Miami Dolphins: 2015 Outlook

 
 
 
 
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Miami Dolphins

By Shawn Childs, Sunday, June 7, 2015

In three seasons with Joe Philbin as head coach, the Miami Dolphins have gone 23-25 with his best season being 8-8. After three straight seasons of top-10 rankings in points allowed, the Dolphins' defense fell to 20th in 2014 despite having their best season as far as yards allowed (12th) since 2010. Miami was much improved on offense (11th in points scored, 14th in yards) due to the development of Ryan Tannehill. Bill Lazor returns for his second season as offensive coordinator. Kevin Coyle has been the defensive coordinator since 2012. The Dolphins have made the playoffs only once in the past 13 years (2008). This year could be do or die for Philbin after the team signed top defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to a six-year contract worth $114 million. Overall, the AFC East is improving as the Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are sensing that the end is near for the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots, who have dominated the division for this entire century.

Free Agency

I already mentioned the signing of Suh. He will give Miami an inside pass rusher and a solid run stopper. He played a big part in the Detroit Lions leading the league in run defense in 2014. The Dolphins added a pair of veteran cornerbacks in Brice McCain and Zackary Bowman. The 28-year-old McCain started a career-high nine games in 2014 while with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He allowed 38 completions on 55 pass attempts for 498 yards and one touchdown. Bowman struggled while starting for the Chicago Bears in 2009, allowing 58 completions on 90 attempts for 732 yards and four TDs. He has been a backup for the past five seasons. Both CBs will compete for playing time in Miami's nickel and dime packages. CB Jimmy Wilson signed with the Chargers after struggling in pass coverage last year (32-of-41 for 347 yards, two TDs and one interception). DT Randy Starks is now with the Cleveland Browns. He was a liability in run support in 2014 as a rotational player for the Dolphins.



Miami Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh

On offense, Miami moved on from WR Mike Wallace, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Free agents Brandin Gibson and Brian Hartline signed with the Patriots and the Browns, respectively. Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills were added to help offset those WR losses. Stills showed improvement during the second half of 2014 when he caught 39 passes for 560 yards and two TDs in eight games. He gives Tannehill a deep threat to replace Wallace. Jennings will bring a veteran presence with possible upside as a fourth or fifth option in the passing game depending on matchups. The Dolphins lost starting tight end Charles Clay to Buffalo. Miami replaced him with Jordan Cameron, which appears to be a parallel move. Cameron flashed high upside in 2013 when he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven scores.

Center Samson Satele is no longer on the roster. He was forced into a starting role as Mike Pouncey was forced to miss the first four games of last season following hip surgery. Satele struggled in pass protection while being slightly effective in run blocking. The Dolphins added center J.D. Walton. He started all 16 games for the New York Giants in 2014 but had no success in run or pass blocking. Walton is expected to be a backup this year.

Draft

In the first round, the Dolphins added a possible stud at WR in DeVante Parker. Parker has plus hands, excellent size at 6 feet 3 and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine. His draft stock was affected a bit by the fact that he missed the first half of his senior season at Louisville due a broken bone in his foot.



Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker

Nose tackle Jordan Phillips was drafted in the second round. He is another wide body who can clog up the middle. Phillips will benefit from the talent that surrounds him on this defensive line. He has plenty of talent but a questionable motor.

In the fourth round, the Dolphins tried to add more depth to their offensive line with selection of guard Jamil Douglas. Jamil has strength with some quickness, but he tends to react rather than attack.

Miami had had four picks in the fifth round: CB Bobby McCain, RB Jay Ajayi, S Cedric Thompson and WR Tony Lippett. McCain is an undersized cornerback whose biggest asset is his electric quickness. However, he has limited top-end speed and will struggle against big, physical receivers. Ajayi was somewhat of a gift for Miami. He was expected to be a second-round pick, but an underlying knee issue led to his free fall on draft day. There was no risk with taking him that late in the draft, and his skill set may be better than Lamar Miller's. Ajayi has size (6 feet tall and 221 pounds) with very good short-area quickness.

Thompson is an athlete with solid speed and strength, but his lack of instincts hurts his chances of developing into a full-time player. Lippett was a rare two-way player at Michigan State, filling roles at wideout and cornerback. He is a hard worker who needs to improve his route-running skills.

Offensive Line

Miami ran the ball very well in 2014. They averaged 4.7 yards per rush, second-best in the NFL. The running backs alone averaged 4.55 yards per rush. The Dolphins' offensive line allowed 46 sacks, 10th-most in the NFL. That limited Tannehill's window to make plays down the field.

