By: Jason Sarney
This past week featured the retirement of a popular wide receiver who played for New England. As this is a Miami Dolphins piece, he shall remain nameless. Shockingly, there has been chatter about his Hall of Fame worthiness, despite a notable lack of a single Pro Bowl appearance or eye-popping statistics.
This is coupled with the exclusion of a former Dolphin legend at the same position named Mark Clayton, and a tweet by a man who knows more than most about players who have gone through this organization. I’m referring to other than Seth Levit.
Levit, co-host of the fantastic Miami Dolphins Podcast Network show, The Fish Tank and former public relations wizard for the Fins, had a strong defense of Clayton’s place in Canton on Twitter. The Tweet was an excellent defense of the prolific offense Clayton produced, in a time when a prolific vertical passing game wasn’t a thing.
“The numbers now, when you stack them up against players who had extended careers in a different era, I don’t want use the term 'inflated,' but the numbers are astronomical compared to those guys then,” Levit said regarding Clayton's five-time Pro-Bowl career.
He isn’t off base in the least. Clayton finished his playing days with 582 receptions, 8,974 yards and 84 touchdowns. His TD mark was once an NFL record, (broken by Jerry Rice), and Clayton led the NFL in receiving TDs twice, in 1984 with 18 and in 1988 with 14.
Watching as a fan, Levit called Clayton one of his “Superheroes” growing up. He went on to talk in a more statistical light, stating that Clayton, “was a trendsetter…succeeding in a time where guys his size were thought to be too small. Then everybody wanted to find a guy like Mark Clayton; and Mark Duper!”
Clayton was half of the famous Dolphin dynamic duo for Dan Marino dubbed the Marks Brothers, along with Duper. These two are the top two Miami receivers of all time and were Dolphins at essentially the same exact time save one season. Duper arrived one year prior to Clayton, and both called 1992 their final year in Miami; Duper ended his life-long run as a Dolphins and 1993 saw Mark Clayton catch three touchdown passes from Brett Favre as a Packer.
Clayton is one of five humans to catch touchdowns from both Marino and Favre.
Speaking of 1993, that was the rookie season of the man who would receive the baton from both Marks, and who would become one of the Dolphin’s most prolific and popular receivers and players ever. Not only was this player the 1998 NFL leader in receptions, but he is also Levit’s Fish Tank co-host, O.J. McDuffie.
“You had to love watching O.J. McDuffie play,” said Levit.
McDuffie, or “Juice” is Miami’s fourth-leading receiver in receptions with 415, fifth-most productive in yardage with 5,074 and caught 29 passes for touchdowns. He also took a pair of punt returns to the house as a rookie, giving him 31 overall scores for the Dolphins, the only NFL team colors he ever wore.
1993 was also the year I became fully immersed in football, leading me down the path I am gratefully traveling today. 1990 was when the game was introduced to me as a 9-year-old New Yorker. Once falling in love with the sport, as easy as that was watching Marino when he was on TV, the 12-year-old in me knew what I was watching and finally understood it McDuffie's rookie year.
That was the first season I watched an entire NFL Draft and had a list of players I coveted. On that list was McDuffie, and upon his selection as the 25th overall pick for Don Shula and the Dolphins, I jumped for joy in my Long Island living room.
As amazing as it must have been, watching the Marks Brothers "live" was a luxury I never got the opportunity to fully appreciate. So, my list of top-10 WRs will exclude them, along with Hall of Famer Paul Warfield as well as Nat Moore, who’s in the top five of all pertinent Dolphins WR stats.
Here are the Top Ten Dolphin Receivers of my fandom, showing years and stats in Miami. Career-long Dolphins are italicized.
10.) Brandon Marshall – 2010-2011 – 167 REC – 2,228 yards – 9 TDs
Marshall was a monster, and certainly had his issues on and off the field. He is also widely misunderstood and highly intelligent. There was a phase where he went into his own version of “beast-mode” for Miami. In his first season with the team, he had four games catching 10 or more passes. Lack of consistency on the field, a coaching change and sub-par quarterback play was Marshall’s two-year downfall in Miami, leading to him being traded in 2012’s off-season for a pair of third-rounders to Chicago. 2012 saw Marshall catch 118 footballs for 1,508 yards and 11 TDs for the Bears…with Jay Cutler.
9.) Greg Camarillo – 2007-2009 – 113 REC – 1,325 yds – 4 TD
The man responsible for the “Raven Run-Off" catch and TD run that gave Miami its lone win in a tough season of 15 loses. Camarillo was also a main factor in the 2008 Wildcat for the AFC East division winners. He hauled in 55 passes that season and 50 the following in a run-heavy offense.
Camarillo was known as an incredibly hard worker, smart as can be, an outstanding teammate, and is currently one of the more active and engaging personalities on social media with Dolphin fans.
We love you, #83!
8.) Oronde Gadsden – 1998-2003 – 227 – 3,252 – 22
The man with XXXL gloves probably didn’t even need them. Gadsden was the true innovator of the one-handed catch and had both the last TD catch of Marino’s career as well as the first of Jay Fiedler’s. Watching highlights of #86 was jaw-dropping and pre-dated Twitter. He would have been a Sunday fixture and would likely “break-the-internet.”
He had several clutch TDs from both #13 and #9 and wowed us all regularly. I had the pleasure of chatting with O.G. with one of those QBs during the 2020 season on The Monday Morning Quarterback with Jay Fiedler
7.) Brian Hartline – 2009-2014 – 298 – 4,243 – 12
Hartline spent six of his seven NFL seasons in Miami before going home to Ohio and spending a year with the Browns. He is now the WR coach of his Ohio St. Buckeyes, and with his pristine route running as well as memorable sideline catches, #82 was a joy to watch. He is also a Miami record holder with a single-game performance of 253 receiving yards in 2012 at Arizona.
