If you took a look at the Miami Dolphins receiving room as early as a month ago, you might have noticed that it was looking a little bare, thanks in large part to Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out of the 2020 season. The Dolphins, though, were clearly aware of this problem and recently set about rectifying it. They traded with the Las Vegas Raiders for multi-position player Lynn Bowden Jr., intending to use him primarily as a wide receiver. A few days later, the Dolphins signed troubled wide receiver Antonio Callaway, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, who is currently serving the tail end of a 10-game suspension.
It’s hard to say what kind of impact Bowden Jr. will have on Miami’s offense. I’m no college scout, and he has yet to play a snap at the NFL level. Callaway, on the other hand, has been in the NFL for a few seasons now, so we have plenty of data to draw on. So, let’s look at the inconsistent NFL career of Callaway, and whether he can help the Dolphins offense in 2020.
What Callaway’s statistics tell us about his future
Callaway’s time as a football player has included numerous off-the-field issues, dating back to his time in college with the Florida Gators. I’m not going to through each individual incident, but suffice to say that he has spent more time getting into trouble than staying out of it.
In 2019, those problems resulted in a pair of suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. As a result, Callaway took part in just four games, totaling eight catches for 89 yards, not nearly enough data from which to draw any conclusions. His 2018 rookie season, however, was a different story. He played in all 16 games, starting 11 of them. Naturally, his statistics from that season look far better, with 586 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite that, PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), a statistic that measures a player’s efficiency and value to their offense, gave Callaway a grade of 29.61 in 2018, which ranked 77th out of 97 qualifying wide receivers. A grade that low indicates that, although Callaway’s statistics seem impressive for a rookie, he accrued those statistics less efficiently than most of his counterparts around the NFL.
Examining the metrics that contributed to Callaway’s low OSM grade
Explaining why the OSM rated Callaway poorly in 2018 only requires a brief look at the advanced metrics that are used in calculating a wide receiver’s OSM grade. In Callaway’s case, some of those statistics, such as his average yards after the catch (YAC), were reasonably impressive. At 5.8 YAC, it was solidly above average, and, according to the NFL’s calculations, it was as 1.1 yards higher than it should have been, again above average.
However, Callaway’s failures in one specific area, his catch percentage, dragged his grade down. In 2018, he caught just 54.43% of his targets, which ranked 80th in the NFL. And as I’ve said many times in my articles, your ability to make plays after the catch becomes far less relevant if you only complete the catch about half the time. The most valuable players in the NFL not only perform statistically but also do so on a consistent basis, something Callaway was unable to accomplish in 2018.
Callaway’s weekly grades reveal an interesting pattern
Callaway’s overall grade from 2018 tells us a great deal, but it doesn’t quite give the full story. For a more nuanced depiction, take a look at the chart below. It shows his weekly grades, marked as black dots, compared to the season average for wide receivers, marked by the yellow line.
As you can see, his grades increased dramatically early in the season, but once Cleveland reached their bye week, he began to steadily decline. Although his overall performance was clearly subpar, there was a time during the season that he was actually playing at a relatively high level. However, it only lasted for a brief period in the middle of 2018.
Unfortunately, because Callaway’s second season in the NFL was so heavily disrupted by suspensions, it is impossible to say whether he would have rebounded after the offseason, or continued to decline. Ideally for Miami, his level of play in 2020 will be closer to his peak from 2018, because they could certainly use the help at wide receiver.
The one thing we can learn from Callaway’s 2019
I know I’ve said there wasn’t enough data for us to draw conclusions from Callaway’s 2019 statistics a few times now, but that isn’t exactly true. Because in Week 9, he was actually targeted often enough to earn an OSM grade. I didn’t mention it earlier because that game is a significant outlier when compared to Callaway’s 2018 performances.
In terms of Callaway’s traditional statistics, it wasn’t an eye-catching performance, with just four catches for 56 yards. However, his OSM grade was excellent. At 44.11, it is the highest of Callaway’s short career, and the fourth-highest grade received by a wide receiver that week.
His underlying statistics were just as impressive; his catch percentage of 80% was far higher than his average from the previous season, as was his 10.1 yards after the catch, which was 6.5 yards higher than expected. In short, he was consistent both in catching the ball and in getting more yards than he should have after doing so, a major departure from 2018.
Unfortunately, impressive as those numbers are, a strong performance in a single game tells us very little about Callaway. It is entirely possible that those statistics were a fluke, a single bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season. However, the game does show that Callaway is capable of playing at an elite level, at least on occasion, something that the Dolphins are likely hoping will be a more common occurrence in a new environment.
Callaway can help the Dolphins, but only if he can stay on the field
Callaway has had an undeniably turbulent career. Although he has shown that he can play at the level of an elite player, he’s failed to do so more often than not. However, because he’s spent so much of his time in the NFL unable to show off his talents, it’s difficult to predict how he will play in future seasons. However, that won’t matter if he’s suspended more often than not.
Hopefully, Brian Flores and the rest of the Dolphins coaching staff help him keep out of trouble, and we can finally see the best that Callaway has to offer. If that happens, and he plays at the peak level we’ve seen from him in the past, Miami will have found an excellent contributor for a low price, and helped patch a hole in their offense in the process.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.