The PhinPhanatic staff will recap each Miami Dolphins player in 2016 as we await the start of NFL free agency. Today, we highlight the deep threat of the Dolphins offense, Kenny Stills.
Kenny Stills had a disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins in 2015 after the team traded for him in return for Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick. However, after a year of development with the team, Stills had a sensational 2016 season with Miami, finishing with a career-high nine touchdown receptions. His nine touchdowns also led the team among receivers.
The season did not get off to a good start for Stills, however, in Week 1 at Seattle. Stills dropped a perfect deep pass from QB Ryan Tannehill in the first half that was sure to be a touchdown. The Dolphins would eventually lose that game to Seattle by 2. A difference in the outcome may very well have happened had Stills caught that ball. Stills vowed after the game that the drop would make him stronger. He delivered on that statement.
Despite the drop, Stills would go on to see many similar deep passes thrown his way. Part of the reason being is his ability to get behind defenses with relative ease. The other part being that his teammates and coaching staff believing in his ability to make big plays. Following the game at Seattle, Stills finished the regular season with eight receptions of 25+ yards. Over half of those going for touchdowns.
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A lot of people will look at Miami’s run game as the reason for the Dolphins turnaround in 2016, and for good reason. However, Stills’ deep-threat capabilities also played a pivotal role as well. Before Stills, the Dolphins had not had anyone they could say was a deep-threat in quite some time. His nine touchdowns were more than both teammates Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker combined. Even though his 42 receptions were exceedingly lower than either player.
For a long time, Miami has been forced to settle for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. This year, we saw that shift some and Stills is a huge reason why. The Dolphins knew when they traded for him that he could be the player he was this year and more. His ability to get wide open so often is unlike most receivers in the league. The nine touchdowns on just 42 receptions is truly remarkable when you think about it. Miami knows just how special of a player Stills is for this team.
Stills is an unrestricted free agent, and the Dolphins definitely want to sign him to a new deal. He will be just 25 years old when next season begins, entering the prime of his career. Coming off of his rookie contract initiated when he was in New Orleans, and at such a young age with a lot of promise, Stills is sure to have a field of offers come March. After the Dolphins loss to Pittsburgh, Stills did emphasize that he wanted to stay in Miami, claiming that the team is building something special. It remains unclear what kind of figures we could expect to see for Stills once free agency hits, but guaranteed it will be a huge increase to the estimated $1.7 million he received in 2016.
Even though the Dolphins would love to keep Stills around, it’s always easier said than done. Locking up Landry for the long-term seems more of a certainty at the moment than retaining Stills. The question then turns to how the Dolphins feel about their other secondary receivers. Miami took Parker with their first-round selection in 2015, but he hasn’t yet lived up to that billing. They also drafted Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant in 2016.
While Grant spent the majority of the season on Miami’s special teams, Carroo found it difficult to get on the field behind Stills, Landry, and Parker on the depth chart. The coaching staff remains very high on Carroo, however, despite recording only three receptions on the year. It’s very possible they could have simply spent the season developing Carroo in preparation for a possible Stills’ departure. They did move up in the draft to grab him.
The good news is that the Dolphins will again have money to spend in another year where the salary cap is projected to rise significantly. Owner Stephen Ross got a sniff of the playoffs this year, and he’ll be willing to fork over the necessary cash if he thought it could help get Miami even further. He’s already feeling good about finally finding the right coach in Adam Gase, and can now help turn the focus to the player personnel.
Stills found chemistry with both Tannehill and Matt Moore this year, leading me to believe that he will be re-signed by the team this offseason. Gase has admitted as much that the Dolphins receiving corps is at their best when at full strength. That the Dolphins offense is most dangerous with Landry, Stills, and Parker on the field. When any of those three is missing in action, it disrupts the chemistry of the offense overall.
The Dolphins surprised many in Gase’s first season by reaching the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Miami may have been pleased with simply reaching the playoffs this year, but they’ll have their sights on something bigger next year. Re-signing Stills this offseason would go a long way in accomplishing that goal.