2017 Fantasy Football: Miami Dolphins Team Outlook
Miami ended a seven-year playoff drought in 2016 when they went 10-6. It was only their second playoff appearance since 2001. The Dolphins had success despite ranking 29th in the league in yards allowed. They gave up 380 points (18th), which was only nine points fewer than 2015 (389). Their offense almost repeated their failure in yards gained (24th – 26th in 2015), but Miami did score 53 more points than the previous season (310). After going 1-4 to start the year, the Dolphins won nine of ten games thanks to a huge step forward in the run game by Jay Ajayi. The team gained over 200 yards rushing in three of those wins with the Bills taking two beating on the ground (256 and 261 yards). Adam Gase returns for his second season as head coach while setting the bar high headed into 2017. Clyde Christensen returns to run the offense after spending 14 seasons working for the Colts in various jobs highlighted by offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. Over the past four years, Clyde was the quarterbacks' coach for Indianapolis with Andrew Luck as his star pupil. Vance Joseph took the ax for the poor play be the defense. The Dolphins promoted Matt Burke from linebacker's coach to defensive coordinator in the offseason. Matt has 13 years of experience in the NFL with the last eight coaching the linebacker position.
The top player added in free agency for the Dolphins was TE Julius Thomas who played his best ball under Adam Gase in Denver (24 TDs in 27 games). Miami also brought in Anthony Fasano for depth at the TE position while releasing TE Dion Sims and TE Dominique Thomas. Ted Larson will compete for a starting job at guard. They traded T Branden Albert to Jacksonville for a seventh-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The best player lost on defense with S Isa Abdul-Quddus after he suffered a possible career-ending neck injury. DE Mario Williams was released after showing no value (1.5 sacks), which was well below his best success in Buffalo from 2012 to 2014 (38 sacks in 48 games). RB Damien Williams is a restricted free agent, but it appears no one is willing to pay his price tag, so he'll have no choice but to resign with Miami. The Dolphins added three potential starters to their defense in DE William Hayes, S Nate Allen, and LB Lawrence Timmons. All three players will grade as below league average players at their positions.
It was all about the defense in their year's draft after drafting five defensive players with their first six picks. With the 22nd pick in the first round, the Dolphins selected LB Charles Harris. He's an athletic passing rushing linebacker whose best value against the run will come when he's attacking the line of scrimmage. Harris needs to improve his vision and his ability to break free from the wide bodies on the offensive line. His aggressiveness can lead to some mistake in misdirection plays. His next step is proving his worth in pass coverage.
They followed up with LB Raekwon McMillan in the second round. Quick attacking option against the run with enough speed to handle his responsibilities in pass coverage. McMillan can get neutralized at the point of attack by offensive lineman leading to minimal value in pressuring the QB, and he doesn't have the recovery step to handle speed running backs with elusiveness.
In the third round, Miami drafted CB Cordrea Tankersley. There are signs of upside especially with his speed, but I do sense he has confidence issues when he feels he's an underdog in his assignment. Cordrea needs to improve his technique plus his ability to read routes. It appears he plays it safe too much leading to easy catches underneath to protect against getting beat deep. In the right system, his skill set will offer more upside. I question his value as a pure man-to-man cover option out of the gate.
The Dolphins added two DT in the fifth and sixth round – Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor. Godchaux doesn't have the skill set to offer upside rushing the QB. His game project to be a role player against the run where he'll do his best to help the team needs. Taylor is more of a disrupter who gets taken advantage of against the run. He'll fire off the line of scrimmage so his skill set may help in obvious passing downs where his ability to penetrate will create openings for his supporting cast. Low value rotational player early in his career.
Miami invested in G Isaac Asiata with their first pick in the fifth round. His best asset is his strength, but it's almost like he's looking to show his punch rather than make the best play. Isaac works hard, and he'll bring nastiness to his position. His game has a chance to improve greatly if/when he used his strength more as a counter to the defender. This will lead to fewer mistakes.
They took a flier in the 7th round on WR Isaiah Ford. If short area speed and quickness were the keys to success in the NFL, Ford would be a much higher pick. He creates a winning window without being a great route runner, but his hands and ball skills don't offer enough upside. His lack of strength is a negative as well, which hurts him in press coverage. Possible big game player when overlooked. If he could tackle, his game could work as nickel or dime corner.
