Despite the fact that they spent draft picks and a great deal of money ($47.5 million over five years) on former Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall, Marshall is not the Miami Dolphins' most effective and efficient receiver this season. Nor is Brian Hartline, the 2009 fourth-round pick from Ohio State.
Right now, Miami's best receiver is Davone Bess, an undrafted free agent out of the 2008 draft class from Hawaii. Bess was debited by some NFL teams because of his size (5-foot-10, 190), and because he put up good numbers in the Hawaii spread offense. Slot receivers in those types of offenses are a dime a dozen, or so conventional wisdom tells us. In Bess' case, he also has the ability to make plays downfield, which he showed last week against his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders.
Bess currently leads the ‘Fins in Football Outsiders' cumulative efficiency metrics among qualifying receivers, and he's developing more versatility in his game. For a Browns team that currently ranks 12th in DVOA against the pass, Bess still provides a challenge, especially if he's lined up in sub-coverages with nickel defenders underneath.
Bess caught six passes for 118 yards against the Raiders, one play really stood out to me. Like the Browns do, Oakland's defense features a lot of multiple fronts and will alternate pretty seamlessly between three- and four-man fronts. A 18-yard sideline pass to Bess late in the second quarter showed me two things – first of all, that young quarterback Chad Henne is learning to stand in the pocket and make the critical throw under pressure, and that Bess is one of the finest receivers in the game at getting to a point in a route and shaking off the defender at the last second.
On this play, the Raiders went with an extreme blitz look and a lot of pre-snap motion. With just two wideouts in an I-formation, and no real deep threats per se, Miami's offense looked very blitzable in this situation. However, their tackles held the edges, Henne stepped up in the pocket, and Bess took an outside release on the left side against man coverage from cornerback Walter McFadden.
Against man coverage, Bess was smart enough to know that with the vertical positioning of the other receivers (the tight end and strong-side wideout), McFadden might cover as if the receiver would head deeper downfield. But at about the 15-yard mark downfield, Bess started to slow down, dragging underneath McFadden's coverage, and he jumped to catch Henne's throw.
Bess' route intelligence and palette of patterns on the field should be a concern for a Browns secondary that has a great deal of physical ability, but can be fooled with more advanced concepts. He may not be the marquee face of this offense, but Davone Bess might be its most consistently dangerous weapon.