By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
Missed any of our other Previews? Find them here!
The 2017 season for the Miami Dolphins started with a delay. Seriously. Their first game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was postponed due to a hurricane. Luckily for the league, both teams had the same bye week later in the season, so they enjoyed their bye week in between the preseason and regular season. Because the body needed more rest after limited reps for starters in training camp.
The delay also extended to QB Ryan Tannehill. After tearing his ACL with three games remaining in the 2016 season, it didn’t heal the way the team had hoped and he missed all of 2017 as a result. Enter Jay Cutler. The former Bears QB who announced his “retirement” to join the broadcast booth was lured back for one last hurrah with former OC Adam Gase, now the head coach in Miami. Cutler was very Cutler-esque, mixing great games with baffling ones, en route to a QB26 finish. One thing that worked well was his connection with WR DeVante Parker. They developed quite the connection during the preseason and Cutler found him early and often over their first three games (Weeks 2-4). In fact, Parker was WR10 from Weeks 2 through 4. Then an injury in Week 5 effectively derailed his season, missing the next three games and struggling to finish the season on a high note.
We know about Landry’s success (WR8 finish) and what Ajayi didn’t accomplish before his midseason trade (RB27 start). Kenyan Drake replaced Ajayi’s production and then some and ended the season strong, RB9 from Week 9 to Week 16, showing they made the right decision in trading Ajayi. Kenny Stills remained enigmatic but productive and they got nothing out of the Julius Thomas’ reunion with Gase. All told, the Dolphins top 2 fantasy scorers — Landry and Cutler — are gone and will be replaced by Tannehill (back from injury) and free agent signees Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola (more on them later). At least one team is happy for 2018 to get underway.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Brock Osweiler (w/ DEN)||79.92||QB36|
|RB2||Frank Gore (w/ IND)||161.50||RB22|
|RB3||(R) Kalen Ballage||N/A||N/A|
|WR3||Albert Wilson (w/ KC)||93.30||WR66|
|WR4||Danny Amendola (w/ NE)||130.60||WR45|
|TE1||(R) Mike Gesicki||N/A||N/A|
|K||(R) Jason Sanders||N/A||N/A|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: RB Kalen Ballage, TEs Mike Gesicki & Durham Smythe, and K Jason Sanders.
I have a small confession to make: I’m not the biggest Ryan Tannehill fan. So sue me. And it’s not because he hasn’t been productive (18,455 passing yards, 106 TD passes, 62.7% completion rate) over the first five years of his career, it’s just that the talent doesn’t pop off the tape. He gets hit a lot (213 sacks over his young career) and turns the ball over a lot as a result (66 INTs and 28 fumbles). That’s brought on by a combination of a shoddy offensive line and his inability to make quick decisions to find his open receivers. Those traits don’t scream “franchise quarterback” to me.
All that said, he looked a lot better in his first year with Adam Gase prior to his ACL tear. He was 8th in the league in yards per attempt, 6th in completion percentage, and had one of the better drop rates among his receivers in the league which means he throws a catchable ball. Even Pro Football Focus saw some bright spots, ranking him as the the 13th best QB in the league. He led the Dolphins to an 8-5 record and they would end up in the playoffs as a result. It would’ve been nice to see how he performed in a pressure filled environment like a playoff game because when defenses bring the heat, Tannehill is not so great.
In 2016, when Tannehill faced pressure in his face, Tannehill had 3 TDs against 10 INTs. By comparison, Aaron Rodgers was 12 to 1, Russell Wilson 10 to 5, and Tyrod Taylor 10 to 4. So basically, not good. But with a clean pocket? The dude may as well be Dan Marino. His 16 TDs to 2 INTs (an 8 to 1 ratio) was only topped by Tom Brady (21 TDs to 0 INTs). Give this guy an offensive line and I’m writing a completely opinion of Tannehill.