Miami finished 9th in the league in rushing yards (1824) while being 4.5 yards per rush with 14 rushing TDs. As great as it looks, they averaged only 25.3 rushes per game, which was well below the Bills (30.8) and the Cowboys (31.2). Also, the Dolphins gained 40.5 percent (739 yards) of their rushing yards in three games. They ran for fewer than 100 yards in 10 different games. The Dolphins had 56 runs of yards or more (6th) while tying the league high (5) in runs over 40 yards.
Their offensive lineman allowed 30 sacks on 477 pass attempts (6.3 percent of the time).
The Dolphins had multiple injuries on the offensive line 2016.
LT Laremy Tunsil was drafted 13th overall in the 2016 draft. Laremy should be a huge upgrade in pass protection while offering upside in run blocking as well. He has a nice combination of technique, foot quickness, and vision while needing to add some strength to his lower body. Last season he played guard for Miami with Branden Albert starting at left tackle.
LG Ted Larsen was added to take over a starting job over the winter. At best, Ted is a league average player for his position. The Patriots drafted him in the 6th round in 2010.
C Mike Pouncey only played five games in 2016 due to a hip injury. There was a report late in April of Mike being on crutches. As a result stem cells were most likely added to his hip area. The Dolphins was drafted 15th overall in the 2011 round. He's their best offensive lineman until Tunsil fulfills his potential.
RG Jermon Bushrod was the weak link on this line in 2016. He failed in all areas. He'll be 33 this season, and he could be replaced by Kraig Urbik or even rookie Isaac Asiata.
RT Ja'Wuan James made progress in 2016 with his best success coming as run blocker while being a slight edge at his position. He started all 16 games. Miami selected him 19th overall in the 2014 draft.
This line has talent at tackle and possibly center if Pouncey stays healthy and regains his previous form. The style of this offensive over the latter part of the year did produce some attractive numbers in the run game when Miami wasn't chasing on the scoreboard. Overall, this offensive line should be better than most expect.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Dolphins appear to have a below average schedule for their run game. They have nine games vs. teams that played above the league average defending the run with five games looking like tough matchups (NE X 2, TEN, CAR, and BAL). The Broncos have a solid defense, but they did fail to defend the rush in 2016. Miami faces them in Week 13 sandwiched between two games vs. New England. If your Fantasy team survives, their schedule is favorable in the championship rounds in the high-stakes market in Weeks 14, 15, and 16 (BUF X 2 and KC),
On the passing side, the Dolphins have four favorable matchups (NO, TEM. ATL, and CAR). The Bills grade as a tough matchup in the passing game only because teams ran over them in 2016. Buffalo has a new coaching staff, but they have a lot to prove defending WRs. The Broncos will be the one matchup to avoid.
Miami ran the ball 46.0 percent of the time in 2016, which was an improvement of 9.2 percentage points from the 2015 season. The number did fall short of Adam Gase's projected number (47.4) that he had with the Bears the previous year as the offensive coordinator.
This team has the most success winning games in 2016 by running the ball and keeping their defense off the field. I expect the Dolphins to run the ball more this season.
Miami's run defense will be challenged by the Bills in two games plus the Titans. They face three teams that struggled to run the ball in 2016 (LAC, BAL, and DEN).
The Dolphins have four bad matchups in the passing games (ATL, NO, and NE X 2). Both the Jets and Bills project to have low volume passing games while Tennessee could be improved in this area.
Miami had the third worst running defense in the league in 2016 (464/2247/12). They allowed 18 runs over 20 yards or more, which was the second-highest total in the league. Team completed 90 of 116 passes to the RB position for 578 yards and two TDs. The Dolphins were league average in passing yards allowed (3875) leading to 30 TDs and 16 Ints. Their defensive line had 33 sacks.
DT Ndamukong Suh is their best defensive lineman who controls the interior part of the line against the run. His sack total (11 combined in Miami) has been shorter than expected after producing eight or more sacks in three of his five seasons in Detroit. He did knock down 11 combined passes over the last two years. DT Jordan Phillips has enough talent to be a run clogger with rotational value. This is his third year in the league after being selected in the 2nd round in 2015. Phillips only has 2.5 sacks while playing minimal snaps over the last two years.
