When Brian Hartline was drafted in 2009, he fell into a mix with newly acquired Brandon Marshall, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, and pass catching tight end Anthony Fasano. Fast forward three seasons and Brian Hartline is the main pass catcher for the Miami Dolphins after posting career numbers of 74 receptions and 1,083 yards receiving. Marshall was traded for draft picks and greener pastures in Chicago, Bess found himself on the shelf an out of the lineup due to a back injury and later placed on IR, and fan favorite and 1-15 savior Greg Camarillo was traded prior to the 2009 season because Hartline surpassed him on the depth chart.
Of the group of Miami players that are free agents in 2013, Brian Hartline must be re-signed. There isn’t a question here because Brian Hartline is a piece of the winning puzzle for Coach Joe Philbin’s master plan. While Hartline has shown glimpses of being the deep threat, he is not, which makes him a strong second receiver on this team. Every team needs a strong secondary receiver on their teams. In the 80s and 90s, the 49ers had John Taylor. The Oilers teams of the 90s had three receivers that had a monster season in an explosive offense. While Chris Carter had his best years in Minnesota, he was not the deep threat that Randy Moss was and could make these sideline catches with ease. Haven’t we seen Hartline make a ton of those sideline catches complete with toe taps, two feet dragging on the turf, an outstretched arms hauling in bullet passes from Tannehill?
The reasons for signing Hartline are compelling and it definitely comes down to how one looks at his body of work.
Never mind the fact that Hartline accounted for one touchdown this season. In fact, while he was targeted in the red zone at times, he and Ryan Tannehill could not connect. Often times, he was targeted, but either the ball was out of reach or the coverage was better by the opposing cornerback. Never mind the fact that Hartline doesn’t have the speed to catch Ryan Tannehill’s sailing passes that seem to go out of reach, not even Reggie Bush could get under one of those bombs last week in New England.
Hartline was the difference this season and was the playmaker the Dolphins needed this season to remain competitive.
In wins, Hartline was less sensational. There is no case for this argument other than he was steady with 26 receptions and 317 yards. In wins, Hartline wasn’t the difference. Either Hartline was facing a very tough secondary where he couldn't shed press coverage or the Dolphins ran the ball more than they threw.
However, in losses Hartline caught 48 passes for a whopping 766 yards. Why did Hartline do better in losses? Here’s one possibility, in losses the Dolphins were forced to throw the ball being behind much of the game. The running game was ineffective and the passing game was the only thing keeping the Dolphins alive in the game.
However the games that jump out where the Dolphins threw the ball to Hartline eight times or more in losses:
Arizona Week 4: 12 receptions 253 yards on 18 targets
Indianapolis Week 9 8 receptions 107 yards on 12 targets
Tennessee Week 10: 8 receptions 79 yards on 10 targets, remember the Dolphins were done in by penalties and four turnovers in this 37-3 shilacking.
Let’s not forget at what happened in the pre-season, Hartline was injured and presumed out and maybe could have been placed on season ending IR. His rehab time was affecting his chances of making the team. However, by week 1, Hartline mysteriously returns, feels better, and is ready for action.
During the season, Hartline would fight through the lingering calf problem and later a back injury to play 16 games. If anything, his durability in a Dolphin uniform in 2012 shows that he can play through lingering injuries and remain an effective part of the offense.
Next, Hartline’s body of work does not scream top receiver amongst a list of potential free agents. However, one key statistic that many pundits seem to forget is not the receiving yards or touch downs, it’s taking care of the football. Hartline has two fumbles in his career! Amazingly, just two fumbles after career totals of 183 receptions and 2,753 yards receiving.
Lastly, Brian Hartline brings consistency to the receiving corps for Miami because he makes plays. Sure he has become a go to receiver deep and has had catches of 10 yards or more in every game except versus the Rams, where he had zero catches due to press coverage, game plan not including him, and more running of the football.
Here is the recommendation for Miami. Lock down Brian Hartline long term and get him working with Ryan Tannehill all offseason. Right away, from week one on, Tannehill had an incredible confidence throwing to Hartline because of his precise route running and ability to catch the ball on 1st and 8 and longer, 2nd and 8 and longer, and 3rd and 8 and longer (See ESPN.com for complete split data: http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/splits/_/id/12568/brian-hartline).
Miami should definitely go into this offseason signing a free agent receiver that can stretch the field and be a go-to guy in the red zone, but it cannot just let Hartline go to another team because Hartline means dependability, durability, and an ability to be the go-to guy for Tannehill’s arsenal.
Who wants to see Hartline playing for another AFC foe, or even a divisional foe?
Not this blogger and certainly not most Dolfans!