The Miami Dolphins wide receivers have earned a lot of attention early in the 2022 NFL season because of the impressive performances of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. But an interesting sub-plot at the position has involved a rookie draft pick and a former college free agent.
Offseason acquisition River Cracraft played a role in the 42-38 comeback victory against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday with a 2-yard touchdown catch that started the scoring in the Dolphins' 28-point fourth quarter.
That he was in the game in the first place instead of rookie fourth-round pick Erik Ezukanma was noteworthy. And that it was the second time in two games that had happened was even more noteworthy.
Cracraft didn't make the Dolphins' initial 53-player roster when the Dolphins decided to keep five wide receivers on the roster, with Ezukanma joining Hill Waddle, Trent Sherfield and Cedrick Wilson Jr., but he was elevated from the practice squad against both the New England Patriots and the Ravens.
In essence, the Dolphins have decided to like Cracraft more at this time even though it was Ezukanma they chose to keep as the fifth wide receiver.
WHY ERIK EZUKANMA HAS BEEN INACTIVE
Wide receivers coach Wes Welker shed some light on the decision to make Ezukanma inactive for each of the first two games.
“For rookie receivers in the league, it is very tough," Welker said Thursday. "And we have a very talented room with a bunch of guys that are very, very detailed. At the end of the day, when you’re talking about fourth, fifth, sixth receivers on your roster, you’ve got to be at play all three positions. You don’t know when somebody’s going go down, you don’t know when somebody’s going to get tired, you don’t know when somebody needs an IV in the third quarter. You don’t know all of those different things and be able to plug and play guys, and not lose a beat, not sit there and be nervous as a coach or anything else.
"It’s a huge learning process being able to learn all these different positions week in, week out. It’s not the same plays every week like at Texas Tech. It’s not hand signals on the sideline. These are long calls. It’s a process. He’s preparing as if he’s playing and he needs to continue to do that. I think over time, we know what kind of talent he is. But we’ve got to keep everybody accountable when it comes to out there on the field. I and our whole staff can’t have that knot in your stomach when he’s out there and say, is he going to do the right thing? Is he lined up in the right spot? Do we need to call a timeout? All those things are so critical that he is starting to understand.
"It’s not just being more talented. Everybody’s talented. But it’s all about the details and being on point with every single play that you’re out there because one MA (missed assignment) or anything out there can be the difference between winning and losing and right now, that’s just not something that we’re willing to do right now. He’ll get there. He just needs to continue to put in the work and understand that it is a process and when he’s ready, we’ll know he’s ready. We love his skill set. We love the way he’s going about his business. But it does take time. I’ve gone through it with a lot of rookies who have had to play too early and it’s hard. It is really tough. It’s hard on a coach. It’s hard on a staff. It’s hard on the player. And right now, we don’t have to do that. So we’re not going to do that until we feel comfortable with him being able to execute the way we need him to execute.”
Without question, Ezukanma has an intriguing skill set and his time will come.
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CRACRAFT COMING THROUGH FOR THE DOLPHINS
In the meantime, the Dolphins clearly have trust in Cracraft — though they'll have a decision to make with him pretty soon.
Based on the new 2022 practice squad rules, any player can be elevated for a regular season game up to three times in the regular season, which means the Dolphins will have Cracraft only one more time unless they decide to sign him to the active roster.
Cracraft joined the Dolphins after he appeared in 24 games with the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers over the past four seasons, but his touchdown against Baltimore was the first of his NFL career.
“It’s so cool for River," Welker said. "I’ve been really proud of him and the work that he’s put in. It was funny in the preseason, that was his first touchdown in six years. And so to have a touchdown like that in a critical moment in such a big game and the win that we had was such a cool moment for him. So I’m just really happy for him and the work that he’s put in. To finally get that opportunity was such a cool thing, just to kind of see over these past few years of just the work he’s put in and how valuable he’s been to our team.
“I think it just has to do with his work ethic and how much time — you can tell he thinks about football all the time. On his off days, he’s always up here, always doing extra, after practice, even during the spring and all those different things. It all adds up. To me, it’s just the work that he’s put in and he listens and he’s on time. He just does everything right, the way you want a professional athlete to go about his business. So I’m really, really happy for him and I hope he continues to go down that path, which I know he will.”
For Cracraft, it's all about doing what's asked of him when it's asked of him and hoping for more and more opportunities.
"I pride myself on responsibility and knowing my assignments and all that," Cracraft said, "and to have them show the trust back and by having me up means a lot to me and just makes me feel confident that I'm doing the right stuff right now and I just got to keep stacking the days.
"It's just a starting point. I just need to keep taking it week by week, day by day and hopefully continue to be up and help the team in whatever role that is."