DAVIE, Fla. -- Year after year, predictions of an impending DeVante Parker breakout season have fallen short. But perhaps in the most unlikely season, with expectations for the Miami Dolphins at their lowest, Parker is playing the best ball of his five-year NFL career.
It appears that Parker's breakout season is finally here. The timing is impeccable, considering that the rebuilding Dolphins (2-8) are identifying building blocks for the team going forward, and Parker is establishing himself as a key block for this season and beyond.
"He's the most consistent guy that we have on our offense and has been all year long. He's a guy that I know I can count on every Sunday," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "For DeVante and some of the injury stuff in the past and whatever else has been talked about with him here, he has been such a consistent, great player for me to have in the huddle out there."
Parker has 604 receiving yards, and he's on pace for 966 yards this season, which would easily be a career high, shattering his total of 744 yards in 2016. He has already tied his career high of four touchdowns this season as well.
The Dolphins' 2015 first-round pick is coming off the worst season of his NFL career, in which he had only 309 receiving yards on 24 catches in 11 games. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued him throughout his tenure in Miami.
Parker has always been a threat on third downs, in the red zone and with 50-50 ball situations, but this season he has flashed more run-after-catch ability and shiftiness. The Dolphins have used him more as a slot or move receiver, allowing him to attack the middle of the field.
The lane for Parker to become the Dolphins' No. 1 receiving option opened when rookie Preston Williams tore his ACL in Week 9, and Parker has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
"I've believed in DeVante from day one, when everybody was talking bad about him. I always told DeVante, 'You should be recognized up there with [Falcons receiver] Julio Jones and the other top guys because you got all the talent,'" said Dolphins receiver Jakeem Grant, who had a return touchdown and receiving touchdown in Sunday's game. "God forbid the injuries he had previously. I watch him grind every day in practice and how he goes about things. He's one of the best receivers in the league, and it's only a matter of time before other people catch on to that."
For fantasy football owners, Parker is a high-floor player who is working himself into being a weekly start in most leagues. He has a team-high 44 targets in his past five games, including three with double-digit targets. Simply put, the Dolphins' offense is starting to go through Parker, and it is stronger because of it.
"It's definitely a good thing. My confidence has always been high. It's just getting that first catch," Parker said. "I still have a lot left in me, and I can still make plays when we need it."
The most tenuous point of Parker's Dolphins career came when his agent, Jimmy Gould, called then-coach Adam Gase "incompetent" for blaming Parker's health on his not being active in at least one 2018 regular-season game.
At the time, it seemed that a breakup between the receiver and a team that went 7-9 was inevitable. But then Gase was fired, Brian Flores was hired, and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier wanted to give Parker another chance on a team-friendly, two-year deal signed in March with hopes that Parker would become the receiver Miami spent a first-round pick on. The contract was a somewhat surprising decision at the time, but it has turned out to be a smart bet.
Parker's breakout season is great for him, the team and wise fantasy football owners alike.