DAVIE — Adam Gase won’t say it and he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows Kenny Stills is the Dolphins’ best receiver.
As the team progresses toward the upcoming season without Jarvis Landry and without certainty of what DeVante Parker will become, Stills is the offense’s best chance when it comes to big plays. And, fresh off his 26th birthday, it’s very possible he’s still on the rise as a player.
“I never get into the whole No. 1 receiver thing,” Gase said this afternoon. “I’m all for guys getting open and catching the ball and creating explosive plays and getting first downs.
“Do I think he’s the leader of that room? Yes. He’s one of those guys that guys look up to. They watch what he does and they watch how he goes about his business and they follow his lead. When he speaks in that room and tells guys what he thinks, and he’s very open and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, I think guys respect him and respect what he says.”
Stills and Gase have proven to be a perfect match with Miami, and as Gase designs his offense for 2018, Stills will factor into it prominently. He’s already made a habit of using him inside and outside — Gase believes Stills has been one of the best players out of the slot in the entire league the last two seasons — and has more impetus than ever to feature him.
After two seasons of not fitting in with the Saints and a rough first year here under the previous staff, everything clicked for Stills in 2016. In his first encounter with Gase, he expressed that all he cared about from that point forward was doing everything the right way. That’s a great thing for a new coach to hear.
That conversation stuck with Gase, who has described Stills as indispensable throughout his time coaching the Dolphins. When Stills was an unrestricted free agent last spring, Gase didn’t hesitate to openly campaign for the team to re-sign him.
By every account, Stills has been the ideal player. He’s been highly productive on the field, a steadying influence on a very young receiver corps, a model worker in the weight room and in practice and won the team’s community service award two years in a row.
He’s done all of that on an extremely reasonable contract, making him arguably the single best personnel move vice president Mike Tannenbaum has made. The Dolphins got him for a third-round pick and injured linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, then locked up what should be his prime seasons on a four-year deal worth $32 million through 2020.
In his first season with Gase, Stills had a respectable 42 catches for 726 yards (that averaged out to 17.3 per reception, third-best in the league that year) and a team-high nine touchdowns. Equally important, his playing time leaped from 58 percent of the snaps in 2015 to 84 percent.
Stills followed up by catching 58 balls for 847 yards and six touchdowns last year, which couldn’t have been easy considering Miami’s quarterback woes.
There’s good reason to think he might exceed that production this season, and Gase said he sees “plenty of room for improvement” in Stills’ game.
Landry leaves a void of 161 targets, and while some of that will be filled in by Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, Stills is the most trustworthy receiver on this roster. And if Ryan Tannehill proves better than last year’s combination of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore, which shouldn’t be hard, there’s a big opportunity here.
“He’s a guy that creates explosive plays and he gets us touchdowns,” Gase said. “We hit the homerun when we throw the ball to him.”
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