Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is a beast and has been for years.
The Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins gave even Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard fits last season.
The New Orleans Saints have their guy in Michael Thomas, just as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have theirs in Mike Evans. Then there’s the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, who might be the most explosive receiver in football.
“Thankfully, there’s not a league full of Mike Evanses,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said recently. “Obviously, there’s a lot of really good receivers. They’re a problem. They’re a real problem. Defensively, how we handle those players, you have to game plan for them.”
So who do the Dolphins have? Who is their go-to guy?
Well, no one on the roster is at that level.
They have a bunch of solid, established and often explosive options in Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant.
But at some point (or points) this season, the Dolphins will need a big catch.
Who will it be?
And will anyone on the team have more than Danny Amendola’s team-best 59 catches in 2018? (It would be hard not to, as just four NFL teams had a lower total by their leading receiver.)
“We’ve got a couple of guys who have that capability,” Flores said. “They’ll have to raise their level of play to get to that point.”
Indeed. Of those top four receivers, only Stills has had 60 or more catches in a season (and that came when he was a member of the Saints in 2014).
Wilson probably would have had at least that many last season, had he not missed half the season with a hip injury. The most Grant has had in any one season is 21. Parker has not been able to stay healthy for a full season — and his numbers reflect it.
Parker was the focus of the Patriots’ defensive game plan “when he was out there,” Flores said. “There were a couple of games he didn’t play against us. He’s obviously got a combination of size, speed, athleticism. Can go up and get the ball. You’ve got to be aware of where he is. He’s a good player.”
Injuries certainly hurt the fantasy value for Dolphins receivers last year. But so did opportunities. The Dolphins had the second-fewest first downs in football last year (252), were 30th in time of possession (27:40) and ranked last in plays per game (54.9)
Will this year be better in both regards?
Someone on the team will have to lead the Dolphins in catches. But based on their receivers’ track record — and the system Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea are bringing from New England — there’s a decent chance it won’t be Stills, Parker Wilson or Grant.
So perhaps look elsewhere on the offense.
It would certainly be the Patriot Way.
The Patriots’ top pass-catcher has been a wide receiver just once in the past four years. Twice tight end Rob Gronkowski topped the stat sheet, while James White had the most Patriots catches in 2018 — and he’s a running back.
It would be a huge shocker if second-year tight end Mike Gesicki leads the Dolphins in receptions this fall, but don’t discount the possibility that Kenyan Drake does. The running back had 53 catches last year, despite being on the field for just 545 snaps.
Then there’s the biggest wild card of them all: Preston Williams, the undrafted rookie who Howard said could someday be a No. 1 receiver.
Can’t discount the possibility — assuming he gets enough playing time and targets.
“I don’t really gripe,” Williams said. “They’ve got a lot of vets around me, a lot of good players. I’m learning from all of them.”