Miami really needs Pouncey to return to full strength after he struggled with a hip injury that required surgery last July. Mike showed his high upside in 2012 when he was a top run blocker while allowing a combined total of just five quarterback hits and hurries. The Dolphins signed him to a five-year, $50 million extension in April. When you consider how poorly Satele played last year and that Miami still ran the ball well, a healthy Pouncey could pay big dividends in 2015.

First-round offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James started all 16 games as a rookie in 2014, but he struggled badly in pass protection. He allowed six sacks, 12 QB hits and 40 QB hurries. He also had negative value in run blocking. His scouting report coming out of college painted him as a quality pass protector who needed work in the run game. An injury to Branden Albert forced James to move to left tackle where he allowed four sacks and 20 QB hurries over the final month of the year. I expect him to improve this year. Albert is a former first-round pick who was very good as a run blocker and a pass blocker in his nine starts last year. But he tore the ACL and the MCL in his right knee in November. The Dolphins aren't expecting him to be ready for the start of the season, and it will take him some time to return to his high level of play.

Guard Dallas Thomas was a complete bust in run and pass blocking in nine starts. He allowed seven sacks, seven QB hits and 26 QB hurries. Yet he is the favorite to win the left guard job. Guard Billy Turner saw only 17 snaps in 2014 after being selected in the third round. He played left tackle at a small school in college where he showed quickness and a solid feel for the game.

This O-line has some upside if James can show growth and if Albert returns from his major knee injury. However, the line's success will hinge on the improvement of its guards. Run blocking should be its biggest strength, and this group should be better in pass protection as well.

Schedule: Offense

The above chart shows the Dolphins' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).

This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.

2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.

2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.

2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.

The Dolphins' run offense has a tough schedule, but it also has advantageous matchups versus the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants.

Their passing-game matchups are slightly better than league average. There are three possibly tough contests on the schedule: the Bills twice and the San Diego Chargers.

Offense

Miami ran the ball only 40.1 percent of the time with 24.2 carries per game. They finished 12th in rushing yards (1,872) while attempting 20 percent less carries than the top six teams in the league. Game score played a huge factor in their lack of rushing attempts. Tannehill showed solid growth in 2014, but a stronger defense should lead to a more balanced offense. In addition, Ajayi should help take the pressure off of Miller.

Tannehill set career highs in attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns last year. He also registered a career-low 14 turnovers. Poor pass blocking (104 sacks taken) has been his biggest obstacle to more success. Ryan's legs led to him setting a career high in rushing attempts (56) and rushing yards (311). He had a five-game stretch in which he ran for 227 yards. His receiving corps was almost completely overhauled with only Jarvis Landry returning as a starter. Kenny Stills, Jordan Cameron and DeVante Parker will offer high upside in all areas. Miami fans are hoping a strong defense and a solid running game will give the Dolphins many leads and allow Tannehill to continue his upward growth. His running ability paired with his improved accuracy gives him a chance to be a top-12 fantasy QB in 2015. His success will ultimately depend on the development of his receivers and an improvement in pass-blocking by his offensive line.


QB Ryan Tannehill

Miller finished ninth among running backs in fantasy scoring last year. Unfortunately for his owners, Miller's highlight game came in Week 17 when he gained a season-high 178 rushing yards with a TD. His defining moment came early in the third quarter when Miller broke off a 97-yard TD run. On the year, Lamar had only two 100-yard rushing games while never having more than 20 carries in any game. He finished with 216 of the Dolphins' 334 RB carries (64.7 percent). He began 2014 behind Knowshon Moreno, who had value only in Week 1 (24 carries, 134 yards and a score). Miller averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and his big finish in Week 17 helped him top 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Over the first seven games of the season, Lamar caught 21 passes for 136 yards and one TD. The Dolphins threw to him at a high rate in only two of his last nine games (Week 14: five catches on five targets for 36 yards; Week 16: five catches on seven targets for 58 yards). In his 55 snaps as a pass blocker, Miller allowed no sacks and five QB hurries. Ajayi will push Miller for playing time, especially on passing downs. Miami should run 50 more times at minimum this year just because of their stingier defense. Lamar had 244 touches last year, and his workload should only grow as the Dolphins improve. He has an outside chance at 1,500 combined yards with a handful of touchdowns and some catches. Lamar will be more steady than explosive in fantasy leagues, but a 225-point fantasy season in PPR leagues is within reach.

