Four weeks into the 2012 NFL regular season, an unlikely name appears at the top of the "Receiving Yards" leader board. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline, who had 549 receiving yards as a 16-game starter in 2011, leads the NFL entering Week 5 with 455 receiving yards on 25 receptions, thanks in large part to his 12 receptions for a franchise-record 253 receiving yards against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4.
What makes Hartline's production through four games even more impressive is that the 2009 fourth-round pick (No. 108 overall) out of Ohio State missed most of the OTAs and preseason due to a calf injury, and an emergency appendectomy in early June prevented him from participating in minicamp.
Hartline discussed his medical situation with Jeff Darlington of NFL.com, which included complications after his surgery that caused him to lose 25 pounds during a 12-day stay in Broward General Hospital.
"It was to the point where my stomach wasn't even processing my bile, so I had to put a tube down my throat," Hartline said. "Every 24 hours, I was emptying 600 CCs of bile from my stomach (the equivalent of a 20 oz. bottle of soda)...
"So the doctor says, 'Some people, they're in here for a day or two, if that. Then, you have people who die from this. But you're somewhere in the middle.' I look at the doctor and say, 'Wait, doc, are you telling me I have a 50-percent chance of dying?"
Despite the limited work in the offseason, Hartline has been a preferred target of rookie starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In Week 1, Hartline was targeted a team-high eight times, coming down with three receptions for 50 yards. The following week against the Oakland Raiders, Hartline caught nine of his 12 targets for 111 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game of Hartline's career. After being fairly well-neutralized by the New York Jets (one reception for 41 yards on nine targets), Hartline had his big game against the Cardinals.
While Hartline's 12-catch, 253-yard performance was not enough to be a nominee for AFC Offensive Player of the Week, his emergence as a legitimate starting receiver in the NFL has kick-started very preliminary contract talks between Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and Drew Rosenhaus, Hartline's agent. As the No. 108 pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Hartline signed a four-year deal worth $3.04 million. Hartline triggered playing-time escalators that increased his 2012 base salary to $1.308 million, but he will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
No. 2 receivers in the NFL can secure pretty good contracts. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown signed a five-year, $41.96 million extension before training camp. Though only $8.5 million of that contract was guaranteed, it was a very good haul for a receiver who was two years away from unrestricted free agency. Hartline is even closer to hitting the market, but is keeping things in perspective.
"It's really just one game," Hartline said. "I don't want people to think that I'm sitting here believing I've suddenly arrived and I'm some great person. It's one game. It has to happen more than once.
"People have 1,000-yard seasons for 10 years in a row."