The Chan Gailey Effect: The 2020 Miami Dolphins Offense

By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

We knew last year for the Miami Dolphins would be tough sledding. They traded away any player of note to load up on draft picks — three firsts in 2020 and two in 2021- and rebuild what has been a middling franchise for the better part of two decades. Many pundits pegged them to win only one game, at best, in 2019, en route to the number one overall pick in the 2020 Draft and successfully #TankForTua.

By this point, we know how the draft went– they ended up picking 5th and Tua Tagovailoa fell into their laps; they secured not one, but two stud offensive linemen (OT Austin Jackson and OT/OG Robert Hunt) within their next three picks; and added some key pieces to their defense to go with their calculated haul of defenders signed during free agency. The under-the-radar move occurred just after the season: after persuading former Patriots Wide Receivers coach Chad O’Shea to Miami to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2019, Head Coach Brian Flores decided to part ways with the young play caller heading into 2020. Flores’ next move then came as a surprise to some– he lured Chan Gailey out of retirement to be the team’s new offensive coordinator.

Many pundits talk about Gailey as something of an offensive innovator in his ability to incorporate spread concepts and scheme to get his best players the football. (While with the Jets in 2015 and 2016, Gailey ran three wide receiver sets 89% and 86% of the time and four wide receiver sets 51% and 46% of the time.) He’s landed a couple of head coaching gigs throughout his career in the pros, and bounced back and forth from the college game. But over the last two decades as an offensive play-caller in the NFL, Gailey’s had exactly one offense land in the top 10 in total offense — the 2015 New York Jets, led by current Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

New Dolphins OC Chan Gailey’s relationship with current Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick goes all the way back a decade when Gailey was the HC with the Buffalo Bills and Fitzpatrick was the team’s starting QB. (Photo from miami.cbslocal.com)

Gailey’s spotty history as a play-caller notwithstanding, the correlations from season to season when looking at player results gives us an idea of what we can look forward to in Miami with several talented playmakers on offense.

I dug up some data as far back as 2008 when Gailey was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs (stats are from Pro Football Focus), and one thing Gailey has always had was an X receiver he’s consistently fed targets to. (And let me tell you, there are some fantasy studs from yesteryear from these offenses.)

Gailey’s two greatest weapons on that ‘08 team (that went 2-14, I might add) were future Hall-of-Fame TE Tony Gonzalez and 2nd year receiver Dwayne Bowe. Bowe led the team with 155 targets, but Gonzalez wasn’t far behind him with 150. Both players topped 1,000 receiving yards– Gonzalez with 1,066 and 10 TDs and Bowe with 1,022 and 7 TDs. Bowe finished as WR17 and Gonzalez finished as TE1, almost 60 fantasy points more than the TE2, Jason Witten. The next closest in total targets on the Chiefs was Mark Bradley (remember him?) with 60 targets.

Gonzalez, as a TE, ran 79.1% of his routes from the slot. We know he was once the preeminent TE in the NFL (and in Fantasy), but even that number feels high. Because it kind of is. Only five TEs in 2019 ran more than 60% of their snaps from the slot, four TEs eclipsed that threshold in 2018, and seven in 2017. (Fun fact: not one of the 60%+ TEs was the TE1 in Fantasy those years. That title belonged to Travis Kelce.) But it created a ton of mismatches and led to 839 yards on 74 targets from the slot. With Gonzalez working the slot, Bowe was free to work outside. In fact, only 10.4% of Bowe’s snaps resulted in routes run from the slot. He was also the teams primary deep threat, with 25 targets more than 20 yards downfield (even if it resulted in only 5 catches).

Looking at the running backs, this was the twilight of Larry Johnson’s run. He split time with a rookie who went on to have a pretty damn good career (Jamaal Charles), but in the 12 games Johnson did play, he managed 874 yards and 5 touchdowns (RB35). Charles wasn’t any better, finishing as RB54 with 629 total yards and 1 touchdown. The reason they only won two games? Tyler Thigpen was their QB. But hey, he made Bowe a top 20 WR and Gonzalez the TE1, so he did something right.