DE Cameron Wake is one of the better passing rushers in the league (76 over his last 102 games), but he'll start the year at age 35. DE William Hayes will add veteran experience to the outside while rookie Charles Harris may be asked to rush the QB on the line. Either way, the right side of the defensive line will be a work in progress.
LB Lawrence Timmons has over 100 tackles in six of the last seven season without missing a game. He will defend the occasional pass with fading value as a pass rusher. Miami still respects the game of Kiko Alonso to sign him to a four-year extension in the offseason. He had surgery in the offseason to repair a right thumb issue. In his rookie season with the Bills in 2013, Kiko had 159 tackles with two sacks. Last year his stats were in the area of Timmons' final numbers in 2016. The next linebacker with upside is Raekwon McMillan, but all three of these players project as inside linebackers. McMillan has the best of having success defending the passing game.
CB Byron Maxwell played better in coverage after failing in that role with the Eagles in 2016. S Reshad Jones signed a five-year $35 million contract in March with $35 million in guaranteed money. This comes after missing ten games due to a knee, groin, and torn rotator cuff. His best season of his career came in 2015 (135 tackles, two sacks, ten defended passes, and five INTs). S Nate Allen struggled in his two seasons with the Raiders after offering league average value over multiple seasons in Philly. The other starting cornerback slot will come down to two young players – Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley. Xavien's game may have more risk than reward at the next level. Howard had success in 2015 in college when asked to play one-on-one coverage. He played his best ball when matched up against less talented WRs where he gained an edge in press coverage. Xavier has more quickness than deep speed. His style at this point of his career will lead to a high volume of pass interference penalties in the NFL, and I don't believe he can handle the best WR talent in the league. Miami will Bobby McCain in coverage as well. McCain is an undersized CB (5'9") whose biggest asset is his electric quickness with limited top end speed. He'll struggle with physical WRs with size.
The strength of this defense should be up the middle while needing to upgrade the outside pass rush especially if Wake has some regression. Their CB play will have risk in coverage against teams with a deep receiving core. Jones needs to regain his form to improve the run defense. Enough talent to be playable in some weeks in the Fantasy games, but they could be a trap if the roll on a team early in the year. Backup team at best for me in the season-long games.
QB Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Quality Backup
The stats for Tannehill had minimal playable value in 2016. His best two games throwing the ball came in Week 2 (387/2) and Week 3 (319/3), but he did toss four picks. Over his first three starts, he averaged 37.7 pass attempts. The Dolphins switched to a rushing attack from that point on leading to him attempting only 27.6 passes per game over his next ten starts. Ryan had fewer than 200 yards in five of those games. Over his last seven games of the season, he had 13 TDs and five Ints. His completion rate (67.1) was the best of his career plus he made a nice step forward in yards per pass attempt (7.7 – career high). Over the last two seasons, Tannehill has been last active as a runner (32/141/1 and 39/164/1). His season ended in Week 14 due to partially torn ACL in his left knee that didn't require surgery. He's expected to be ready for training camp. Overall in 2016, Miami passed for 3718 yards and 27 TDs on 477 passing attempts. Ryan has two talented WRs when healthy plus the Dolphins added a scoring threat at TE. This offense has upside talent in the passing game if needed, but game score will be the key to Tannehill's value from week-to-week in the Fantasy market. The best teams in the NFL will have success passing the ball, so he'll get his chances. Only a QB2 in Fantasy drafts in 12 team league with a chance at 4000+ yards while beating the league average (23.5) in TDs. The Dolphins offensive coordinator has worked with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck for most of his career so there may be more underlying upside here.
