Miami Dolphins talent finally joined the NFL Network’s countdown of the top 100 players on Monday when running back Jay Ajayi was listed as the league’s 69th best player and defensive end Cameron Wake was listed as the 62nd best player.
The listing, voted on by players themselves, has become an annual subject of conversation at a time the league doesn’t have a whole lot else to throw out for discussion. But the addition of Wake this year, after a one-year absence in 2016, does raise an interesting issue:
Can Wake be consistent at age 35?
(When Wake reads this he’ll look skyward, mumble to himself something like, ‘Of course, you dummy” and then use the question as fuel for his next super human workout regimen bench pressing, like, a boat or something.)
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But the question has merit because Wake’s career is marked by amazing seasons followed by less spectacular seasons. Wake throughout his eight-year career has had great years in even numbered seasons followed by less spectacular and more mundane seasons in odd numbered years.
Wake had a breakout season in 2010 when he collected 14 sacks. He had three forced fumbles. He had 57 tackles. He had four passes defensed working out of the Dolphins old 3-4.
And in 2011, an odd numbered year, he couldn’t keep up the pace. His sack total dropped to 8.5. His tackles went to 42. No forced fumbles. He had twice as fewer passes defensed with only two.
The next year, an even number year, Wake picked it up again. He turned in a career high 15 sacks. He had three forced fumbles again. He had 53 tackles. The Dolphins went to a traditional 4-3 under Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle in 2012 so Wake didn’t factor in passes defensed out of the defensive end spot. But no one was complaining with the outstanding job Wake did in ‘12.
In 2013? An odd numbered year. Another down year. His sacks dialed back to 8.5. He had two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
In 2014, Wake ratcheted his production back up again.
Do you see a pattern here?
Wake had 11.5 sacks in that even numbered season with three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He also turned up his pass defensed stat -- mostly by knocking passes down at the line -- with three after having none the year before. Excellent.
The year Wake suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury, 2015, was obviously not only a bad year statistically because Wake didn’t get complete what he began, but it was a challenging year because it threatened his career.
But Wake recovered in 2016, which I remind you was an even numbered year, with 11,5 sacks, a career high five forced fumbles and two passes defensed. Yes, his tackles totals of 29 represented a modest total, but that could be explained by the Dolphins unwillingness to play Wake early and often in games to start the season through Week 5 or 6. Indeed, Wake only started 11 games in 2016 while authoring his revival season.
The intriguing thing about this pattern is that 2017 looms and that, according to informed sources, is an odd numbered year.
So can Wake break the curious pattern of regressing in odd numbered years? Was it all just circumstances? Obviously 2015 was. So is a down year on the horizon for Wake?
You probably won’t hear the Dolphins worry if Wake’s pattern holds and he does not reach double-digit sacks in this odd numbered year as long as he’s disruptive to some obvious degree with QB hits and hurries.
But if that becomes the case, then, again the pattern will be something that continues.
And I would be willing to bet Cameron Wake doesn’t want that.
By the way, the fact Ajayi is ranked at No. 69 by his peers after only his second NFL season is truly impressive.
Yes, we know the running back gained 1,272 yards and that marked the first time a Dolphins RB gained over 1,200 since 2003. And that was impressive.
But, to me, when Ajayi rates higher than Phillip Rivers (73), Julian Edelman (71), LaGarrette Blount (80), and Kirk Cousins (70), it shows the respect players have for what Ajayi accomplished last season despite running behind what was at times a makeshift offensive line.
Interestingly, Ajayi thinks he’s ranked too low.
“Forty or thirty would be reasonable for me,” he says in the video below. “I’m definitely shooting for the No. 1 spot.”
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero