How much more proof do we need? Another Pro Bowl start, announced Wednesday night, only substantiated his status in the league. His peers know it. Opposing coaches know it. And every one of them must be wondering how their multi-faceted scouting departments could have whiffed on this special talent.
There is Houston’s J.J. Watt and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith. The numbers say they are at the very top. But right behind them is Denver’s Von Miller and Wake, and I believe those are the four best in the league at this precise moment.
It would be wrong to start comparing Wake to Jason Taylor because Taylor did it over many years and his career sack numbers serve as evidence. But none of the early year Dolphins and none of the later year Killer B’s and certainly nobody recently has come along with the type of ability that Wake demonstrates on an every Sunday basis.
There are former Dolphins that had better sack seasons than Wake and there are some that had better career numbers – Bill Stanfill, Vern Den Herder and Doug Betters for sure. But if you’re talking talent, productivity and potential, Wake has to be high up on that list.
This Sunday, Wake will put an exclamation mark on his finest season yet. He has 15 sacks through 15 games, one more than his career high.
Look at his body of work. In just short of four seasons he has 43 sacks and that’s counting 2009 when he was more of a situational player. Now, he has become an every situation player. He had 14 sacks two seasons ago, followed by 8 ½ last season. And this season, after failing to register a sack in the first three games, Wake has compiled those 15 in just 12 games. That’s awfully impressive.
Keep in mind that this is not a one-dimensional player. Even suggest this to Coach Joe Philbin and he’ll quickly correct you. “You should see the tape,” Philbin said. “You should see the way he gets after running backs.”
The Pro Bowl voters certainly noticed.
But what makes all of this even more impressive is the road Wake travelled to get here. Undrafted out of Penn State. Cut by the Giants. Played in Canada, all the way to British Columbia, because this league didn’t have a spot for him.
Hard to imagine in this world of 40 times and vertical jumps, where teams un-earth talent from the smallest of schools in the most remote regions, that this 255-pound chiseled piece of muscle and tenaciousness, could slip through every conceivable crack.
On Jan. 19, 2009, the Dolphins announced the signing of Cameron Wake. To be truthful, I didn’t give it a second thought. The Dolphins had just come off a turnaround season, finishing 11-5 and winning the AFC East, and I was far more preoccupied with that than I was some early offseason signing of a player I had never heard of.
But give Jeff Ireland a game ball for this one. Wake had put together some crazy good sack numbers in Canada and the Dolphins wanted to pounce quickly. It turned out to be one of the most prudent moves in Ireland’s time with the Dolphins.
When you consider this is an undrafted player who cost the Dolphins absolutely nothing to get him than this may, in fact, be Ireland’s best personnel move.
I know. I know. Who could have thought at the time that Wake would become what he has become? You pay big dollars for free agent pass rushers. You use high draft picks, and sometimes even package high draft picks, to take them on the last weekend in April.
You certainly don’t get them this way. With a one paragraph press release in early January. With almost nobody noticing. Yes, an unusual path indeed.
We weren’t sure early on about Wake. We saw that burst. We saw the way he seemed to be moving at a different speed than all the other linemen. Jason Taylor noticed it. “That kid has talent,” Taylor said more than a few times.
But we weren’t sure whether Wake could sustain it, whether he could take the pounding delivered by massive left tackles. We had to see more. We had to be convinced.
Now, we are convinced.
Wake’s second Pro Bowl will not be his last. He turns 30 in January. The skills have shown no signs of eroding. He has three, maybe four more years, at his quarterback devouring best. The sacks will pile up. He will close the gap in the record book between him and Taylor.
But that’s for another day, another story. Today is about the 2012 version of Cameron Wake and how he is going to Hawaii not because he slipped in the back door but because he has truly emerged as among the best at his profession.
Next time the Dolphins announce a signing in early January, I’m going to pay a little bit more attention.