For Dolphins fans, the DeVante Parker question has become as much a rite of spring as wondering how many games the Marlins will lose and how close the Panthers will come to missing the playoffs.
Once again, the Dolphins can only hope next fall is the one in which Parker’s potential and Parker’s production become one in the same.
No one can predict the future, but there is plenty of information available to help answer that question now.
Next season will be Parker’s fourth in the NFL. Is four the magic number for premier receivers to break out? Or, if they’re that good, should that question be answered already?
To find out, I took the top 20 receivers from this season and crunched their numbers to pinpoint where they were after three seasons. We know Parker has 139 career catches for 1,908 yards and eight touchdowns, but this exercise will shed light on whether it’s reasonable to say Parker is or isn’t keeping pace, considering he was a first-round pick.
The verdict: He’s not keeping pace. Not in terms of number of receptions. Nor receiving yards. Nor touchdowns.
On average, today’s top 20 receivers had 172 receptions after three seasons (33 more than Parker). They had 2,401 yards (493 more than Parker) and 16.6 touchdown catches (more than double Parker’s total). Those numbers don’t include the Saints’ Michael Thomas and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, for reasons that also don’t flatter Parker. Neither has even reached Year 3 of their careers, yet both cracked the top seven receiving leaders this season.
That’s not to say all hope is lost. If Parker flips a switch next season, he’ll join a sizable list of receivers doing so. Longtime Dolphins fans will recall that Mark Duper went from 0 to 1,003 yards from his rookie season to his second.
The Vikings’ Adam Thielen, undrafted out of Minnesota State, had just 20 receptions his first two seasons, but his yardage soared from 144 in Year 2 to 967. This season, he was fifth in the league with 1,276 yards and made the Pro Bowl. And consider Hill. Everybody knew of his speed, but he jumped from 593 yards as a rookie last year to 1,183 this season.
Want to set the bar all the way up? Fine. Out of the top 20, only the Bengals’ A.J. Green and the Bucs’ Mike Evans started with three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Brown and the Falcons’ Julio Jones managed only one apiece, but 14 of the top 20 pulled it off at least once. Parker hasn’t.
Big days? You’d want to check with the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and Green on that. Hilton had 16 games with at least 100 yards by now; Green, 15. Parker? Three.
Some might say Parker’s numbers don’t compare because he has been injured often, which is true. He has started only 24 of a possible 48 games, hampered by a variety of problems including ankle and hamstring injuries. But isn’t staying healthy part of the job? Consider Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, who started all 48, or Green (47). In his two seasons, Thomas has more starts (26).
Parker was supposed to be the one who could use his size and catch radius in the red zone. In terms of touchdowns, Parker has one more TD than Brown had … but he has 30 fewer than Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Finally, let’s not forget that as important as Parker’s progress is today, it becomes even more magnified should Jarvis Landry leave via free agency. Speaking of Landry, his career start beat Parker’s by 149 catches, 1,143 yards and five touchdowns.
Top 20 receivers for 2017
The Dolphins’ DeVante Parker’s career totals after three seasons are 139 receptions for 1,908 yards and eight touchdowns. Is that a career track to someday rank among the NFL’s elite? This chart compares Parker’s career start to the first three seasons of receivers who ranked in the top 20 this season. Note that comparisons are not available for the Saints’ Michael Thomas and the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill because they have played only two NFL seasons.
Totals for first 3 seasons
Receiver, team (2017 yardage) Rec. Yds TD
1. Antonio Brown, Pitt (1,533) 151 2,062 7
2. Julio Jones, Atl (1,444) 174 2,737 20
3. Keenan Allen, LAC (1,393) 215 2,554 16
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Hou (1,378) 239 3,533 19
5. Adam Thielen, Minn (1,276) 89 1,248 6
6. Michael Thomas, N.O. (1,245) N/A
7. Tyreek Hill, K.C. (1,183) N/A
8. Larry Fitzgerald, Pho (1,156) 231 3,315 24
9. Marvin Jones, Det (1,101) 69 913 11
10. Rob Gronkowski, NE (1,084) 187 2,663 38
11. Brandin Cooks, NE (1,082) 215 2,861 20
12. A.J. Green, Cincy (1,078) 260 3,833 29
13. Travis Kelce, K.C. (1,038) 139 1,737 10
14. Golden Tate, Det (1,003) 101 1,297 10
15. Mike Evans, TB (1,001) 238 3,578 27
16. Doug Baldwin, Sea (991) 130 1,932 12
17. Jarvis Landry, Mia (987) 288 3,051 13
18. T.Y. Hilton, Ind (966) 214 3,289 19
19. Marquis Goodwin, SF (962) 20 349 3
20. Demaryius Thomas, Den (949) 148 2,268 16