DeVante Parker’s rookie stats look, well, like a rookie wide receiver’s stats.
Twenty-six catches? Meh.
Four hundred ninety-four receiving yards? Not bad.
Three touchdowns? Fewer than 82 NFL players.
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Nineteen yards per catch? Not great.
Wait a minute. Scratch that. Absolutely great.
In fact, only one player in the entire league with at least 25 catches had a higher average: San Francisco’s Torrey Smith.
Parker’s limitation wasn’t an inability to produce.
It was an inability to get — and stay — on the field.
The Dolphins’ 2015 first-round pick missed much of the summer after needing surgery to replace a screw in his foot.
And when Parker came back, Rishard Matthews had surpassed him on the depth chart. Matthews played so well that he earned a three-year, $15 million contract from the Titans in the offseason.
The Dolphins would have liked to have kept Matthews, but in truth, it’s better for all parties. Matthews gets the starting opportunity he’s always wanted.
As for Parker?
“DeVante is going to take a big step forward,” said Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
“I’m not injured,” Parker said Thursday. “I’m healthy this year. I just have to come out and stay healthy and come out and make plays.”
The Dolphins expect him to — in a variety of ways. Parker has been asked to learn every receiving position on the field — including the slot.
The prospect of matching up a 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver who can jump out of the stadium against a nickel corner has to be tantalizing for Adam Gase and Ryan Tannehill.
“I expect big things out of him. I’m expecting him to be a heck of a football player, a guy that other teams fear, because he can make big plays down the field, inside,” Tannehill said. “He’s a big-bodied guy. He’s a guy we’re going to want to use in the red zone, on third downs and to stretch the field as well.”
Last year was “really frustrating” for Parker, Tannehill said; the injuries “put me behind a lot,” Parker added.
But the Dolphins believe the player they saw in the last half of the season — Parker had 286 receiving yards in the final three games — is the player they’ll get for all of 2016.
Before then, however, he needs to learn his second NFL offense in as many seasons.
“He’s doing a good job, as far as knowing what to do,” Gase said. “He’s battling [Byron] Maxwell a lot, it seems like. He’s had some snaps where he’s won and he’s had some snaps where he’s lost. He’s feeling his way through.”
So long as his twice-repaired foot continues to feel fine, Parker’s Year 2 production should make his pedestrian Year 1 stats a distant memory.
▪ The Dolphins held three voluntary organized team activities practices this week. They weren’t exactly crisp.
“Probably a little sloppy, which is to be expected” at this point in the spring, Gase said. “[I] saw some improvement, especially in the second day. Today, we probably took a little bit of a step back. Guys looked a little sluggish, little tired, but a little bit to be expected for the increase of intensity over the last two days.”
▪ All but three Dolphins players were present for practice. The missing three: safety Reshad Jones (unhappy with contract), defensive end Cameron Wake (undisclosed) and linebacker Spencer Paysinger (getting married this weekend). In general, Wake continues to impress in his return from a torn Achilles tendon.
Gase’s level of confidence that Wake will be ready for the start of training camp is “really high. He has been doing some things in the OTA practices that makes me feel like he’s right on track. It’s probably us holding him back more than him saying, ‘I can’t do something.’”
▪ Dolphins players often questioned the wisdom of ex-coordinator Kevin Coyle’s defense. Not so with Coyle’s replacement, Vance Joseph.
“VJ is brilliant,” Jenkins said. “That’s the one thing I can say. He’s brilliant and he’s passionate and you can feel it. I think he commands the defense and when he’s in front of the room, everyone’s listening.”