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NFL Draft

Which Dolphins WRs Are Worth Monitoring After Opt Outs?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 11, 2020
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As we get closer and closer to the scheduled start date of the 2020 NFL season, teams are having to make adjustments in many ways.

One of those ways is in dealing with the roster spots and game plan projections for players who have decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to complications or unknowns surrounding the thought of playing football in a pandemic. 

Down in Miami, one area where the Dolphins’ franchise is feeling the effects of the opt-out option is in their receiver room. Both Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns have decided they won’t be playing football in 2020, and that leaves quite the hole in 2019’s game plan.

Wilson was the second-most targeted wide receiver on the team in 2019 with 62. He was the third-most used receiver with 439 snaps, which came out to about 40 percent of the total offensive snaps in 2019. As for Hurns, he saw just the fourth-most targets for a wide receiver with 47, but played the second-most snaps of the group with 522, about 48 percent. 

Now, those rankings do need some context with them, as rookie Preston Williams would have likely crushed both Wilson and Hurns’ snaps, usage, and emphasis in the game plan had Williams not gotten hurt halfway through the season. Williams is scheduled to be back to play opposite DeVante Parker, who is coming off a career year as the team’s No. 1 wideout. Those two will likely dominate the Dolphins’ passing attack, but as we all know, modern football requires more than just two options.

Tight end Mike Gesicki had a career year in 2019, seeing the second-most targets of any offensive player on the team with 89, playing 701 snaps, and recording 51 catches, 507 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. Moving forward, Gesicki should be heavily involved in the passing game plan. This gives Miami a third reliable pass-catching option, which is key.

But we know there will still be plenty of snaps to give to the third or fourth wide receiver on the team. The question is: who is it? Bonus question: should it be someone we can get excited about?

Currently on Miami’s updated depth chart (one that does not contain Wilson or Hurns), Gary Jennings Jr. is slated to be one of the Dolphins' “next man up.” Jennings Jr. was a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. But Jennings Jr. never appeared in a single game for the Seahawks in the first half of the season and was released by the team in early November. That’s where the Dolphins come in, as they swooped in and claimed Jennings Jr. off waivers.

Jennings Jr. had a quiet college football career at West Virginia until his final year in 2018. In that season, he recorded just short of 1,000 yards (917) on 54 catches (he had 1,000 yards receiving the year before). However, the big sell with Jennings Jr. came from his touchdown production; Jennings Jr.'s 13 receiving touchdowns were tied for sixth in all of college football, with the highest touchdown percentage of any player in the country. 

Here’s what TDN’s own Kyle Crabbs had to say about Jennings Jr. prior to the 2019 NFL Draft:

“Gary Jennings Jr. projects as a depth target to an NFL offense that can afford him as many similarities to his offense at WVU,” Crabbs said. “Jennings was used in a lot of deeper routes from the slot, where he can be afforded more room to work through his route release and find more advantageous personnel assignments.”

After Jennings Jr., there are two other intriguing options, but neither has been utilized much in the offense thus far in their careers.

The first is Isaiah Ford. Ford is coming into his third year with the Dolphins after the team selected him in the seventh round in 2017. Ford was coming off a successful career at Virginia Tech, where he saw a ton of playing time as a true freshman, and then the following year he set the Hokies’ single-season records for receptions (75) and touchdowns (11). He would go on to break his own reception record the following season.

But Ford hasn’t had much to show for his talents in the NFL. Ford has spent most of his time on and off the practice squad, but did play 20 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2019. Ford also finished the season strong with 235 yards on 21 catches in just a four-week span between Weeks 13-16. Ford was an effective middle of the field player during his best game of the season last year against the New York Jets, and showed he is comfortable lining up in the slot and with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his quarterback. 

The other receiver—if we want to call him that—is Jakeem Grant. I add that context to Grant’s intro not to be insulting, but rather to mention that the fifth-year player has been used more on special teams in the return game than as a receiver over the years. 

Grant is a speedster. He was clocked in the 4.3s at his pro day at Texas Tech in 2016, but he really hasn’t been able to use that speed as a receiver thus far in the league. His career highs in receptions (21), receiving yards (268), and receiving touchdowns (2) all came in 2018. Grant has also played in just 10 games in each of the last two seasons. He can be a speed option for Miami to stretch the field, but that feels more like an “in theory” projection, at this point—but the potential is certainly there. His best plays come from either special teams work, screens, or wide receiver reverses (he wins when the ball is in his hand early). Those plays are exciting, but Miami hasn’t expanded Grant’s role yet.

In reality, there is a good chance we’ll see all three of these guys step up for the Dolphins in 2020 with Wilson and Hurns not participating. If I had to give a prediction, I’d say Ford will see the biggest increase in snaps with Jennings Jr. playing as the fourth traditional wide receiver and Grant’s speed used as an emphasis on specifically designed plays.

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