For all the talk that is garnered in the media, all the accolades and feel good stories, all the wonderment surrounding his wait for a big NFL contract, questions remain. Even after stellar practices, patience, and a team first mentality.
He didn’t have a blazing fast times in his 40. He wasn’t the prototypical wide-receiver. Just another undersized wide-out trying to make an NFL roster. Yet he always finds a way to get open. He is reliable and dependable and the quarterbacks love him. Why? Because he catches the ball. He isn’t fast but runs very solid routes and as it’s been said recently a good name for him would in fact be “7-11″ – Always Open.
He is the type of player you root for because he simply shouldn’t be playing at this level. The scrawny kid who finds a way. He has more heart and desire than most players, will take a hit and turn around and give one. He is what every team needs yet very few have. No, I’m not talking about Miami Dolphins un-drafted rookie wide-receiver Chris Hogan. I’m talking about former Miami Dolphins wide-receiver Wes Welker. And I’m making my case to keep “7-11″ in Miami.
The similarities are uncanny. Welker ran a 4.61 at his combine workout while Hogan has been timed a little faster at 4.4. For everything I said above we may as well be talking about Hogan. Like Welker, Hogan wasn’t drafted and signed as a free agent. Welker made the final 53 man roster for the Chargers and it’s very possible that Hogan could slip onto the Dolphins team as well. Welker’s time in San Diego was short lived as he was cut prior to the first game in what then coach Marty Schottenheimer said was his biggest mistake in terms of roster cuts.
Welker would skip returning to San Diego’s practice squad and instead sign with the Dolphins. In his time in Miami, he became a fan favorite. Clearly an outlet receiver that could be relied upon not for his blazing speed but for his ability to get open and catch the ball. Of course after leaving Miami, Welker became a superstar. An annual Pro-Bowler and league reception leader. His ability to create space is still utilized by the Patriots and while he plays out the year on his Franchise tag, he does so knowing that he has given it everything he has.
Chris Hogan may never become Wes Welker, but he stands to become Joe Philbin’s or Jeff Ireland’s greatest roster cut mistake. The Dolphins lack playmakers on offense at the wide-out position. They lack receivers who can make opposing defenders go one way while he goes the other. It’s an ability that few WR’s in the NFL possess. What he lacks in physical toughness, he more than makes up for with his intelligence. It’s an uphill battle but one that he has embraced and one that the Miami coaches need to embrace as well.
Chris isn’t going to dominate bigger corners, but put him in a position to get open, in the west coast style of offense and suddenly there is an outlet receiver that a young rookie QB can rely on and grow with. It’s not ideal. Hogan will never be a Calvin Johnson or a Vincent Jackson or even a Brandon Marshall. He doesn’t need to. He can however be a Wes Welker and catch over 100 balls each season and gain over 1,000 yards and add 10 plus touchdowns each year. He is the kind of player that coaches love to have because he works harder than most because he lacks the same pure born talent that others possess.
If you look at the Dolphins wide-receiver corp you will find names like Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. Two guys that should make the roster easily, Hartline if healthy. A six year veteran in Legedu Naane who still can’t secure a roster spot by his play. Beyond those three you have guys named Julius Pruitt, Marlon Moore, and Roberto Wallace. Three men who have been on this team for three years and still have not broken into the starting lineup away from injury to someone else. Here we are, here they are, with no one in front of them, and not one of them can step it up to claim the job as their own. Barely playing at a level that would secure them a roster spot at all. Three men who likely wouldn’t make over 50% of the NFL’s rosters.
Beyond them, a hodgepodge of youth and “potential”. Clyde Gates is the teams speed freak, but he can’t break off bump and run coverage and can’t fight the stick at the line. When he does, he is far too erratic at actually catching the ball to make him a viable option in the passing game. A second year player who looks closer to following the same path as another early round WR, Patrick Turner. B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Mathews, Jeff Fuller, and of course Chris Hogan.
The Dolphins will likely carry no more than six receivers into the season and many have bets that one of the WR’s isn’t on the team yet. If the team places Hartline on the injured list maybe have a safety net to keep one more. Regardless, as it stands, Hartline and Bess are locks, an additional spot to another teams player makes three. That leaves three spots with eight players hoping to hear their names.
The Dolphins coaches and GM need to figure who looks likely to be a cut who will pass through waivers and sign to the practice squad. Cunningham and Mathews are two that come to mind while Jeff Fuller seems to be climbing up the depth chart and a possible poach by another team who can hold out for the development. Hogan presents a different problem.
Like Welker, he doesn’t play fast and he doesn’t play strong. He isn’t going to use his body to pull down balls or shield a defender but how often is Welker hit at the point of the catch? Not often enough for those teams that have played against him. Hogan isn’t the magical answer for the starting rotation quite yet but his upside is too hard not realize. His drive and heart puts him above others. His raw ability to drive corners away from him and then cut on a dime to find the open zone is something you don’t teach.
When the final 53 man roster is announced, it’s a better than average bet that Chris Hogan will be looking in from outside the fence, but he won’t be looking long as someone will pick him up and use him the same way that other undersized slow WR was…rather is. Chris Hogan very well could be the one player the Dolphins simply can’t afford to lose. Miami fans loved Wes Welker and it won’t take long, if it hasn’t happened already, for them to fall in love with Hogan. With a team so short on fan favorites, one roster spot for Chris Hogan could go a lot further than holding a spot for another no body offensive lineman or third string back-up tight end who can’t block or catch.
Chris Hogan may not be the ideal candidate for the Dolphins wide-receiver group, but I can assure you that Welker never was either. There is a case for keeping Chris Hogan, whether or not the Dolphins see that case as well…we will know soon enough.