Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker closes out another tough season

DeVante Parker hasn’t done it yet, but the Dolphins still hope he can be an elite wide receiver. (AP)

DAVIE—Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker is an easy target for criticism, and that won’t change unless he one day becomes one of the best vertical threats in the NFL.

Ever since Miami drafted him 14th overall in 2015, every year has been the supposed breakout year for him. This season has been far from it, with Parker putting up 51 catches, 606 yards and one touchdown in 12 games. All of those are below what he totaled last year.

“He’s been inconsistent,” said offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, who in the offseason predicted a monster year for Parker. He’s been unhealthy. “That’s the more fair statement to him. He hasn’t been healthy for long stretches since I’ve been here, and that includes the offseason. I feel bad for the kid. It’s not fun playing receiver when you can’t run.”

Parker has been hurt throughout his time with the Dolphins, including multiple ankle injuries this year. That’s been particularly frustrated to him and the team after he improved his off-field habits and preparation “200 percent,” according to Christensen.

He got off to a strong start with 18 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown in the first three games, but got hurt in the fourth and wasn’t the same. He missed three-plus weeks with the ankle issue and, when he came back, averaged 3.5 catches and 36.3 yards over his first six games.

Parker had a bit of a resurgence lately with six catches for 89 yards in a defeat at Buffalo and five for 63 in the Christmas Eve loss at Kansas City.

“There were a couple of times where it was good to see him go up and get one,” coach Adam Gase said of the last two weeks. “We had a couple of situations where we needed to get something going and we went to him and he made a play.

“You can tell he’s feeling better. He’s doing a lot of the things we’ve been asking him to do all season. We just need to get to the point where we have that consistency game in, game out. If we get to that point, he should be a very good player.”

The question for Parker, who turns 25 next month, is whether there’s still hope for him to grow into what Gase described. If his career continues on this track, his NFL future will be limited.

“The ones who keep getting hurt… they disappear,” Christensen said. “It’s hard to play good football if you’re always hurt… Do you determine he’s always hurt and move on? Do you say he just got unlucky for a couple of years or a couple of weeks and its coming and he’s going to go to the Pro Bowl next year? It could be anywhere in between.

“I don’t call anyone soft or anything because this is a tough game; but we also know that with the money they’re making and the pressure that’s on, you have to be able to play week in and week out… Part of that is durability.”

Parker’s rookie contract runs for one more season with a team option for 2019 as well. The Dolphins are already committed to paying Kenny Stills $32 million through 2020 and are looking to re-sign Jarvis Landry this offseason. Landry is likely to earn one of the highest receiver salaries in the NFL. Both of them have more yards, catches and touchdowns than Parker this season.

Parker has started 23 of a possible 47 games since coming to the Dolphins. In addition to his revamped routine off the field, there was optimism about his health this year because he never missed a day in the offseason and preseason.

He also showed a different tenacity in the preseason, frequently making big catches in practices, and carried that into the opener. After Parker wrestled for some tough receptions against the Chargers, Landry said, “That’s being a monster. That’s what he is. That’s what we always need.”

Regardless of what Parker does in Sunday’s finale against the Bills, it won’t be enough to salvage a disappointing season. He’s not happy about this, either, by the way. As much as the fan base and coaching staff wants to see him develop into something special, he’s been hard on himself as he pushes toward that level.

Will he ever get there? Christensen has seen too much potential on the field and too much good from Parker off of it to give up on him this early. He still sees him as someone that can go for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns on a regular basis.

“If he had stayed healthy, it probably would have been that (this year),” Christensen said. “I really believe with all of my heart that if he keeps doing the right things and stacking (good decisions) on top of each other, he sure increases his percentage chance of that hitting someday soon.

“I would tell you that I’m encouraged with the young man and how he trains his body and how he takes care of himself. He’s made a big step that way… He’s way ahead of a year and a half ago. If he does the same thing this offseason again and takes it another notch… I really hope it happens. He’s really a nice kid and I think the world of him. I want to see it happen for him.”

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