Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Has DeVante Parker finally found his feet

After struggling through his first four years in the NFL, DeVante Parker has had himself a breakout year in 2019. Setting career highs for touchdowns, yards, and first downs has Parker finally become the big body receiver the Dolphins have been hoping he would be.

Louisville product

DeVante Parker was selected with the fourteenth pick of the 2015 draft, with the expectation that he would become quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s go-to receiver down the field. Despite some question marks about his durability, Parker’s ability to make contested catches, and the size-mismatch he represents made him a highly-touted prospect.

However, even in college, there were doubts about both his ability to stay healthy, and whether he gave 100% on every play. Parker clearly had the physical traits to be a huge NFL star, perhaps lacking only top-end speed. But those questions continued to plague him through his first 4 seasons.

Parker came out with a foot injury and ended up having surgery on June 5th, 2015. The injury kept him out of camp and hindered his progress in the offense.

Starting just four games in his rookie season, Parker was actually decent when he got on the field. with 26 catches on 50 targets, for 19.0 per reception and 3 touchdowns, it was clear that Parker’s abilities translated well into the NFL. Despite only 26 catches, Parker avoided 7 tackles after making catches and ranked joint 30th in the league.

Camp performance impresses

As has become the narrative for DeVante Parker every season since he has impressed in training camp. It has become one of the more annoying things for Dolfans every summer how well Parker does in camp. Because it never seems to end up translating on to the field.

DeVante Parker always impresses during training camp © Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post
DeVante Parker always impresses during training camp © Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post

Except that’s not really been true. He has missed 10 games through his first four seasons, which isn’t horrendous. The problem with Parker is that he always seems to have some niggling injury that holds him back from being 100%. When he’s on the field he rarely lets anyone down.

The appointment of Adam Gase can definitely be blamed for some of Parker’s struggles on the field. In his rookie season, Parker’s main area of weakness was on passes under 10 yards, where he caught 10/15 for 88 yards and 0 touchdowns. Under Gase, the field shrank considerably for Parker.

In his rookies season, 26.8% of his targets were under 10 yards. In his three seasons under Gase, Parker’s targets under 10 yards ballooned to 42.5% in 2016, 41.6% in 2017. and 50.6% in 2018. That’s taking away Parker’s key strength with playcalling. And also limiting him by playing to his weakness for route running.

Parker’s numbers were still ok, and he has graded solidly in all his seasons with pff.com. But Adam Gase took away the main strength of Parker’s game, to high-point the ball and make contested catches.

Fast forward to 2019

Under the new regime of HC Brian Flores, and Offensive Coordinator Chad O’Shea however, things have gotten a lot better for DeVante Parker. With his targets under 10 yards dropping to a career-low 30%, Parker has begun to shine, and make those big plays everyone was expecting back in 2015.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick now at the Dolphins helm, deep shots have become something much more common for the Dolphins in general, and for Parker in particular. In fact, if you look at Wide Receiver grades since week 10 of the 2019 season, DeVante Parker ranks in the top 5 according to PFF.

PFF Wide Receiver grades from week 10  2019 NFL season ©PFF.com
PFF Wide Receiver grades from week 10 2019 NFL season ©PFF.com

Currently on the sidelines with a concussion, injuries remain Parker’s one major flaw. When he’s on the field and asked to do what he does best, DeVante Parker is among the NFL’s elite wide receivers.

Parker still has a lot to learn to become the well-rounded receiver he needs to be to become truly elite. His route running is still sloppy, and he still doesn’t contest every ball the way he should. But over the last five weeks, he has shown incredible growth and has been given the chance to showcase the best parts of his game. On his current trajectory, 2020 could be an epic year for DeVante Parker.

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