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2017 Team Report: Miami Dolphins

Offensive Philosophy

One of the rare coaches who marries his scheme to his talent rather than his talent to his scheme, when Gase found himself with a surprise workhorse in Jay Ajayi he took advantage, crafting a run-heavy gameplan that led to Ajayi becoming the fourth player in history to top 200 yards rushing three times in a season. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill perennially stuck in neutral, don't be surprised if the Dolphins continue to play to their strengths in 2017.


Starter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill (inj)

Starting QB: The Dolphins have signed Jay Cutler to a one year contract, which means Ryan Tannehill is likely done for the year. Cutler is a great fit for this offense and had one of his best years in 2015 under Adam Gase, including his second-highest completion rate (64%) and second-lowest interception rate (2.3%). Once he gets his timing down with the new receivers and gets back into game shape, Cutler should look good in this offense and keep it moving. He has excellent weapons to work with and a better offensive line than he ever had in Chicago. The arrow is pointing up here.

Backup QB: Matt Moore is a decent backup who can step into a starting role and manage a team to some regular season wins but needs a lot of help to succeed against better teams in the playoffs. Even though Moore threw for 289 yards and a touchdown (with one interception), Moore did a lot of his damage when the game was well in the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's also not a guy who can overcome the offensive line issues the team had last season. Brandon Doughty was a seventh round selection in 2016, initially made the team only to be cut almost immediately thereafter and was on the practice squad for the season. Doughty is a smart, efficient quarterback who is average at best in nearly every athletic measurable. **Update on Tannehill** With Jay Cutler arriving, it's safe to assume Tannehill is done for most, if not all, the season. What does this mean for his future? It's hard to say, and depends on what is really happening with this injury. We'll wait for details on surgery, rehab and other things but adding Cutler means the injury is likely as bad as we expected.

Running Backs

Starter: Jay Ajayi
Backup(s): Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Senorise Perry

Starting RB: It was quite the roller coaster for Jay Ajayi last season, as he wasn't even allowed to travel with the team for the opening weekend's game against Seattle, in part because he was not putting the work in. When he finally got back in the lineup it took a few weeks and then he put up three 100-plus weeks in a row, two of which were 200 yard efforts. He would reach 200 a third time in Week 16, but otherwise he went six straight weeks without reaching 100 yards on the ground, while reaching the end zone just once. It was feast or famine for Ajayi, whose overall production was bolstered by the big games, allowing people to miss all the weaker efforts. Part of his issue was the offensive line woes the team had, as they were forced to move guys around multiple times due to injury. Hopefully there will be more stability, which can only help him. The same can be said for the planned increased focus on involving Ajayi as a receiver out of the backfield. He was a good receiver in college and there is no reason to believe he cannot do the same at the pro level.

Backup RBs: Damien Williams is the number two back. The team has talked about involving Kenyan Drake more this season, and Williams hasn't been so good that he can allow Drake to show off when he's not there. Of course, Drake hasn't exactly lit the world on fire yet, having only touched the ball 42 times as a rookie. Drake has the potential to be an explosive option out of the backfield, but has had health issues and will have to prove he's past that to grab Williams' spot. Storm Johnson has yet to show much of anything since getting selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He most recently was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after having been out of the league in 2015 but was cut at the start of the 2016 season. Johnson was known for good vision and an aggressive running style, but those collegiate traits have yet to translate to the NFL. De'Veon Smith was an UDFA, and is a long shot to make the team. He runs hard but isn't very athletic, doesn't have much speed and isn't a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.


Wide Receivers

Starters: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker
Backups: Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant

Starting WRs: It's a contract year for Jarvis Landry, which often bodes well for production. Coming off two 1,000 yard receiving seasons, Landry will be heavily involved in the offense, although he did see his targets drop last season by 36 (from 167 in 2015 to 131 in 2016). His yards per reception went up from 10.4 to 12.1, though, helping make up the difference somewhat. One thing which remains frustratingly consistent is the lack of touchdowns. Landry has scored just 13 touchdowns over three years and for a player as dynamic as Landry is, it's a disappointment. Changing from Ryan Tannehill to Jay Cutler isn't a big worry for him. It isn't for Devante Parker either. If Parker has the "gigantic year" offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen predicts for 2017, that could help Landry by pulling defenses off him. However we heard that promise in 2016 as well and while Parker saw a steep increase in targets (from 50 to 88), receptions (from 26 to 56) and yards (494 to 744) there were far too many games where he was invisible. In fact, he only topped 100 yards twice and was under 50 yards eight times. Like Landry, he also rarely saw the end zone, with just four scores to his name.

