Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay had a breakout season in 2013, catching 69 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns. He was a key part of the Dolphins’ reenergized passing attack, which helped second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill throw for 3,913 yards—the 10th-best in the NFL.
But might we have only seen the tip of the iceberg for the 25-year-old playmaker’s potential? Clay could be primed and ready to join the ranks of the NFL’s elite tight ends in 2014.
He should get a boost from new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who comes to Miami from the Philadelphia Eagles where he was the quarterbacks coach in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offensive attack. In one season under Lazor, Nick Foles went from third-string quarterback to highest rated passer in the league, throwing for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 10 starts.
During that 10-game span, tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz developed into two of Foles’ most dependable targets. They combined for 45 receptions, 529 yards and seven touchdowns. The tight end is expected to be a highly valuable asset for Lazor in Miami as well. If Philadelphia was any indication, Clay should garner plenty of opportunities across the middle in the Dolphins’ passing game.
And we know Clay does a superb job of making the most of his opportunities. Targeted 100 times last season, he caught 69 percent of the passes thrown his way with 36 going for first downs.
That type of performance gained notoriety for him, not just among NFL fans, but his peers also. He was voted No. 89 in the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2014 by his teammates and opponents, placing some lofty expectations on the young gamechanger’s shoulders.
The 2011 sixth-round selection is all about exceeding expectations though, and he has been since he entered the league as a fullback from Tulsa. As a result, he was among the league’s best tight ends 25 years of age or younger (h/t Brag Gagnon of Bleacher Report) last season—third in production behind the Browns’ Jordan Cameron and the Broncos’ Julius Thomas—with big plays like this Jeremy Shockey-like catch-and-run touchdown in Week 11 against the San Diego Chargers on his resume:
Clay has the benefit of playing alongside a developing first-round quarterback who could have a breakout year of his own in 2014. Tannehill took a huge step forward in 2013 and will be looking to continue that upward trend in an offensive scheme tailor-fitted for efficient, productive play at the quarterback position.
With another full offseason under their belt together, don’t be surprised if the rapport Tannehill and Clay have built over the last couple of seasons comes to haunt the Dolphins’ AFC East foes. In an ever-adapting NFL, the tight end has become one of the most significant components to a successful offensive attack; Clay is the right guy in the perfect offense to help put Tannehill and the Dolphins’ offense over the top and push them to finally be legitimate contenders to the New England Patriots for the division title once again.