Ajayi had an impressive junior season at Boise State where he ran for 1,823 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also caught 50 passes for 535 and four scores. His college career started with him tearing the ACL in his right knee in 2011, which limited his playing time until 2013 when Jay took 271 touches for 1,647 yards and 19 total TDs. While he was rehabbing his knee, Ajayi was arrested for stealing sweatpants, which led to a falling out with head coach Chris Petersen. In 2014, new head coach Bryan Harsin gave Ajayi a clean slate, which led to that big season. His draft value plummeted amid concerns about the long-term health of his right knee. At the NFL combine, Ajayi flashed his quickness and athletic ability. He ran a 4.57 40 and posted a 10-foot-1 broad jump. Jay has shown the ability to make defenders miss with shoulder fakes, and he has enough power to gain yards after contact in the open field. He has excellent vision and enough acceleration to make big plays when he reaches the second level of the defense. Considering his skills as a pass blocker and receiver, Ajayi could be the favorite to play on passing downs, not Miller. His must learn how to secure the football (11 fumbles in his last 597 carries). I see him as an upgrade from the likes of Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams, who were given a combined 114 touches in 2014 after Moreno went down with an ACL tear in October. Ajayi's ability will give the Dolphins a running back who can threaten the defense on every down. Jay has a very good shot at 150 touches with added value in catches and TDs. However, his playing time could turn on a dime with a poorly timed fumble.


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Landry caught just 25 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown during the first half of his rookie season and he saw limited snaps. Jarvis' value grew dramatically over the last nine games and he became Tannehill's safety value. Landry had at least five catches in each of those games and finished six contests with nine targets or more. All told, he recorded 59 receptions on 78 targets for 503 yards and four TDs in just his last nine games. That breaks down to 6.6 catches for 56 yards, 0.4 touchdowns and 8.7 targets per game. Over a full season, Jarvis would have been on pace for a more than 100 catches, more than 900 yards and seven TDs. His catch rate was 75 percent, although he averaged only 9 yards per catch. The change in WR personnel in Miami should lead to Landry expanding his routes to where his catches will have more length. During his 2013 season at LSU, he averaged 15.5 yards per catch. In 2015, Jarvis should have an opportunity similar to that of a Julian Edelman, which makes him a solid WR2 in SCOUT Fantasy leagues. He'll offer more consistency than explosiveness, which is helpful in head-to-head matches.

In 2013, Stills acted at the big-play threat for the New Orleans Saints as he gained a league-high 20 yards per catch. However, that performance left fantasy owners believing he was more of a one-dimensional player. His 2014 season started with him missing Week 1 because of a quad injury. He caught 10 passes on just 13 targets for 141 yards in his first four games. His value started to grow after New Orleans' Week 6 bye. Over the next two games, he caught nine passes for a total of 160 yards and a TD. Kenny showed his high upside after Brandin Cooks when down with a broken thumb in Week 10. Over his last six games, Stills caught 32 balls for 500 yards and one TD on 41 targets. He averaged a solid 14.8 yards per catch. Even with that productive season, Kenny never saw more than eight targets in any game. His success was the result of a high catch rate (75.9 percent). Mike Wallace caught 67 balls last year for 862 yards and 10 TDs as the deep threat for the Dolphins. I can't see Stills scoring as many touchdowns or getting as many targets with Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker in the mix for targets. Last year, the Saints threw the ball 10 percent more than the Dolphins, but completed only 210 passes to WRs compared to Miami's 231. Kenny should draw interest in the fantasy market following a breakout second half of the season, but his overall production will most likely be no better than a weak WR3 due to a low number of targets and his limited scoring ability.

Tannehill is on the verge of becoming the next impact QB after his career-best year. All he's missing is a talented wideout with size who can add scoring ability in the red zone. Miami hopes Parker can be that man. DeVante has exceptional hands with plenty of size (6 feet 3) and speed (4.45 40-yard dash). His 2014 season was cut short due to broken bone in his left foot. In his first three seasons at Louisville, Parker caught 113 passes for 1,920 yards and 28 TDs. His value at the goal was very clear as 24.8 percent of his catches led to touchdowns. After his return from the broken foot, DeVante caught 43 passes for 855 yards and five TDs in six games, which included four 100-yard outings and one 200-yard game. For his career, he averaged 17.8 yards per catch with 33 TDs. Parker isn't a great route runner and he needs to prove he can beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage. His resume of success is short as far as catches, but his scoring ability should be very intriguing to Miami fans. Last year, Dolphins wideouts caught 231 passes for 2,524 yards and 20 TDs, which surprisingly accounted for the seventh-most fantasy points scored by any team in the league at WR. Many of Parker's catches in the end zone were the result of battles won on jump balls. His skill set has some similarities to Marques Colton, but Parker has more open-field vision. I expect him to start games this year as Miami uses a lot of three-receiver sets. The rookie will compete with Jordan Cameron for goal-line targets. Parker has enough talent to lead Miami in touchdowns while taking on the most targets behind Landry.