Over the first four years of his career, Tannehill was a yardage monster. His 15,460 passing yards ranks 3rd in NFL history over the first four years of a players career. The problem? He doesn’t throw as many TDs as you’d like with those yardage numbers. His 87 TDs are only 12th best over that time. For comparison’s sake, the two people in front of him on the yardage list — Peyton Manning and Dan Marino — threw for 111 and 142, respectively. Big difference. It’s numbers like that why I don’t have Tannehill among my top 20 QBs in Fantasy heading into 2018. Can he sneak into the top 20? Absolutely. He’s more top 25 for me, so a QB2 in 12-team leagues. I don’t feel the Dolphins have done enough to improve their offensive line which will put a lot of pressure in Tannehill’s face, causing him to make the mistakes that kill QBs in both the pro game and in Fantasy.
Behind Tannehill, the Dolphins have reshuffled their QB room after long time backup Matt Moore was not retained. The ‘Phins brought in Brock Osweiler and David Fales to backup Tannehill. Osweiler has experience in Gase’s system from his time in Denver and Fales has looked impressive during the early going at OTAs and will challenge Osweiler for the number 2 spot. Neither will make a dent in fantasy and quite honestly, I would worry about the non-RBs on the Dolphins in fantasy if Tannehill is forced to miss any time.
Kenyan Drake made me look stupid in 2017. I didn’t think him being ushered into the starting role midseason would yield much in the way of results. His college career at Alabama was overshadowed by the likes of Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, and Derrick Henry. He was looked at by most as merely a 3rd down type back at the pro level but the Dolphins didn’t use him as just that. He had 33 carries — averaging 5.4 yards per carry — to 9 receptions during his rookie year. When the Dolphins made the decision to trade starting RB Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline in 2017 — Drake’s 2nd year — it was Drake’s time to shine. From Week 9 through the end of the season, Drake was 5th in rushing yards with 619, 6th in yards per carry at 5.03, and 15th in attempts. He was 12th in touches with 152 and 5th in yards from scrimmage with 851. Drake’s RB9 standing from Week 9 to Week 16 proves he has legitimate RB1 potential on draft day. I expect the lack of usage at Alabama means Drake will be fed like he’s in line at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. He should top 300 touches in 2018 and have around 1,500 total yards if he’s healthy all season. Of course, if every other RB in the league is healthy also — which we all know won’t happen — those will still be RB2 numbers because Drake is hardly TD dependent. He had only 4 total TDs in 2017. For him to ascend to RB1 territory, the TDs have to increase.
The Dolphins ventured into free agency to provide Drake a backup. And a mentor. The ageless Frank Gore, most recently of the Indianapolis Colts, is 11 years Drake’s senior and was just as productive as Drake last season, albeit with more touches. Gore finished 2017 as the Colts starting RB and as fantasy’s 22nd best RB. And he was 34. He was 39 yards short of yet another 1,000 yard rushing season and forced 40 missed tackles. By the way, he was 34. He was 9th in the NFL in total touches and 14th in yards from scrimmage. And oh by the way, HE WAS 34! Look, I’m a Frank Gore homer. I love the dude as a player and he’ll go down as one of the greatest NFL running backs ever and probably the most underrated and under-appreciated as well. As great as Gore has been in the twilight years of his career, this is Drake’s job to lose. What helps the Dolphins is that Gore is capable of filling in if Drake gets hurt or is ineffective. Gore likely won’t top 600 yards from scrimmage in 2018 and he’s only worth a late round draft pick if you own Drake or are just loading up on RBs due to the volatility of the position.
Third on depth chart is likely to be rookie Kalen Ballage from Arizona State. This dude is a behemoth. 6’3” 230 pounds and a 4.46 40 time. The scary thing? He’s a hell of a passing down back. His junior year at ASU saw him with 44 receptions and 15 total TDs — 16 if you count the TD pass. His senior year was underwhelming which likely led to his fall to the 4th round. He can also return kickoffs, with over 400 return yards each of the last 2 seasons. Give this kid a head of steam and defenders should watch out. The issue? He doesn’t invite contact and doesn’t run through tacklers well, with only 15 missed tackles during his senior year. He’s 230 pounds! He should be carrying people into the end zone. Ballage is roster depth with FLEX appeal as the season progresses depending on Gore’s usage and how much Gase wants to rest Drake.
