Despite catching just four passes for 59 yards in last Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals — nearly 200 fewer yards than he had the week before against the Arizona Cardinals — Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline remains the NFL's leader in receiving yardage and ranks in the Top 10 with a 17.7-yard per-catch average (which ranks ninth).
According to Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post, Hartline believes he can be the deep threat the Dolphins offense has allegedly been lacking. Volin notes that when Hartline was in high school in Ohio, he was state champion in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and briefly competed in track while at Ohio State University. Hartline ran a 4.52-40 at the 2009 scouting combine and a 4.49-40 at Ohio State's pro day, respectable numbers for a 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver, yet many don't feel he has the speed to be a deep threat at the NFL level.
With so few white wide receivers in the NFL these days — Volin counts 18 among the 194 on current NFL rosters — race could play a role in Hartline's underrated speed.
"Yeah, man. Definitely." Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess said when asked if race prompted opponents to underestimate Hartline's speed. "He can run. That's good that they sleep on him, because come game time he can open up on them."
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill can relate. The 2012 first-round pick was moved to wide receiver as a freshman, catching 112 passes for 1,596 yards and 10 touchdowns before being moved back to quarterback on a full-time basis midway through his junior season.
"I've had that label before, too. It's just kind of a stigma that comes with it," Tannehill said. "If it helps you, then it helps you. I don't know if teams underestimate him or anything, but he's making plays for us, and it doesn't matter what color you are."
If Hartline finishes the season as the NFL leader in receiving yards, he'll be the first white receiver to do so since 1985, when Seattle Seahawks Hall of Fame receiver and future United States Congressman Steve Largent led the league with 1,287 yards.