A return for Hartline to his NFL home as a potential future coach would make my decade, as he can call Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Terry McLaurin some of his Buckeye pupils recently.
6.) Davone Bess – 2008 – 2013 – 363 – 3,809 - 14
Bess was a catch machine for Miami and a rookie during that special Wildcat season. A terrific story and an electrifying player to watch, Bess moved the chains with regularity, and seemed to have a special burst when accelerating in the next gear. Bess was a gritty, tough player who will always have the respect of Fin Nation.
I highly suggest listening to his Fish Tank episode.
5.) Mark Ingram – 1993-1994 – 88 – 1,213 – 12
1993, again, was that special year for me, and Mark Ingram started a two-year run in a new Miami receiving group. He’s another member of that 5-player fraternity of players to catch a TD from Favre and Marino. In fact, what solidified my love for running back Mark Ingram II’s father, was his memorable November 27th, 1994 game against the New York Jets. Not only was he the recipient of Marino’s legendary "Fake Spike" to give Miami a 28-24 win in New Jersey, it was his fourth score of that game.
4.) Jarvis Landry – 2014-2017 – 400 – 4,038 – 35
To me, there is only one “Juice,” but I appreciate that if there was ever an “O.J.-Lite” for Miami, it was Landry. Drafted 63rd overall in 2014, the Dolphins found a gem who instantly became a fan favorite. Averaging 100 catches a season in his four with Miami, he led the league in catches in his final season in Miami in 2017 with 112, just as McDuffie did in 1998. McDuffie and Landry are the only two Miami Dolphins to claim that title. Like McDuffie, Landry played bigger than his listed height and weight, was a clear catch machine, and played with unmatched swagger.
3.) Irving Fryar – 1993-1994 – 199 – 3,190 – 20
Fryar had perhaps the best three-year start to any ]Dolphin receiver’s Miami career. Unfortunately, free agency and issues beyond control led Fryar to leave Miami following the 1995 season in what was a mass-exodus of some of my favorites. Fryar was Marino’s clear main weapon after spending nine seasons as a Patriot. Fryar was a Pro-Bowler in two of his three Miami seasons, hitting over 1,000 yards in each of those banner years and missing by just 90 yards in ‘95.
For me, Fryar cemented his spot on my eternal Mount Rushmore of Miami receivers in 1994’s season opener, Dan Marino’s return from the quarterback’s season-ending Achilles injury the previous year. Perhaps the coldest-blooded play I witnessed Dan “The Man” pull off live was his 4th and 5 dime of a throw to a perfectly in-stride Fryar in the 4th quarter with just over 7-minutes to go to win the game. This was my 2nd-favorite play of my Marino years, after the "Fake Spike."
2.) Chris Chambers – 2001-2006 – 405 – 5,688 – 43
Chambers was a second-round draft pick who was massively successful Fin and a fan favorite. Leading the entire NFL in his rookie year of 2001 in yards per catch with 18.4, Chambers was sensational in his toe-tapping ability, and he made spectacular catches seem routine.
Chambers is a triple-threat in Dolphin’s history in the Top-5 categories of receptions, yards and touchdowns, and was one of five Miami WRs to have multiple single-seasons with 10-plus TD catches. The other four are Warfield, Clayton, Duper and Moore.
1.) O.J. McDuffie - 1993-2000 – 415 – 5,074 – 29
Certain players hit a sports nerve with me, and Mr. McDuffie is perhaps the best Ambassador to this team we have. A masterful selection by mastermind Don Shula in that landmark year of 1993 for yours truly. As a Northeasterner, college football Saturdays in the 1990’s were very much Penn State and Syracuse-centric outside of the national broadcasts. McDuffie caught my eye immediately on Saturdays as a Nittany Lion. He was also in my collector’s book of very valuable collegiate trading card, something I always enjoyed sharing in similar fandom with Dolphins Twitter legend, Josh Houtz.
Trading cards were a form of information in lieu of the Internet in my youth, almost a form of website player profiles that you could still use today in a blackout. I had dozens of Classic brand football cards preparing for the NFL Draft, and I was thrilled when O.J. was selected 25th overall.
Spending his first two seasons primarily a return man, “Juice” saw some nice offensive work in 1994, but in 1995 he became Marino’s go-to guy, particularly on third downs, and he was a first down machine.
McDuffie was one of the earlier modern-day NFL slot-weapons, and in an era that was just getting started in pass-happy football, #81 had the trust of one of the greatest and most competitive signal-callers this game has ever seen. His 90 catches in 1998, as mentioned earlier, led the league. Jerry Rice had 82 that season.
Levit spoke about the bond he shares with McDuffie then, and now as co-host saying, “O.J., that’s my guy. He was the first veteran that really spoke to me, so we’ve a had a connection a long time."
Levit praised the toughness McDuffie played with on the field, saying, “He was an exciting player for a us, spinning the ball every time he got a first down, which was a lot! Tough as nails. We all felt that.” He added, “We know that he would never drop the ball, regardless of who was coming after his head, which was allowed back then!”
As a personal testament to the type of person McDuffie is, in 2019 I brought my son to his first ever Dolphin game. While I was fortunate enough to communicate with O.J. through social media, I also had the chance to say hello as he was welcoming Dolphin fans in what was a memorable victory Sunday against Cincinnati.
Upon being in ear-shot, I yelled out a hello to O.J., and he proceeded to welcome that hello with enthusiasm and joy, much to the shock and awe of my then 8-year-old son. Neither of us will never forget this moment, which runs contrary to an old adage in sports fandom that many have. They say, “never try to meet your heroes,” in the fear you will be disappointed.
Respectfully, I disagree.
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