When Jordy Nelson was breaking out for the Packers last season, his fellow wide receiver Greg Jennings said that he thought Nelson got underestimated around the league because he’s white.
According to some members of the Dolphins, Nelson’s big 2011 season hasn’t changed much on that front. Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post writes that Hartline, who ran track for a time at Ohio State and has shown he can get behind defenses, keeps hearing that the Dolphins need to get some more speed at receiver while hearing himself described as being “deceptively fast.” Wide receiver Davone Bess and quarterback Ryan Tannehill think that their teammate’s skills get downgraded because, like Nelson, people are put off by a white wide receiver.
“Yeah, man. Definitely,” Bess said when asked if people underrate Hartline’s speed because of his skin color. “He can run. That’s good that they sleep on him, because come game time he can open up on them.”
“I’ve had that label before, too. It’s just kind of a stigma that comes with it,” Tannehill, who played receiver in college before moving to quarterback, said of the “deceptively fast” label. “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.”
While preconceived notions about race have surely contributed to some judgments about Hartline, who leads the NFL with 514 receiving yards, his sneak attack on the NFL this season has had much to do with preconceived notions about the Dolphins passing game as well. The combination of a rookie quarterback that draft pundits said would need a lot of grooming and an unheralded receiving corps led many to write off the Dolphins’ ability to move the ball through the air before the season started.
That was obviously premature and we imagine that teams watching film on Hartline now are more concerned with his ability to beat defenses deep than they are with the color of his skin.