RB Jay Ajayi, MIA - Solid/Safe Pick
I was higher than most on Ajayi in 2016, but I just didn't commit to him in drafts. He did help me a couple of times when he became a value pick as a result of Miami adding Arian Foster to the roster. Jay was a healthy scratch in Week 1 with minimal production over the next four games (31/117/2 plus two catches for 13 yards). Even with short production in Week 5 (13/42/1) vs. Tennessee, Ajayi flashed some explosiveness in scoring that was disguised due to a couple of penalties. He dominated the Steelers the next week (25/204/2) with three runs over 20 yards plus he had followed through the next week vs. the Bills (28/214/1). Jay had a third 200-yard game in Week 16 against Buffalo (32/206/1). In two of these games, he capped his day with a long run late in the game (62-yard TD against PIT with less than a minute left in the game and a 57-yard run in overtime vs. the Bills in Week 16 setting up the game-winning field goal). Over his eight starts after Week 7, Ajayi only had one other game over 100 yards rushing (Week 9 - 24/111/1). He averaged 17.1 rushes per game for 60 yards with only one TD in his other seven games during this period. His college resume points to much more upside in the passing game. Last season he only had 27 catches for 151 yards on 35 targets. Miami threw to the RB position 87 times in 2016 leading to 66 catches for 530 yards and three TDs. His success over the last 11 games projected over 16 games would be 333 rushes for 1680 yards, 10 TDs, 28 catches, and 156 receiving yards. There's a lot to like here, and Miami should have better play from their offensive line in 2017 if they stay healthy. I'll lower the bar to 300 rushes for 1400+ yards with 10+ TDs with growth in the passing game (35+ catches for 240+ yards). This is a top eight RB headed into 2017. Fantasy owners just need to remember he did have some concerns about his knees coming out of college.
RB Kenyan Drake, MIA - Bye Week Fill-in
Over four seasons with Alabama, Drake only managed 233 carries for 1495 yards and 18 rushing TDs while showcasing some explosiveness in the passing game (46/570/4 - 12.1 yards per catch). As kick returner in his senior year, Kenyan averaged 26.6 yards per return with a backbreaking 95-yard score late in the NCAA Championship game against Clemson. He projects as a change-of-pace back with upside as a pass catcher with value as a returner. His downside is his history of injuries. The Dolphins gave Drake a chance to show his upside in Week 3 (9/37 with two catches for 11 yards), but he just wasn't ready to be a factor on any down. He finished the year with 33 rushes for 179 yards and two TDs plus nine catches for 46 yards on 10 targets. Kenyan did return one kickoff for a TD. The key for him to be more involved will come in passing down once he proves he can handle his blocking assignments. I can't see him handling the full load long term if asked to be the lead back after an injury. Possible handcuff for Ajayi.
RB Damien Williams, MIA - Deep-league Only
After three seasons in the NFL, Williams has a rather boring resume (87 rushes for 296 yards with three rushing TDs while catching 65 of his 87 targets for 578 yards and five TDs). In his two seasons at Oklahoma, Williams had 1909 combined yards with 19 TDs and 43 catches. Even was short touches in 2016, Miami gave him scoring chances in the red zone leading to six TDs. This was at the expense of Kenyan Drake. In his career, Williams averages only 3.4 yards per rush, so an early down opportunity doesn't appear in his future. In early May, Damien was re-signed as a restricted free agent. He'll compete with Drake for the RB2 job in Miami this year.
WR Jarvis Landry, MIA - Stud (low risk)
After posting 110 catches for 1157 yards and four TDs on 166 targets, Fantasy owners wanted more growth from Landry in 2016. They had visions of a lower version of Antonio Brown. He finished with 35 fewer targets, but only 16 fewer catches and 21 fewer yards. His finals stats (94/1136/4) led to him finishing 16th in WR scoring in PPR leagues. His season started with two plus games in Week 2 (10/135) and Week 3 (7/120/1), but Miami struggled to get him the ball over the last nine weeks. Jarvis had six targets or fewer in seven of those games leading to five games with 55 yards receiving or less. He bailed out in Week 14 (4/103) and Week 15 (3/108/3), but Landry only had 10 combined targets in those games. When comparing 2015 to 2016 in the passing game, the Dolphins attempted 111 fewer passing. This was a drop of about 18.9 percent in chance and 12.2 percent in passing yards. On the positive side, he did set a career high in yards per catch (12.1). Jarvis is a 100-catch WR with more big-play ability than most believe. Miami has a chance to be improved offensively so his floor should be closer to 250 Fantasy points. Solid WR2 in PPR leagues with top-10 upside with growth in TDs.