Miami Dolphins' Receiver Battle Revisited

Sep 12, 2011; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline (82) is tackled by New England Patriots defensive back Ras-I Dowling (21) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

We began a lively debate this week regarding the Miami Dolphins and their wide receivers.  I argued that Davone Bess is not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster and was bombarded with hate mail.  If I had never seen the Phins play, I may have thought Bess, described as a “slot monster” by one reader, was a future hall-of-famer.  If Bess is as good as our readers think he is, the Phins are set!  Why does everyone outside of Miami consider Bess and Brian Hartline, one of the worst starting receiving tandems in the NFL?  I thought we had a problem here.  Apparently, we don’t have a receiver deficiency and the rest of the country is wrong.  They don’t know football.  Those that truly “know” football, understand that if Bess had a “real” quarterback, he would be an all-pro.  Wait, what?

On May 22, 2012, the Sun Sentinel’s Omar Kelly wrote a post titled “Joe Philbin has a check list for the Dolphins receivers.”  He argues “Based on this franchise’s history, it would be irresponsible to say ANYTHING but any of the 13 receivers on the roster – including the undrafted rookies like Jeff Fuller and Derek Moye – can earn the five or six spots designated for the position.”

The use of the word irresponsible is funny here and I’ll get to that later.  In essence, Kelly argued that Bess and Hartline were potential cuts.  Wait a minute, that sounds familiar.

Kelly goes on to say, “The best thing about this brewing battle is these coaches have no ties to anyone on the roster, and that includes incumbent starters Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, who will be forced to earn their starting spots.”  I completely agree.  I understand he mentioned no guarantees as a starter but in his original statement, he said it would be irresponsible for us to say that any receiver on the roster is guaranteed a spot on the team.

On July 11, 2012, in response to my post, Omar Kelly tweeted “Listen.  If you’re reading a blog about Davone Bess being in danger of getting cut then you are reading irresponsible, inaccurate speculation.”

How ironic.  Kelly argued that no Dolphin receiver was safe but when I make a more pointed argument, I am irresponsible.  I guess his May post was also innacurate.

Kelly then tweeted, “You REALLY need to be careful where you get some of your information from.  This is the dead season.  People make crap up for web traffic.”

For the record, AS ALWAYS, I firmly believe what I wrote.

Our readers wanted numbers to support my arguments.  The fact that Bess returning punts depresses me is not enough.  OK, here are the applicants:

Height Weight 40 Time NFL Exp School
Davone Bess 5’10” 190 4.64 5 Hawaii
B.J. Cunningham 6’2″ 215 4.59 Rookie Michigan State
Jeff Fuller 6’4″ 215 4.58 Rookie Texas A&M
Clyde Gates 5’11” 197 4.37 2 Abilene Chrstian
Brian Hartline 6’2″ 199 4.58 4 Ohio State
Chris Hogan 6’1″ 220 4.47 1 Monmouth
Chad Johnson 6’1″ 192 4.57 12 Oregon State
Rishard Matthews 6’2″ 215 4.62 Rookie Nevada
Marlon Moore 6’0″ 190 4.49 3 Fresno State
Legedu Naanee 6’2″ 220 4.41 6 Boise State
Julius Pruitt 6’2″ 206 4.42 2 Quachita Baptist
Roberto Wallace 6’4″ 225 4.49 3 San Diego State

Bess is the shortest, smallest, and slowest receiver on the roster.  I understand that when it comes to receiving there are other qualities such as quickness, hands, and intangibles such as work ethic.  Bess is undoubtedly a better player on the field than on paper.  Yes, he is very comparable to Wes Welker but Welker is simply better.  It may be the Tom Brady factor but I don’t think it’s fair when the two are treated as equals.  I wish we still had Welker.

Let’s look at the veterans in the competition.  Bess, Hartline, Chad Johnson, and Legedu Naanee have an experience edge over the 8 other receivers.

