Jarvis Landry continued to emerge as one of the league’s top slot receivers.
Rishard Matthews had a breakout season and was rewarded by the Titans with a long-term deal.
Rookie DeVante Parker’s health and lack of snaps was a story in itself until he finally had a chance to showcase his ability.
Stills, who was considered a steal last offseason when the Dolphins obtained him from New Orleans for a third-round draft pick, became an afterthought.
First-year coach Adam Gase, speaking Tuesday at the NFL league meetings’ AFC coaches breakfast, said Stills “definitely will be” more involved this season.
“I’ve always liked his skill set,” Gase said. “I liked him coming out. I’m excited to see what we can do to get him rolling in this offense.”
Last year, Stills was supposed to replace Mike Wallace as the team’s speedy deep threat who could stretch the field.
Instead, he was often underutilized by the Dolphins.
Stills’ 63 targets were third-highest on the team behind Landry and tight end Jordan Cameron, although Matthews was targeted 61 times in four fewer games.
Running back Lamar Miller was targeted just six fewer times than Stills.
And even Parker, who rarely played for the first two-thirds of the season, had only 13 fewer targets than Stills.
Stills finished the season with 27 receptions (No. 5 on the Dolphins), 440 receiving yards (No. 4) and three touchdowns (tied with Parker and Cameron for third).
Stills rarely made headlines last year. His most newsworthy moment came in November when he accidentally broke backup quarterback Matt Moore’s nose in practice.
But Gase, who was Chicago’s offensive coordinator last year, knows what Stills is capable of — the Bears tried trading for him.
“We tried to make a play for him before he got traded to Miami,” Gase said.
Former Dolphins receiver O.J. McDuffie said he was surprised how limited Stills was in the offense last year. And it wasn’t just Stills’ lack of targets that made him scratch his head.
Landry led the team with a whopping 166 targets. Cameron was next with 70.
“We all were curious why a lot of guys weren’t more involved last year,” McDuffie said. “Looking at targets alone, the amount of targets Jarvis got to the next man was Jordan Cameron. And it was amazing how kind of stuck in a rut we were in terms of distributing the football.
“I thought Kenny Stills was going to be a pleasant surprise for this football team, his ability to get deep with what he did in New Orleans — I thought it was something special.”
As a Saints rookie in 2013, Stills had five touchdown receptions. In 2014, he had 931 receiving yards and led the NFL in percentage of completed catches on deep balls.
It was never going to be easy for Stills after he separated from New Orleans’ Drew Brees, one of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks. But he should have had more opportunities last year in Miami.
McDuffie is as interested as anyone to know what Gase will do with the offense, but he knows the “game is not as vertical as it used to be.”
“I think they’re going to try to hand the ball of a lot sooner — get Jarvis the ball right behind the line of scrimmage, make him make guys miss like he does as a punt returner. Kenny might be a guy who gets more intermediate routes. DeVante is a guy you can give it to to get a quick 5 to 10 yards.
“They’ll take shots with certain guys, and they can take shots with all three guys. Jarvis surprised me with his ability to get deep at times.”
Gase is confident in Miami’s receivers, arguably the deepest position on the roster.
“If we can stay healthy I feel really good about that group,” Gase said.
And Stills, who was frustrated last season, should benefit from a change in philosophy under Gase.
It’s a contract year for Stills — his rookie deal expires next March. It’s too soon to tell whether the Dolphins will try to re-sign him but a more prominent role in the offense could earn himself a nice paycheck whether it’s in Miami or elsewhere.