The Dolphins wide receiver corps is an amalgam of youth and inconsistency. The top two receivers on the depth chart — DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills — have worked in the shadow of former slot man Jarvis Landry for the past three years. Now that Landry is in Cleveland, Parker and Stills get to display their talent on the regular. Or can they?
Parker is a former 1st round pick who has performed like anything but. His best season was 2016 — Gase’s first in Miami — when he had 56 catches for 744 yards and 4 TDs. The problem? He should have been and should be going forward Miami’s number one option. He’s 6’3” 212 pounds and was one of the best jump ball receivers in college during his time at Louisville. Tannehill has never developed great chemistry with Parker down the field where Parker can utilize his size against smaller corners. Now that Landry is gone, Tannehill needs to look Parker’s way early and often if the Dolphins want to succeed as an offense. Parker needs to help out his QB also. Tannehill’s QB rating while targeting Parker is only 87.7 and tossed 5 INTs to 4 TDs. Yikes. I’ve always liked Parker’s potential, but my patience is running thin. If this isn’t the year Parker puts together at least a top 25 season, I’m done. And honestly, I’m preparing to be disappointed. Look for top 40 numbers from Parker as he should be in line for 60 catches for 790 yards and 5 TDs.
Stills came over via trade from New Orleans in 2015. His breakout year was 2016 when he caught 9 TDs and secured a new contract, paying him $8 million per year. 2017 was the first year he topped 100 targets and he had his most receiving yards since his last year in New Orleans (2014). Stills has finished as WR76, WR44, and WR26 in his three years in Miami. Clearly, he’s ascending. It’s starting to look like Stills is the real number one receiver in Miami. He also tears it up on passes 20 or more yards downfield. 31.7% of his targets in 2017 were on throws that exceeded 20 yards, good for 3rd in the league, resulting in 366 yards and 4 TDs. Now that Tannehill is back in the saddle, the two of them can pick up where they left off in 2016, burning defenses for TDs left and right. I believe in Parker, but I think if I’m drafting one of these Dolphins WRs, it’s likely to be Stills as he’ll be the better value, with a current ADP of 55 among WRs. His inconsistency will drive you up a wall — half of his games resulted in single digit fantasy performances — so I’d look at him as more of a FLEX based on matchups. Still, Stills will emerge as the Dolphins number one target and should set career highs in targets, catches, and yards. I’m predicting his first 1,000 yards season on 70 catches with 8 TDs, good for low end WR2 numbers. My comp for him would be Mike Wallace, which is not a bad thing considering what Wallace has done in his NFL career.
Then there are the new guys. Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola were brought in to attempt at filling the enormously large shoes of Jarvis Landry. Both have extensive experience in the slot. The difference? Wilson is 26 and Amendola is 32. Amendola is the more traditional slot receiver, as 82.1% of his routes last year were run from the slot. But in all his years in the league, he’s never topped 700 yards receiving or had more than 4 TDs in a season. Wilson set career highs last year in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns so if I’m drafting either of these guys, it’s Wilson, especially for his versatility as he runs more outside routes than Amendola. If Parker gets hurt or falls into the inconsistencies that have plagued him through his first three years in the league, look for Wilson to make the leap to number 2 on the depth chart. Wilson is a top 50 option at WR, while Amendola is simply a matchup play in DFS.
Two other names to look out for are Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant. The Dolphins traded up to draft Carroo in 2016 and over his first two years, he’s contributed 10 catches. Grant is tiny, only 5’7”, and has slot potential written all over him. Amendola can help groom him into the perfect slot receiver while Carroo can push Parker and Wilson for playing time if he’s able to live up to the potential the Dolphins saw in him several years ago.
