After the Miami Dolphins spent over $100 million total on wide receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson in March 2013, no one expected wide receiver to be anywhere near the top of the priority list just 12 months later.
Fast forward through the 2014 NFL draft, when the Dolphins used a second-round pick on LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and it's fair to wonder if there's enough room for everyone on the field, and enough passes to go around.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for nearly 4,000 yards to last year's pass-catchers, and behind the worst offensive line in football and in Dolphins history.
|Miami Dolphins' leading pass-catchers, 2013|
|Jarvis Landry (LSU)||13||77||1,193||15.5||10|
The Dolphins could be running more spread sets this year under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, but no matter what, there will be a talented player on the bench. As a second-round draft pick, Landry will be expected to make some sort of impact as a rookie.
So how exactly does he factor into the plans at wide receiver, for now and in the future? Let's look at each scenario.
Landry immediately provides the Dolphins another talented receiver on short and intermediate routes, with the ability to play on the outside or in the slot. In terms of what the Dolphins like in their receivers—sure-handed, versatile and good with the ball in their hands—Landry is a perfect fit.
The Dolphins depth chart at receiver is clear as crystal at the top and shrouded in fog at the middle and bottom. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are the clear-cut starting X and Z receivers, respectively.
From there, it's up in the air. It seems Landry will probably compete with Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and others for the No. 3 and 4 spot. Who will win is anyone's guess.
Gibson was coming on strong last year, building rapport with Tannehill before tearing his patellar tendon in Week 7. He should return to full health and effectiveness, and is expected to be back to full health in time for minicamp, according to Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post.
In the same breath, Abramson reveals that the Dolphins "have had discussions about replacing Matthews and receiver Armon Binns," who was expected to be a big part of the offense before he tore his ACL in training camp.
Landry is a similar type of receiver to Matthews. Both excel on underneath and intermediate routes, but struggle to create separation on deep routes. Both men can play the boundary if asked, but both are at their best in the slot. Both are practically the exact same size—Landry measured 5'11" and 205 pounds at the combine, while Matthews stands 6'0" and 212 pounds. Both are described as having good balance, concentration to make catches in traffic and the ability to come down with 50-50 balls.
Incidentally, Gibson shares many of these traits with both Matthews and Landry. If Gibson struggles to return to form off his knee injury, Landry could be gunning for his job. Right out of the gate, Landry puts both Matthews and Gibson on notice.
In The Future
Let's not forget that while the Dolphins are still under head coach Joe Philbin, they are also being run by a new general manager in Dennis Hickey. It was the previous GM, Jeff Ireland, who brought Wallace, Hartline, Gibson, Binns and Matthews into the fold.
The Dolphins offense isn't changing schematically—as evidenced by the similarities between Landry and the other receivers on the roster—but perhaps the change in GM is giving way to a change in philosophy with regards to how the Dolphins invest at wide receiver.
That would certainly lend credence to the recent whispers about the uncertainty of Mike Wallace's long-term future in Miami. Earlier in the 2014 offseason, there were conflicting reports as to whether the Dolphins were looking to trade Wallace. It would cost more to cut him or trade him than it would to keep him on the roster in 2014, but if they wait until next year, their savings could be greater ($9.6 million to release, $6.6 million to trade in 2015).
It's still highly unlikely that the Dolphins move on from Wallace anytime soon. Landry is nothing like Wallace as a receiver. A Dolphins offense without Wallace is an immediate throwback to 2012, when the Dolphins lacked any semblance of a big-play threat at receiver and suffered the consequence of defenses tightening the windows underneath.
Landry is not going to give the Dolphins a Wallace-like presence, but drafting Landry allows the Dolphins to get ahead of the curve on keeping Tannehill surrounded with weapons in the event that they decide to move on from Wallace next season.
The Other Pieces To The Puzzle
There are some X-factors involved with regards to how Landry fits into the receiving corps in 2014. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor comes from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was the quarterback coach and watched Chip Kelly and Nick Foles command a high-flying offense with spread sets featuring three or four wide receivers.
Gibson's return to health will play a factor. So will the coaching staff's feelings toward Matthews. So will the coaching staff's use of three- and four-receiver sets. There's always room for a sure-handed, versatile pass-catcher, but it's clear Landry is going to have to make some more room for himself in order for the Dolphins to get the most value possible out of their second-round pick.
Scouting combine information provided by NFL.com.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots correspondent for Boston.com.
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