When discussions turn to Miami’s skill position players, the conversation usually begins with Jarvis Landry. Understandably so, because Juice is the spark plug and emotional leader (sometimes too emotional) of the offense. The reliable receiver known for his highlight-reel catches and toughness, Landry has become the face of the team and the go-to guy when the offense needs to get something going.
The conversation will then turn to running back Jay Ajayi, the old-school bruiser who busted out onto the scene last season, Ajayi has arguably become the key to Miami’s success on offense. Usually, when he goes, so does the offense. Few things are more satisfying than watching Ajayi make fools out of linebackers and safeties who dare try to bring him down.
If not Landry or Ajayi, it’s DeVante Parker getting all the attention. A first round pick back in 2015, Parker’s size and ability to own cornerbacks in one on one coverage is both exciting and reassuring for the quarterback. Some fans will easily claim him to be the team’s best receiver when he’s actually healthy (unfortunately, he isn’t healthy enough) and call him Miami’s only true WR1. The guy the passing game should be built around.
And then there’s Kenny Stills, the sometimes-forgotten receiver whom the Dolphins traded for in the spring of 2015. When Stills arrived in Miami, he was met with mixed reactions. Some were excited, and some thought he was simply the product of Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense. His first season in Miami didn’t do much to quiet those doubts. He had his moments, but was often underwhelming and seemed to struggle keeping his head in the game. After the 2015 season, the opinions of Stills shifted heavily towards pessimism. Then the pessimism turned ugly. In the 2016 season opener in Seattle, Stills found himself all alone deep down the middle of the field. Ryan Tannehill delivered a perfect ball…and Kenny dropped it. The Dolphins ended up losing that game by two points. The aftermath saw a fan base who had now mostly turned on him. Some wanted him benched. Some wanted him cut. Most just wanted to forget him.
Admittedly, I was one of those fans. I wanted less of Stills and more of rookie Leonte Carroo (RU Rah Rah!). I thought the former would never have the concentration or sure-hands to live up to his New Orleans potential.
I’ve never been happier to be so wrong. As the 2016 season wore on, Stills’ contribution and importance to the offense became more and more pronounced. He developed a good rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the big down field plays came in bunches. It seemed like whenever the Dolphins offense needed a spark, Tannehill would look towards Stills running down the field. More often than not, those passes were completed or drew a penalty flag resulting in large gains. When Tannehill went down in mid-December with a sprained ACL, there were questions about whether or not Matt Moore would have the same chemistry with Stills that Tannehill had. A beat was never missed though. In the game where Tannehill suffered his injury against the Cardinals, Moore came in and lofted a wobbly ball towards the goal line in the driving rain. Stills adjusted to the throw, drew a pass interference flag AND caught the ball. That play set up the game winning field goal, and kept Miami in striking distance of a playoff berth. When all was said and done, Kenny Stills finished the season with 9 touchdown receptions and a sensational 17.3 yard per catch (3rd best in the NFL).
2017 has been more of the same for the speedy receiver. Though it’s no secret that the Dolphins offense has been horrendous under Jay Cutler, Stills yet again is making big plays at the most crucial times. In the opening day win in Los Angeles, Stills caught the team’s one and only touchdown. In the thrilling win in Atlanta, he scored the first touchdown that opened the door for Miami’s monumental comeback. Then this past Sunday against the hated New York Jets, Stills might have had his best performance of his young career. On the team’s first touchdown drive, Stills made an acrobatic circus catch on a ball that somehow never hit the ground. When Cutler left the game with cracked ribs early in the 3rd quarter, Matt Moore entered and looked Kenny’s way to try and ignite yet another big comeback. During the 17-point 4th quarter, Stills drew two holding penalties and caught both of Miami’s touchdowns. The second being a one-handed grab with a defender draped all over him. The Dolphins would end up beating their rivals when Cody Parkey drilled the game-winning field goal with 22 seconds left. Completing another comeback. While Matt Moore deservedly gets all the attention, it was Kenny Stills who Moore turned to when the offense needed big plays with time running out.
None of this is foreign to Stills. He’s used to guys like Landry, Ajayi, and Parker getting all the attention. And he’s okay with that. He’s not overly fiery like Landry, and he’s not the physical specimen Parker is, but he often ends up making the pivotal plays when the offense is struggling or the game is on the line. His presence alone is a major benefit to Adam Gase’s offense. Defenses must respect his speed and big play ability, and that opens things up for the receivers underneath. He plays a pivotal role in this offense. He has a presence and importance that can no longer be ignored. And now fans like me who previously wrote him off, see that too.
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