleague, Matt Waldman, we saw how a fine-comb scan reveals some major flaws in DeVante Parker’s technical approach. Parker’s predictability in releasing from the line of scrimmage was not exploited by lesser college defensive backs. Yet, stronger professional corners, who study Parker, should be able to thwart his move there with ease. He also needs to work on disguising his routes, to confuse defenders of his intentions to run deep or short. In general, Parker will need to develop in the timing aspect of the game, and refine his overall craftsmanship to the position.

Of course, these are not fatal flaws for DeVante Parker in the NFL. However, they are the type of issues that could slow his development, and see that it is harder for him to make an immediate impact. In general, Parker could be too predictable to opposing cornerbacks, while being rather unpredictable for his quarterback. That is the type of player that Ryan Tannehill does not get along well with, and it led to some poor moments with Mike Wallace.

DeVante Parker will most likely be the number-one wide receiver in Miami before too long. But the smart bet would be on him taking a few years to reach that status, rather than becoming it right off the bat. In that case, Parker will not cut into the projected workload for Stills or Landry, and both should go pass 100 targets with ease. There would also be enough for Jordan Cameron to make a big impact, and Greg Jennings to fill a reliable role.

If Parker exceeds these expectations, and asserts his dominance right away, he will bypass the senior players on the roster. In that case, he would likely lead the team in targets, and be the best fantasy asset in Miami’s pass catching corps. Cameron and Stills would certainly be knocked down in status, although Landry would likely retain most, if not all, of his value. Parker’s role in the passing game is so different from Landry that the two should not work against each other for fantasy relevance. The range of outcomes for Parker’s rookie campaign are quite wide.

It will be paramount to monitor DeVante Parker’s progression throughout the summer. But less so in current times, when everything from OTAs provides excitement and optimism. The best indicators will come from his reps in training camp, and how well he produces in looks with the first-team offense in preseason. Whether you are looking to nab Parker, or you are a believer in his teammates’ ability to start for your fantasy squad, the rookie’s transition to the NFL will be the biggest predictor for how this group shakes out. 

Edit: this was published the morning of the news break of DeVante Parker's foot surgery, and thus that injury factor was not taken into account. With Parker set to miss training camp, offseason training activities, and preseason action, the concern that he will develop slowly as a rookie only hightens. Unfortunately, this injury hurts the chances that Parker comes out of the gate strong, but it does not affect his longterm outlook.


Give it to me straight

Kenny Stills: His current ADP of the 42nd receiver in PPR leagues is more than manageable. I’ll take him with glee in the 8th to 10th round of MFL10 drafts, and will be interested in him as a WR3 or WR4 candidate, with upside, in August. 

Jarvis Landry: ADP is a little aggressive, but overall not concerned about his fantasy value this season for PPR leagues. He’s the one receiver on the roster whose role is quite exclusive, and value will not be dictated by the performance of others. Landry can be the WR2 on my PPR teams any day.

Greg Jennings: This receiver corps is just too crowded, young and talented for me to consider drafting the veteran, at this point. An injury to one or more of the other players could change things. If obstacles were removed, he would be a nice fit in this offense. You’re more likely to be cursing Jennings for taking looks away from the players on your fantasy team, than praising him for making plays for it. 

Jordan Cameron: It’s all about health here. If Cameron goes concussion free, and plays a full season, he could have a major bounce back campaign. Rolling with him comes with major risk of a dangerous investment. My draft strategy likely will not include stabs at mid-round tight ends, but if you want to take the risk with Cameron, I cannot fault you.

DeVante Parker: I want to see more of what happens with Parker this offseason before investing in him for redraft leagues. In my evaluation, it’s more likely his career starts at a slower pace, than he comes bursting out of the gates. As such, I’d rather take many other young sleepers later in drafts over Parker, including fellow rookies Nelson Agholor or Breshad Perriman, this year.