Bess Hartline Ochocinco Naanee
2011 Receptions 51 35 15 44
2011 Yards 537 549 276 467
2011 Yards/Rec 10.5 15.7 18.4 10.6
2011 Games 16 16 15 15
2011 Yards/Game 33.6 34.3 18.4 31.1
2011 Targets 85 66 32 76
2011 Yards/Target 6.32 8.32 8.63 6.14
2011 Touchdowns 3 1 1 1
2011 Longest Rec 41 41 53 28
Career Rec/Game 4.06 2.48 4.61 1.55
Career Yards/Game 41.70 37.95 66.62 17.58
Career TDs/Game 0.172 0.114 0.404 0.058
Career Yards/Rec 10.3 15.3 14.4 11.3
Career Longest Rec 41 67 82 59
Career Targets 395 195 175
Career Yards/Target 6.76 8.56 6.93

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Except for Ochocinco, the numbers are underwhelming.  Bess, Hartline, and Naanee are not game-breakers.  Of the three, Hartline has the most potential.  Hartline runs good routes, has good hands, finds a way to get separation but is often run down when he is in the open.  I think he would be great in the slot.  He has shown that, per target, he is more productive than Bess.

Ochocinco and Naanee were chosen by Jeff Ireland, Joe Philbin, and Mike Sherman, giving them another edge in this battle.  We all know what Ochocinco has done in the past.  The question is how much have his skills deteriorated.  I think he has something to prove and will have a solid year.  Naanee is a physical specimen who is still learning how to play his position.  In Boise State, Naanee started only 15 games as a receiver, being a converted quarterback.  He was seldom used in San Diego and last year was targeted a career-high 76 times, in Carolina.  Only one Phin receiver is faster than him, and that is Clyde Gates.

Gates, B.J. Cunningham, and Rishard Matthews are the members of the second tier, that of recently drafted wide-outs.  Gates is our speed demon but injuries and inexperience led to a lack of production in 2011.  Is he simply a bust?  Many believe so but we’ll see if he can raise his game.  Cunningham and Matthews were drafted in the 6th and 7th round, respectively, but expectations are that they can make a run at the 53-man roster.  I find it amusing that some of you dismiss them because they were late picks.  Charles Clay (6th) and Jimmy Wilson (7th) were very productive last year.  Some of you feel that if they play well, they will make the practice squad.  What?  No NFL General Manager drafts 6th and 7th rounders he doesn’t believe can compete immediately.  Yes, at this point, the talent pool has become shallow but it’s a GM’s job to find diamonds in the rough.

Ireland waited on receivers because he felt there would be good value, for this position, late in the 2012 NFL draft.  If neither Cunningham or Matthews pan out, then Ireland made a poor assessment.  We are a receiver-needy team.

If you’re a Phins fan, don’t you want Gates, Cunningham, and Matthews to make the team?  Don’t you want these guys to be game-breakers?  I understand that what we want is not always what we get but I believe in Ireland, and I think two of these three players make the team.

The final tier is composed of Jeff Fuller, Chris Hogan, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, and Roberto Wallace.

Again, it would be fantastic if someone emerged from this group but they are all longshots.  A lot of our readers are high on Moore and Wallace but why haven’t they been able to get on the field?  The Phins have been in need of play-making pass-catchers, after all.

To make a prediction this early is going out on a limb but I did it anyway.  My choices are Chad Johnson, Brian Hartline, Legedu Naanee, B.J. Cunningham, and Rishard Matthews.  Miami may keep 6 receivers but I’ll simply choose my top 5.

I’ve been ripped for my selections because I left out the little-engine-that-could.  The way I see it, if Davone Bess does not make the team, or is at the bottom of our depth chart, we have improved.  Not because of Bess, but because we found better players.

If Bess is one of our two top receivers, our passing attack will be near the bottom of the league, again.

Who are your top 5?  It’s not easy to predict.  It would be irresponsible to count anyone in or out, at this point.  Maybe we can count out Derek Moye.

Follow me on Twitter @RiSantamaria


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Tags: B.J. Cunningham Brian Hartline Chad Johnson Chad Ochocinco Clyde Gates Davone Bess Jeff Fuller Jeff Ireland Joe Philbin Legedu Naanee Miami Dolphins MIke Sherman Omar Kelly Rishard Matthews Wes Welker

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