Jennings was no more than a bye-week replacement in most fantasy leagues over the past two years with the Minnesota Vikings. In his last 28 games, he has 127 catches, 1,546 yards and 10 TDs on 198 targets. In March, he had minor elbow surgery. This season, Greg is expected to be an outside receiver after playing mostly in the slot with Minnesota. His overall skill set is more polished than Stills' and Parker's, and he'll start the year at age 31. For his career, Jennings has 63 touchdowns in 127 games and three 1,000-yard receiving seasons. It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins distribute the targets after Landry. Greg's fantasy upside will depend on the readiness of Parker. Well worth a back-end flier until we see the structure of Miami's passing game. It wouldn't surprise me to see Jennings finish the year as the Dolphins' second-most productive wide receiver.

Cameron was a complete bust in 2014 after his breakout season of 2013 in which he caught 80 passes for 917 yards with seven scores on 118 targets. His 2014 season started with a right shoulder issue in early August that was described as an AC joint injury. He reinjured the shoulder in Week 1 and didn't play the following week. When he returned to the lineup, Jordan wasn't the same player. He caught only 11 passes in his next five games for 203 yards and one TD on 26 targets. A concussion knocked him out of the Browns' lineup for another five games. Over the last four games of the season, Cameron caught 11 passes for 174 yards and one TD on 17 targets. In the end, his 2014 season was a failure due to health reasons. In 2013 and 2014 each, Tannehill completed 82 passes to tight ends. Jordan should have a top-10 opportunity with more upside due to his scoring ability. The depth of the Dolphins wide receiving corps and their solid running game should give Cameron much more favorable coverage. I see him catching 65 or so balls for more than 700 yards and about six TDs.


TE Jordan Cameron

Caleb has struggled with accuracy during his first two years in the league (77.5 percent). He has missed too many field goals between 30 and 39 yards during his career (three in 20 chances), and he has converted just 20 of 33 tries from 40 yards and beyond. Last year, Miami had 183 possessions, leading to 42 touchdowns and 29 field goals. The Dolphins ran the ball well, but they struggled in the red zone, which created more field goal attempts. Miami should be improved all around this year, which will lead to more touchdowns. Plus, the defense should force more turnovers and, in turn, create more scoring chances. Sturgis has a top-10 opportunity, but he must gain better accuracy first.

DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS

Miami has four tough matchups against the run based on 2014 data: The Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys and the Jets twice. Their best matchups will be come against the Buffalo Bills twice, the San Diego Chargers and the Tennessee Titans.

Overall, the Dolphins don't have a tough schedule against the pass. The Indianapolis Colts will be their most difficult opponent, but the Patriots, Eagles and Giants will all present a test. The Jets are Miami's weakest opponent on the passing side.

Miami finished 24th in the league in rushing yards allowed (1,937) while permitting just above the league average in yards per rush (4.3). They allowed 13 rushing TDs, a little less than the league average. The addition of Ndamukong Suh should instantly upgrade Miami's run defense. The Dolphins would love for second-round nose tackle Jordan Phillips to step up to grab the right defensive tackle position. Miami only needs him to hold his ground against the run as the other three defensive linemen will apply plenty of pressure on the QB. The Dolphins finished with a league-average 39 sacks in 2014. The presence of Suh will make it tough for offensive lines to double team Miami's leading pass rusher, defensive end Cameron Wake (12 sacks, 14 QB hits and 39 QB hurries). DE Olivier Vernon had only 6.5 sacks last year after recording 11.5 in his second season. The Dolphins' defensive line will be one of the best in the league and show growth against the run and the pass. Miami is hoping more pressure will beget more fumbles and interceptions.

Safety Reshad Jones ranked as one of the best at his position last year and is solid against the run. Miami's other projected starting safety, Louis Delmas, is coming off a torn ACL last December. Cornerback Brent Grimes allowed seven TDs in 2014 after allowing none in 2013. Overall, he allowed 56 completions on 95 pass attempts for 706 yards with five picks. He seemed to be a step behind last year (one defected pass last season, 14 in 2013). CB Will Davis tore his ACL in November. As a reserve player in 2014, Davis allowed 12 completions in 27 attempts for 171 yards and one TD.

Linebacker Jelani Jenkins racked up 110 tackles in his second season in the league while grading out as slightly above average at his position. He needs to improve against the run. Overall, Miami has league-average talent at linebacker and two decent players in its secondary. With a renewed focus on stopping the run and a strong pass rush, the Dolphins should be much improved on defense. Their bump in sacks and possible turnovers should lead to a top-five fantasy rank among defenses in 2015.