The Dolphins are ushering a new group of tight ends, and it starts with the rookie out of Penn State. Mike Gesicki was the Dolphins 2nd round pick and he put on a Combine performance to make people question why he wasn’t selected in the 1st round. Gesicki tied for the best 40 time among TEs with a 4.54 40. He’s 6’6” 247 pounds and had 51 catches and 9 TDs in college a year ago. He has the build and the speed to destroy defenses, much like Evan Engram did a year ago. The only thing standing in Gesicki’s way en route to a TE1 finish in 2018 is how fast he can learn the playbook. That’s it. During Adam Gase’s two years as the Broncos offensive coordinator, Julius Thomas had 108 total catches and 24 TDs. Thomas is 6’5” 256 pounds and ran a 4.68 40 at his combine. Gesicki is more athletic which will help him rack up more catches and yards but he has the potential for at least 7 TDs in this offense. Those types of TD numbers should put him among the top 12 at the TE position in 2018.
The Dolphins doubled down on rookie TEs, drafting Durham Smythe in the 4th round. Smythe is likely to be utilized more as a blocker as his receiving skills don’t compete with Gesicki’s. But Smythe will have competition on the roster in the form of A.J. Derby and Gavin Escobar. None of these three will whet your appetite, but they’re names to know if Gesicki pulls a hammy during the season.
Rookie to Watch
As my number three tight end entering the 2018 NFL Draft, I’m expecting a decent year from Mike Gesicki. At Penn State, Gesicki had over 1,000 yards receiving in his career. He’s an experienced receiver and his size will give him an advantage in the red zone. The Dolphins may be the best situation for him to showcase his talents in year one. – Chris Tyler
With Jarvis Landry gone, former New Orleans Saint Kenny Stills should be on your radar this upcoming season. With Ryan Tannehill back from his injury, Stills will have a viable QB in 2018. Last season, Stills was targeted 105 times and started all 16 games for the second year in a row and ranked just outside of the top 25 at his position at 26. Not a household name, but a guy who can be a solid flex option and has high WR2 upside with DeVante Parker as the only one who looks to steal targets from him in Miami. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Dolphins are in a great position to tease fans with what’s to come. Looking at their schedule, I don’t see anything more than 6 wins. But I love Adam Gase as a head coach and he’s good enough to get this team to potentially .500. That said, Tannehill has to stop turning the ball over. He’s a top 25 QB in fantasy and I like his upside more than vagabonds like Sam Bradford and Josh McCown. Drake should have a monster season and challenge for top 10 at RB. Stills is the WR I’m drafting, but I know the Dolphins expect Parker to be the best WR on their squad. And Mike Gesicki will likely be the rookie TE to own in fantasy. The biggest drawback to their fantasy outlook? Have you seen their fantasy playoff schedule? From Weeks 14 through 16 they host New England, at Minnesota, and host Jacksonville. You may want to think about trading Drake before the playoffs start to maximize return. Here are some other tidbits I found while researching the Dolphins:
- During the 2016 season, Ryan Tannehill had a 72.4% completion percentage on play action passes, good for 4th in the league. His 7.9 yards per attempt on such passes ranked 22nd.
- Kenyan Drake led the league in yards after first contact in 2017 with 4.29 per attempt.
- Drake was the “3rd down back” on 15.4% of the Dolphins passing plays. He allowed only one sack.
- His backup, newly signed Frank Gore, was on the field for 25.5% of the Colts passing downs. He too allowed only one sack.
- Gore hasn’t missed a game since 2011, 7 straight seasons. Those were his age 28-34 seasons.
- In 2017, DeVante Parker had 4 drops while catching passes from Jay Cutler. In 2016, Parker had 1 drop while catching passes from Tannehill.
- Kenny Stills has a career average of 16.1 yards per reception, which ranks 2nd to DeSean Jackson among WRs with more than 3,000 receiving yards since 2013.
- During the 2016, Kenny Stills had 9 receptions on passes that travelled more than 20 yards down field. Of those 9 catches, 8 went for TDs. Stills had a career high 9 TDs that year.
|8||10/25 (Thurs)||@ HOU|
|11||** BYE WEEK **|