The Parker Problem: Why Has DeVante Parker Struggled So Far in 2016?
After his late 2015 coming out party, DeVante Parker looked like he was primed to become the wide receiver 1B in Adam Gase’s offense. Though he is far from a disappointment at this point in his very young career, I believe it’s fair to question why the talented 1st round pick has struggled at times in his larger role this season. After averaging over 74 yards per game over the last six weeks of 2015, Parker is averaging just 55 yards per game in 2016. His touchdowns are also predictably down from 3 in 2015 to just 1 so far this season. Regardless of his struggles, however, there is still evidence that DeVante Parker is the prototypical outside receiver the Dolphins had been looking for since trading Brandon Marshall away in 2012. His athletic ability is among the best in the league, and the mental side of his game is far from unfixable. His route running seems to have gotten sloppier from year one to year two, but this is not terribly unsurprising considering the intricacy and complexity of Adam Gase’s system. So, my goal here is to diagnose what Parker has been doing well thus far in the season and look at what parts of his game need improvement. From there, I will examine where he is presently and predict his viability as a playmaker for the future of the Miami Dolphins organization.
DeVante Parker makes his money on his physical attributes above all else, particularly his rare combination of size and speed. His talent in this area is most apparent on deep balls where he uses his large 6’3” frame to make smaller cornerbacks helpless while covering him man to man. His only touchdown on the year against the Cleveland Browns is indicative of this concept:
During this play Parker positions himself perfectly on a post route, boxing the defending cornerback to the outside. The 1st round pick out of Louisville gets downfield swiftly, allowing Ryan Tannehill all of the time necessary to get the ball off perfectly. Parker cradles the football perfectly for the easy touchdown.
His speed in getting downfield can also be seen on his longest play of the year against the Tennessee Titans.
DeVante Parker simply runs a go route against the Titans’ best cornerback in Jason McCourty. McCourty actually manages to keep up with Parker for the majority of the route, but ultimately Parker’s speed allowed him the window to haul in Ryan Tannehill’s beautifully placed deep ball. Here, it’s Parker’s incredible speed and exceptional deep-ball tracking that make the 50-yard gain possible.
In addition to being to being a capable field-stretcher near the sidelines, DeVante Parker is also exceptional over the middle of the field. His large frame allows him to shield the ball from defenders and he possesses the toughness to hang on to the ball after big hits in congested space. This 20-yard gain over the middle of the field against the New England Patriots is a good example of his ability in this area:
All of DeVante Parker’s weaknesses are a matter of consistency and of shoring up the technical aspects of his game. This is especially the case in his recent issue with dropping the ball. DeVante Parker does not have an egregious problem dropping the ball, but he does need to improve upon his technique when hauling in the football. Take this play against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week for example:
The play is a deep post route in man-to-man coverage. He does just about everything right on the route, and it looks like Parker is about to have another easy touchdown like the one just a few weeks prior against the Cleveland Browns. This time, however, DeVante Parker straight up drops the ball. Missed opportunities like this one understandably draw the ire of coaches and fans alike and there is no doubt that this particular issue needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.
Another inconsistency in DeVante Parker’s performances has been his physicality. I’ve already gone over his physical talent and how he is able to box out defenders with his 6’3” frame on deep balls. However, Parker sometimes struggles with outmuscling defenders when it comes to making the catch in tight spaces on short and intermediate routes. Because Parker has yet to develop an advanced route tree, he needs to lean on his physical ability to create space and put himself in position to make a play. When his aforementioned physical ability fails him, throws his way can get ugly in a hurry. To see my point look no further than this terrible play against the Tennessee Titans:
Make no mistake; this was a vomit-inducing throw by Ryan Tannehill that went well behind DeVante Parker. However, regardless of the poor accuracy, the ball still hits Parker in the hands. Jason McCourty, who is significantly smaller than DeVante Parker, simply takes advantage of the poor placement and outmuscles Parker for the football to make the interception. This play, while certainly not all Parker’s fault, showed a puzzling lack of physicality against a much smaller defender.
Finally, DeVante Parker has struggled to master an advanced enough route tree to fully immerse himself in Adam Gase’s offense. Parker is at his best on simple routes that allow him to rely on his freakish athletic ability over scheming. His lack of success on the screen passes that Gase implements heavily into his offense is a good example:
To be fair, Parker does gain 6 yards on the play, but that isn’t worth much on a 3rd and 15 deep in your own territory. Rather than look for potential creases nearer to the sideline created by his blockers as the play is primarily designed to do, Parker elects to cut inside away from his blockers and puts the onus on himself to make a play. Predictably, cutting inside where there were eight defenders waiting for him did not end in a 1st down.
This issue in consistency in his route running is likely the primary culprit for his struggles with inconsistency in Adam Gase’s offense thus far into the season. Luckily, this problem is also the easiest fix. Parker is in his 2nd NFL season under a 1st year head coach known for his complicated route concepts. Parker should improve in this area as he gets more comfortable in the offense this year and down the line.
DeVante Parker has not developed into the wide receiver 1B next to Jarvis Landry as many of us had hoped entering the season, but there’s no reason to hit the panic button. His struggles with drops, route running and inconsistency regarding his physicality are certainly concerning, but growing pains should be expected in young wide receivers like Parker. As of now he is still 2nd on the team in every significant receiving statistical category and is on pace to finish the year with 60 catches for 825 yards and a few touchdowns. Those numbers put him in the solid wide receiver 2 range and, considering all the coaching changes and injury issues he’s dealt with in his young career, I’d say that’s pretty good. While it may be frustrating to see a first round pick with such immense physical gifts struggle with inconsistency on a team that needs playmakers not named Jarvis Landry badly, I trust that DeVante Parker still has a very good chance to develop into the prototypical star receiver on the outside that this offense needs.