Raw Talent: Analyzing DeVante Parker’s Rookie Season & How Much He Could Improve in 2016
For most of the 2015 season, the Miami Dolphins’ first round selection was nowhere to be found. DeVante Parker, the 14th overall pick out of Louisville, was heralded as an elite receiver with dominant physical traits. However, an injury sidelined him for much of his rookie season.
The team did not rush Parker back. They allowed him to heal up, and made sure that he was 100% ready to make his NFL debut when the time arrived. He actually did not make waves until Rishard Matthews suffered an injury. Matthews played in a similar style to Parker, which meant that his absence opened up the door for the rookie to step into a larger role.
DeVante Parker immediately found a role as the team’s highlight machine, making extraordinary catches look relatively easy due to his immense frame and physical gifts. There are still plenty of gaps in his game, and areas in which he can improve before 2016. Here is our take on what Parker did well during his rookie season, and where he could improve to help elevate his game to the next level.
What He Did Well:
DeVante Parker is very big, very strong, and fights for the ball with tenacity. He is not a technician, and the Dolphins knew that the best way to unleash Parker was through plays that allowed him to rely on his sheer physical ability.
Attacking the Ball Deep:
One of the main ways that they utilized him was with jump balls. Here is a from the Dolphins’ game versus the Baltimore Ravens, a play that most fans will remember.,
DeVante Parker is lined up outside, with Jarvis Landry in the slot. When the play begins, Ryan Tannehill fakes a handoff to Jay Ajayi, and moves towards the right inside of the pocket. The fake handoff is enough to create slight hesitation from the middle of the defense, leaving Jarvis Landry running open towards the middle and then cutting up field.
However, Ryan Tannehill knows that Jarvis Landry is going to draw the safety away and leave DeVante Parker with one-on-one coverage. This plays out as he expected; Tannehill takes a chance, allowing DeVante Parker to climb the ladder and grab a huge touchdown to put Miami on the board.
This is a perfect example of the luxury that DeVante Parker affords an offense. He allows the quarterback to take risks and know that the ball will either be caught, or fall to the ground as an incompletion. Big bodied receivers allow passers to gamble on the ability of his offensive weapons to make a big play.
Catching in Traffic & Over the Middle:
While the Miami Dolphins already have a sure-handed receiver in Jarvis Landry, the addition of another player willing to make catches over the middle of the field was welcomed by the team this season.
There are two things that come into play when determining if a receiver will be able to make plays in traffic and through defenders. First, do they have a large enough frame to shield defenders from the ball? Second, do they have the toughness to hang in and take hits that come in tight areas? DeVante Parker displayed both of these traits during his rookie season.
Against the Baltimore Ravens, we saw DeVante Parker’s willingness to go over the field and make tough catches.
Parker (lined up with Landry) is able to split two defenders, and settle into a soft spot in the coverage between the linebackers and the safeties. Ryan Tannehill delivers a strike, and DeVante Parkers knows that catching this ball could lead to a big hit. He exhibits two positive traits here. First, he makes sure that he is able to secure the catch and hold onto it through contact. The second is the ability to shield himself from hits; he does not open himself up to a massive hit by extending his body and, after securing the catch, makes sure that he is in a position to absorb the safety’s inevitable hit.
During the team’s game against the San Diego Chargers, Parker’s determination was seen on a 4th & 5 play in the 4th quarter. He has shown fans that he has the ability to combine the toughness and physical gifts mentioned above to become a receiver who can play a dynamic role and exhibit toughness.
DeVante Parker lines up wide to the left, and runs a quick slant. Ryan Tannehill decides to do what he elected for many times late in 2015: let his newest weapon make a play. He places the ball high, but is still attempting a very dangerous throw. Luckily, Tannehill is bailed out by Parker, who jumps up and makes the catch.
One thing I would like to see improve from Parker is his typical decision to catch the ball with his body versus with his hands. While it obviously was the best option on this play, it was a trend that occurred frequently on his rookie tape. However, his frame makes it a very viable option in traffic if he can trap the ball into his chest.
This play is another example of how DeVante Parker can be a dynamic player in the short game as well as deep down the field. He still needs to work on his catching and box-out skills, but he has the toughness and instincts needed to make plays in these tight areas.
This category was actually somewhat of a mixed bag. However, we saw some flashes from Parker that indicates he could become a strong blocker in the near future.
The basic issue is not that he struggles with the art of blocking itself, but that he does not engage aggressively enough. This is something that we see frequently in receivers, but it separates the good blockers from the elite ones.
We saw this confliction in DeVante Parker’s blocking during the team’s game against the Giants on Lamar Miller’s first touchdown run.
Miller first looks right, but then cuts back to the left. He breaks through to the second level, and the only thing impeding his path to the end zone is a Giants’ defensive back. DeVante Parker is able to block the defender enough to allow Lamar Miller into the end zone. On this play, Parker engaged and stopped the defender from tackling Miller short of the end zone.
The reason I am categorizing this as a positive in his rookie season is because he has the instincts to block. He understands where the play is, and is aware enough to put his body in the correct location to shield the ball carrier from the defender. He also possesses the strength needed to improve in this category.
Blocking is definitely an area in which DeVante Parker can improve, but we saw very positive signs during his rookie season regarding his ability to slow down defenders. However, as we will mention later, he did struggle at times in this area of his game.
