Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miami Dolphins 2011 Position Grades: Wide Receiver

The Miami Dolphins' receiving corps remained largely unchanged in 2011, with the fourth-round rookie Clyde Gates the only new faced added to the bunch and the top three guys (Marshall, Hartline, Bess) remaining the same.

The Dolphins' elite receiver put up elite stats, but overall the unit failed to produce at a high level after the team lost its starting quarterback. Backup quarterback Matt Moore played well but threw for just 2,497 yards in the 13 games and sometimes there just weren't enough passes to go around.

Here are how I graded each of the Dolphins' wide receivers individually:

Brandon Marshall

2010 grade: B
2011 grade: B

Marshall did a lot of things better in 2010 than he did in 2011, including putting up better numbers and securing his first Pro Bowl selection as a member of the Dolphins. He tied for sixth in the NFL in receptions (81) and eighth in yards (1,214) while scoring six touchdowns through the air.

Where Marshall struggled most in 2011 was catching the football consistently. As good as his final numbers were, they could have been much better and I can recall a handful of big drops that could have gone for touchdowns and changed the course of a few games. Marshall ranked second in the NFL with 14 drops and fourth in the league in drop rate at 14.7 percent.

Marshall did a lot of good things in 2011 and made some incredible highlight reel plays, but in the end I can't give him an A when he dropped as many passes and missed as many opportunities as he did.

Brian Hartline

2010 grade: C-
2011 grade: B

Hartline's reception and receiving yards totals actually went down from 2010 to 2011, but I don't blame him. There weren't enough passes to go around this season, but Hartline made the most of his targets. Leading the Dolphins with 15.7 yards per catch, Hartline was seemingly on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays every other week with increbile toe-taps and diving catches.

I give Hartline a lot of credit for how he played this season and I was very impressed with his speed and hands. I think on a good team he could be a dangerous weapon because of his ability to stretch the field, and I hope the Dolphins finds a quarterback soon so we might be able to see it happen in Miami.

Davone Bess

2010 grade: A
2011 grade: C

Bess' numbers dropped significantly in 2011, as Brian Daboll attacked downfield more and Matt Moore didn't look for Bess in the slot nearly as much as Chad Henne had in past years. After catching 79 balls for 820 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, Bess finished the 2011 season with just 51 receptions, 537 yards and three scores.

I gave Hartline a pass because of the Dolphins' passing inadequacies, and Bess deserves a bit of one too. However, I don't feel like Bess was all that impressive in the slot this year, ranking eighth at the position in drop rate. He has a lot of ability in the slot when used correctly, but the production just wasn't there this season.

Clyde Gates

2011 grade: n/a

A raw speedster out of Abilene Christian,  Gates served as the Dolphins' No. 4 receiver for his entire rookie season but did not see the field much time in the Dolphins' offense thanks to sets featuring one or more tight ends being so prevalent. For the year, he played only 156 snaps during the season and was targeted just 10 times, catching two passes for 19 yards and dropping one.

Although he ranked third among rookie in kick return average, I'm grading these players solely for their time at wide receiver and Gates simply didn't do enough to qualify. I never expected him to have much of a rookie season on offense with three veterans ahead of him, so I wouldn't label him a disappointment at this point.

Marlon Moore

2010 grade: D+
2011 grade: n/a

Aside from a big game against the Raiders in 2010, Moore hasn't done much of anything in two pro seasons. He's played in just 13 games with six receptions and landed on injured reserve in November. Once again he'll have to battle for a roster spot in 2012, and he might have a hard time accomplishing it a third time around.

Roberto Wallace

2010 grade: D
2011 grade: n/a

Like Moore, Wallace has done little since being undrafted two seasons ago. He's built like Brandon Marshall but certainly hasn't played like him, catching six passes for 62 yards in his career. Moore didn't notch a reception in two games in 2011 before going to injured reserve in October. A quality special-teamer, Wallace might be the victim of a numbers game i n2012.

Julius Pruitt

2011 grade: n/a

Undrafted out of Ouachita Baptist in 2009, the lanky burner has spent most of his three seasons on the practice squad. He earned a promotion to the active roster in November and went on to appear in nine games, but he did not record a reception and played just five offensive snaps. Pruitt is out of practice-squad eligibility and that will make a sustained professional career much more difficult.

Closing Comments and 2012 Outlook

2011 overall position grade: B-

The Dolphins' receiving corps continues to be a bit of a mixed back. Their high-priced No. 1 receiver is putting up solid numbers, but could be a lot more consistent. Bess is physically limited and Hartline isn't being used to his potential. You might think unit needs more talent, but an elite quarterback probably succeeds with this unit.

That being the case, I don't think we see many changed to the position in 2012. The top three guys remain under contract and are pretty entrenched on the depth chart, unless Marshall happens to get thrown in prison for something (hey, I can dream) or an elite receiver falls into their laps in the draft. With Marshall's contract and Pro Bowl season in 2011, it seems unlikely the Dolphins spend big money in free agency.

At best, the team might take another receiver in the middle rounds of the draft to eventually supplant Bess or replace Hartline if he walks in free agency, but quarterback is the much bigger issue and that's where the Dolphins' focus will rightly be.

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