New head of football operations Mike Tannenbaum made the impossible possible by trading Mike Wallace and a seventh round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth round pick. The trade by itself is nothing out of this world but it got rid of a toxic contract and arguably an equally toxic player. The Dolphins are now without a true number one wide receiver. But the question is do they really need one.
The ultimate goal of an NFL team is to reach the Super Bowl. I decided to look at the two teams that played in this year’s championship game to help answer my question. Neither the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots nor the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks have what one would call a true number one wide receiver. And believe it or not, the Dolphins have some striking similarities with these two clubs.
This year, the Patriots started Brandon Lafell and Julian Edelman on the outside. They were rated by PFF (subscription required) as the 33rd and 68th out of 110 wide receivers, respectively. However both had over 100 yards after the catch more than Wallace. Even with those numbers, the Patriots still did not have a wide receiver in the top ten for yards after catch. Of course, it also helps to have the most prolific tight end in the game in Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski was rated the number one tight end overall and number three in yards after catch by PFF. The Dolphins offense has been criticized for its dink and dunk approach but that’s basically what Tom Brady and the Patriots do. We know Brady has no problem throwing the deep ball but he doesn’t need to. Brady’s deep ball percentage was 33% (he was tied at 17 with Andy Dalton, Kyle Orton, and Colin Kaepernick). By contrast, Ryan Tannehill was ranked number 13 at 37.7%. Yes I am comparing Tannehill to Brady because the numbers are comparable. Here are some more numbers, Tannehill finished with a QBR of 92.9 and Brady finished with a 97.3 QBR.
The similarities between the Seahawks and the Dolphins are even more surprising. The Seahawks starting wide receivers last season were Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Their rankings, according to PFF, are number 20 and 81, respectively. None of the Seahawks receivers were in the top ten for yards after catch either. Both teams jettisoned a problematic star receiver wearing number 11.
The Seahawks traded Percy Harvin to the New York Jets in mid-October (the Dolphins took a little longer to make a decision on Wallace). Baldwin benefited the most from Percy’s departure. They moved him back to the slot where he had a feast. Baldwin was number eight in slot performance (Jarvis Landry was number one) out of 23 receivers. Just like the Dolphins, the Seahawks lacked explosive plays from the tight end position, particularly in the red zone. The Dolphins and Seahawks had almost matching red zone scoring percentages (TD only) at 51.47 and 51.52, respectively. The Seahawks acquired super star tight end Jimmy Graham from the Saints via trade and the Dolphins added 6’5” tight end Jordan Cameron via free agency. Both players are a match-up nightmare for defenses and both players should help their respective teams in the red zone. Graham and Cameron are both ex-basketball players that play more like wide receivers than tight ends. Incidentally Graham was the seventh ranked tight end for yards after catch and plays a ton of snaps outside.
Russell Wilson’s ability to throw a good deep ball is well known. He was ranked in the top ten in that category at 46.2%. However his QBR was closer to Tannehill than Brady at 95. Neither the Seahawks nor the Patriots had a receiver finish in the top ten as a deep threat. Wilson has also benefited from having one of the most vicious running backs in the game in Marshawn Lynch. The Dolphins could add that dynamic to Bill Lazor’s spread offense by drafting battering ram turned running back Todd Gurley out of Georgia with the 14th overall pick.
Side Note on Dolphins defense: The Dolphins have taken steps to bolster an already strong defensive unit. Adding Ndamukong Suh to a defensive line that includes Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon makes an already dominant pass rush better and will undoubtedly help against the run. Throw in a formidable secondary with Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones and the Dolphins defense could be just as good as the Seahawks.
Also, Seattle Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell was the OC in Minnesota under Head Coach Brad Childress who was Andy Reid’s OC in Philadelphia. Andy Reid was Mike Holmgren’s QB coach in Green Bay. Lazor was the quarterbacks coach in Seattle for Head Coach Mike Holmgren.
It will be interesting to see which way the Dolphins go in the upcoming months but the data and results show that a team may not necessarily always need a true number one wide receiver.
This column was written by Carlos Hernandez. Follow him on Twitter: @LosDez