Where We Saw Inconsistency:
While DeVante Parker’s rookie season showed plenty of promise and ability, he desperately needs to become more consistent. Even elements of his game that we listed as strengths, could be considered weaknesses by others. There is not necessarily one thing that he does incredibly well without question. Essentially, he has been able to show us the areas in which he will be able to excel, but was unable to achieve consistency in those areas.
One example of this is boxing-out defenders. This refers to the ability of a receiver to make sure that he puts himself in a position to shield defenders from the ball with his body. DeVante Parker was able to create several big plays via jump balls and by using his frame, but often made his job harder than it had to be.
The example above shows an instance in which Parker needed to create more room to launch up and catch the football. He manages to find himself between the defender and the ball, but does not launch in a clean fashion that would allow him to catch the ball with more ease.
This is an interesting caveat in DeVante Parker’s rookie season. His strengths also became weaknesses at times due to inconsistency. This showed up in other facets of his game as well.
One example of this was his blocking. He was not asked to do this very much as a rookie, but he has all of the physical tools needed to become a strong player in that category. However, on this play, we saw the ways in which he struggled to maintain aggressiveness.
In this instance, he likely thought that Lamar Miller was bottled up and had been brought down. However, Miller emerges from the pile still moving downfield. DeVante Parker, at the top of your screen, has the awareness to stay with the defender (briefly), but does not aggressively block. This is a problem that appeared last season, but he still has the instincts necessary to slow down defenders and shield them from the play. This is a perfect example of his inconsistencies; within the same game he made a very good play as a blocker, followed up by one that was sufficient but far from optimal.
DeVante Parker’s greatest struggle during his rookie season was with his route running. At Louisville, he was far from elite in this category. In his first NFL season, he did not improve by much in this area. Here is an example of a play he was able to make, despite a poor route.
DeVante Parker, covered by Jason Verrett, is attempting to run a comeback on this play. The team takes advantage of a soft spot in the zone, and it ends up being a completion. The difference in size between Parker and Verrett makes this play possible, but the route actually makes it look almost as if it were a broken play. Often big-bodied receivers struggle with these cuts, as they have a larger frame that is more difficult to maneuver nimbly.
While this is true, we saw an example last season during the Dolphins’ Week 17 matchup with the Patriots, which shows what DeVante Parker is capable of in terms of route running
Here we see DeVante Parker trick the cornerback and cut up field to generate separation. He slips the coverage, and Ryan Tannehill drops the ball in between the corner and the safety.
This is a clear glimpse of what DeVante Parker can be as a route runner. Many feel that he struggled due to his foot injury, and that he was not confident cutting with 100% confidence. However, he was not an elite route runner at Louisville. I do believe that after a full offseason of work, we will see DeVante Parker make strides in these areas.
Reaching a Verdict:
At this point, I am assuming most of you feel like you haven’t learned anything. DeVante Parker showed great flashes of ability, but a great deal of inconsistency was sprinkled in with these positive signs of development.
However, you cannot look at this situation in a vacuum. It is not simply about examining the performance of DeVante Parker, but it is about examining the circumstances he was subjected to. In just his rookie season, DeVante Parker was subjected to a head coaching change, an offensive coordinator change, a foot surgery, and a lack of reps due to Rishard Matthews’ emergence.
There are not circumstances under which a rookie can become comfortable in an offense, and gain experience. I wrote around midseason that I felt DeVante Parker should take 2015 as a medical rest year, but Rishard Matthews’ injury allowed us a valuable glimpse at Parker’s ability. In the long run, it ended up being a huge positive for the team to be able to see what they did throughout the last quarter of the schedule.
While he was inconsistent, DeVante Parker showed us that he is fully capable of becoming the player that he was drafted to be. The Miami Dolphins wanted a physical presence at receiver, and a player who can compliment Jarvis Landry as an outside option. Parker showed the ability to do whatever was asked of him to make plays, and we saw flashes of chemistry between him and Ryan Tannehill as the season wore on.
In 2016, DeVante Parker will be set up to have an even better season. This is for two reasons. First, he will have a full offseason of work. From the moment he was drafted, until late in the preseason (outside of a brief stint in OTAs), DeVante Parker was unable to fully practice with his team. This offseason, he will have a full slate of workouts and the normal amount of time to get up to speed. The second reason is that the Dolphins hired Adam Gase. In theory, the team’s new head coach will attempt to use DeVante Parker in a way that is similar to how he utilized Demaryius Thomas with the Broncos. This is not a comparison of the two players. It is an observation that Parker could play a role similar to that played by Thomas in the Broncos’ offense.
This past season was simply a flash of what DeVante Parker is capable of. His struggles are normal for any rookie, especially one whose first season was spent under such turbulent circumstances. The glimpses of big play ability and elite athleticism that we saw in 2015 are very encouraging. The situation cannot be examined as an isolated incident. Given everything that DeVante Parker faced as a rookie, it is impossible to not feel somewhat encouraged by his performance.
The Miami Dolphins will be in a good position to help DeVante Parker succeed in 2016. As the team is expected to move on from Greg Jennings and Rishard Matthews, Parker and Landry will be the top options at receiver next season. This will be an incredibly formidable tandem.
Based on the flashes we saw from DeVante Parker’s rookie season, we will be in for quite a show if he can clean up his technique and some inconsistencies before the arrival of the 2016 season.