Just 10 snaps into the game against the New England Patriots during Week 8 of the 2013 NFL season, Miami Dolphins WR Brandon Gibson tore his patella tendon and would then miss the remainder of the season for Miami. Gibson’s absence was missed, but WR Rishard Matthews stepped up in a big way as the team’s slot receiver and really came into his own for the team down the stretch.
Thus, Gibson not only must recover from a gruesome injury, but must also beat Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry for the starting slot receiver role on the team — or he may be cut loose to save some cap space.
Gibson was having quite a season for the Ryan Tannehill-led team, grabbing 30 receptions on 44 targets for 326 yards and three touchdowns. This was Gibson’s first true season working as a slot receiver, and he had been used quite heavily by Tannehill and former OC Mike Sherman.
Now with a new OC in Bill Lazor, the sixth-year pro must learn a whole new offense on top of the other obstacles. In other words, he is heading into a make-or-break season with Miami.
Matthews filled in admirably last season, collecting 41 receptions on 64 targets for 448 yards and two touchdowns. His best game came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which he caught 11 of his 14 targets for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
If you take a look at the two from a distance, they are almost carbon copies of each other, with Gibson coming in at an even 6-foot and 207 pounds, while Matthews also comes in at the same height and just a bit heavier at 210 pounds. Neither player possesses the breakaway speed your typical slot receiver will own, but both players possess a solid understanding of the route tree and have arguably the two best pairs of hands on the team.
But let’s not forget the young buck in Landry, who enters the team with high expectations as one of the draft’s more polished route runners to go along with some of the best hands in the class. Landry’s ability to work in space and find holes within the zone is second to none, and his ability to play with aggression as a receiver is something the coaching staff in Miami will really enjoy.
It will be an intriguing battle to watch this summer between Gibson, Landry and Matthews, but who comes out on top as the team’s slot receiver is anyone’s guess at this point. For now, I will give the nod to Gibson due to how well he played last season pre-injury and his experience, but don’t sleep on either one of the younger receivers in this battle. Landry could sneak up on both players and snatch that job right out of their hands.