Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson — the Miami Dolphins‘ three highest paid wide receivers — will account for a whopping $27.195 million in salary cap charges in 2014.
If that figure was indicative of the corps’ quality, the Dolphins would possess one of the league’s most dangerous array of pass catchers. The harsh reality is that is far from the truth. Miami’s receivers are unquestionably overcompensated and, quite frankly, merely average.
Wallace, Hartline and Gibson are arguably all overpaid commodities. While each brings value to the Dolphins’ offense, the culmination of their skill sets doesn’t complete a well-rounded group of receivers. The Dolphins are missing something — perhaps multiple somethings.
As a result, it would be foolish of rookie GM Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin, working as a tandem, to enter the 2014 NFL Draft with even a hint of complacency at receiver. In fact, it wouldn’t be absurd if the Dolphins targeted a wideout with the No. 19 overall pick.
Even if Miami’s receivers are flawed, they’re still formidable. Wallace stretches the field, opening up opportunities for his teammates, and was a couple Ryan Tannehill under-throws away from re-surfacing as a 1,000-yard receiver in 2013. Hartline, meanwhile, may not have an elite skill set, but he’s a crafty route runner with sure hands and has developed a synchronized rapport with Tannehill. And slot receivers Gibson and Rishard Matthews are both capable of being productive options over the middle.
But there are still reasons why the Dolphins shouldn’t feel comfortable at the position.
Not once did a Dolphins’ receiver come down with a jump ball in the end zone in 2013. Tannehill simply doesn’t have a large-catch-radius receiver to rely on when the field shrinks or when the Dolphins need a playmaker to snatch a 50-50 ball against tight coverage.
At 6-foot-2, Hartline is Miami’s tallest receiver among the significant contributors at the position, but he doesn’t have the athletic ability or physicality to fill the void. Armon Binns, at 6-foot-3, has more potential as a red zone target than Hartline, but he is attempting to return from a torn ACL he suffered last summer and has only dressed for 11 regular season games in his career.
The Dolphins scored touchdowns at the league’s 11th-highest rate in the red zone last season but benefited from several run-after-catch scores. Identifying a big target for Tannehill would go a long way in maintaining quality red zone efficiency in 2014. Prospects like Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Allen Robinson could all fit the bill.
The Dolphins might not prioritize drafting a big body at receiver, however. Acquiring a home run threat would arguably be the superior choice.
Yes, the Dolphins already have a speedster at their disposal in Wallace, but they would undoubtedly love to wash their hands of his outrageous contract. Doing so in 2014 is improbable thanks to the $26.8 million of dead money left on his deal. But in 2015, Miami would save over $2 million of cap space by cutting Wallace — a likely outcome if he fails to live up to his billing in year two.
The only problem is the Dolphins would be left without a receiver with the speed to blow the top off of the secondary. Tannehill struggled to deliver a consistent deep ball in 2013, but opponents still had to respect Wallace’s ability to burn them. Without a deep threat, defenses would have the luxury of loading up the box more often and sitting on the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Productivity in the red zone can be manufactured with sound rushing and/or creative play-calling. The impact of speed, on the other hand, can’t be fabricated.
Oregon State product Brandin Cooks and his 4.3 speed arguably offer the most upside. Other suitors include Odell Beckham Jr. and Donte Moncrief.
The Dolphins’ offense wouldn’t be doomed if Hickey and company neglect receiver in May. There’s enough talent on the roster to suffice in 2014. In 2015, however, the Dolphins could find themselves desperate for help at the position. The best time to address a need is, well, before it’s a need.
Most draft gurus peg this year’s class as one of the deepest at receiver in quite some time. The Dolphins should take advantage of that opportunity.
Regardless of whether the Dolphins prefer size or speed at receiver, an addition with either specialty is likely needed during the draft to maximize the ceiling of Miami’s passing game in 2014 and, more importantly, the future.
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