TE Tony Gonzalez already had a HOF resume before Chan Gailey was calling plays in 2008. His 150 targets that year could be a prelude of things to come for Miami’s 3rd year TE, Mike Gesicki. (Photo from http://www.chiefs.com)

Gailey’s next stop was in Buffalo as the head coach of the Bills from 2010 to 2012. His first round pick in the 2010 draft was Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. Fitzpatrick was his QB, Stevie Johnson his number 1 WR, and the immortal Fred Jackson was still hanging around. Over those three years, Fitzpatrick threw for 3,000 yards, 3,834 yards, and 3,400 yards but never more than 24 touchdowns in a season. He also threw 55 INTs over the three years. Johnson never had fewer than 132 targets between 2010 and 2012 (Fantasy finishes of WR9, WR18, and WR19) and topped 1,000 yards every season. Spiller’s breakout came in 2012 when he averaged six yards a carry and ran for 1,244 yards. TE Scott Chandler wasn’t featured prominently until 2011, but had two straight years over 10 yards per reception and had 70 targets in 2012 (TE14).

Johnson ran predominantly outside, with no more than 24.7% of his routes coming from the slot. Even the RBs, on their pass routes, were usually around the 20% mark. WR David Nelson was the primary slot receiver in 2011 and ran 89.5% of his routes there, totaling 622 yards and 3 TDs. TE Scott Chandler was in the slot 59.6% of the time in 2011, and 72.9% in 2012. 

In 2015 and 2016, Gailey was the Offensive Coordinator for the Jets under Head Coach Todd Bowles. Once again, Ryan Fitpatrick was his quarterback. While he didn’t have a prominent TE to work with, he had two stud receivers– Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Both topped 125 targets in 2015 (Marshall had 167) and both topped 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. RB Chris Ivory rushed for more than 1,000 yards and RB Bilal Powell had 47 receptions. The rails fell off in 2016 when Decker played only one game, and Marshall and (free agent signee) Matt Forte showed their age.

Jets’ WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker packed quite the punch in 2015, combining for almost 300 targets and compiling over 2,000 yards and 20 TDs. (Photo from http://www.foxsports.com)

Those are the surface numbers. Looking a little deeper, what I found was a dominant X receiver who runs in the slot on maybe 20% of their routes just for mismatches (and touchdowns), a split backfield where both RBs contribute in the passing game (even if one is better at it), and that if there is an athletic TE on the roster, he’s going to run a ton of snaps from the slot (between 50% and 70%) to take advantage of mismatches on linebackers and slot corners.

I doubt the reason Flores talked Gailey into becoming his OC was because Fitzpatrick is his quarterback. The plan was always to identify a young quarterback sooner rather than later that could lead this franchise for at least the next ten years, and hopefully longer. Gailey’s job is to work to develop that young quarterback and let Fitzpatrick lead an offense he already knows well.

Miami has some good young playmakers on their roster in wide receivers DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, and tight end Mike Gesicki. They signed RB Jordan Howard in free agency and traded for RB Matt Breida during the NFL Draft. I think it’s safe to assume Parker will be the team’s primary X receiver with Williams the Z. Both Parker and Williams can move inside to take advantage of smaller corners (Parker is 6’3”, Williams is 6’5”), leaving holdover Albert Wilson as the primary slot weapon (79.7% of his routes were in the slot in 2019). Gesicki is a mismatch waiting to happen– he’s 6’6” with 4.54 speed. Last year, he was in the slot 71.8% of his routes so he’ll have no issue translating to what Gailey likely has planned.

Could DeVante Parker and 2nd year man Preston Williams be the 2020 version of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker? Chan Gailey has to be salivating at the potential these two offer, especially after Parker’s big breakout in 2019. (Photo from phinphanatic.com)

If we apply some of the logic deciphered from above, it’s likely that Miami’s weapons are headed for something like this (and where their finishes would have been if going by 2019 totals):

Fitzpatrick: 61% completion, 3,864 yards, 25 TDs, 16 INTs (QB16)

Parker: 140 targets, 81 receptions, 1,199 yards, 8 TDs (WR6)

Williams: 92 targets, 52 receptions, 728 yards, 5 TDs (WR40)

Gesicki: 93 targets, 59 receptions, 649 yards, 6 TDs (TE7)

Wilson: 58 targets, 39 receptions, 417 yards, 2 TDs (WR71)

Howard: 247 rushes, 1,062 yards, 7 TDs; 42 targets, 29 receptions, 209 yards, 1 TD (RB15)

Breida: 116 rushes, 592 yards, 3 TDs; 56 targets, 45 receptions, 369 yards, 2 TDs (RB22)

For an offense that was 27th in the league a year ago, they have the potential to produce some worthy fantasy options, likely at bargain basement prices due to low ADPs. Gailey’s offenses have produced similar results throughout the years, so it’s not too far-fetched to think the 2020 Dolphins will be any different, especially with Miami’s moves to improve a disastrous offensive line. The Chan Gailey Effect is currently in motion in Miami, so get your assets before their ADPs rise and they’re no longer considered a value.