Backup WRs: The Dolphins resigned Kenny Stills with a 4-year, $32 million contract and he will not only serve as Miami's primary outside receiver, but likely push DeVante Parker for playing time. It doesn't bode well for Leonte Carroo either, though like everyone else in the group the Dolphins swear they expect a great 2017 from the second year player. Carroo ended the season as a healthy scratch and there has been some talk that his work ethic is lacking. While a polished receiver coming out of Rutgers who people thought could have an impact his first year, Carroo is just not consistent enough for the Dolphins to trust. By the end of the last year, he was even passed by Rashawn Scott on the depth chart. Scott is a sharp route runner who finds ways to get open against coverage despite not having a lot going on athletically. Jakeem Grant is the final veteran of the group, though he struggled in his rookie season and is largely a special teams guy. Even that is not a sure bet as he had problems holding onto the ball on punts last season. The Dolphins moved up to grab rookie Isaiah Ford, which is notable even in the seventh round. Ford shows good speed and is sudden off the line, but he's got a slim build and may not be able to take a NFL pounding. The last group of receivers are all UDFAs. Damore'ea Stringfellow is a big-bodied receiver who will go after the ball but struggles in his routes and has little speed. Drew Morgan can work the outside or play slot, but struggles with more physical defenders. Francis Owusu is likely in camp as a warm body and for the Dolphins to kick the tires on a guy who flashed great speed and a 39 inch vertical at his pro day, but has almost no tape to see having caught just 34 passes at Stanford. Malcolm Lewis is a hard worker who is likely to have to survive by special teams play.

Tight Ends

Starters: Julius Thomas
Backups: Anthony Fasano. MarQueis Gray

Trading with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Julius Thomas was a win-win for both sides. For the Jaguars, they were able to offload a contract with an underperforming tight end while the Dolphins get what they hope will be the dynamic move tight end they've been searching for. It made sense for the Dolphins as Thomas' best years were in Denver with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. If Gase can recapture that, it could help new quarterback Jay Cutler a big weapon to lean on as the Dolphins try to catch the New England Patriots. While no one tight end topped 500 yards in Chicago in 2015 - when Gase and Cutler were last together - two tight ends hit 439 yards. That could bode well for Thomas. In Denver, Thomas had back to back 12 touchdown seasons, so expect the Dolphins to try and work Thomas in the red zone. A great blocking tight end, Anthony Fasano can catch the ball if you need him to, although it's not his primary role or focus. MarQueis Gray is mostly a blocker as well, and it will be interesting to see if they keep both players for what is essentially the same exact role. Thomas Duarte was on the practice squad most of last season, and works more as a slot-receiver type than a pure tight end. Chris Pantale is a camp body who has been knocking around the NFL since 2013 but mostly has been on a practice squad here or there. It's unlikely he has an impact here.

Place Kicker

Cody Parkey: 2016 was a bad year for Andrew Franks, getting only 21 attempts and converting only 16 of them. He missed two kicks from under 29 yards, but the team did not sign or draft a kicker in the offseason and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi expressed confidence in Franks based on how he finished the season. Still, if Franks struggles in camp, the team could look to sign a veteran or late cut from another team. No matter how it ends up, with Franks only attempting 37 field goals in the last two years and not being very accurate in limited duty, he's a bottom of the barrel option in fantasy leagues.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jakeem Grant, Kenyan Drake

With both of last year's principal kickoff returners young, healthy, and likely to make the roster, Miami's return game in 2017 should look much the same as it did in 2016.

Punt Returners: Jakeem Grant, Jarvis Landry

Miami's coaches spoke often last offseason about reducing dynamic returner Jarvis Landry's special teams workload to keep him fresher for offense, and we saw that play out in 2016 with rookie Jakeem Grant splitting duties. With a year of experience, expect him to push even harder for a clearer lead in the split.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Anthony Steen, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jermon Bushrod, RT JaWuan James
Key Backups: Ted Larsen, Sam Young, Isaac Asiata [R], Kraig Urbik, Jesse Davis, Eric Smith, Jake Brendel

The Dolphins' offensive line will go as far as center Mike Pouncey takes it. Pouncey is the team's best lineman but has had chronic hip injuries over the years. If Pouncey can stay in the lineup, he has Pro Bowl potential. The tackles (left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle JaWuan James) are young bookends, and Tunsil especially is an ascending player to watch. Right guard is fairly stable with Jermon Bushrod doing a good job last season. Left guard is a free for all between Anthony Steen, Ted Larsen and rookie Isaac Asiata. Steen is most likely to start but the coaches are not scared to rotate players through a position if they are unhappy with the starter. The Dolphins are up against the cap so another addition seems unlikely. Overall this Dolphins' line is right on the cusp of top tier and they can be among the best if Pouncey stays healthy.

Team Defense

The Dolphins D/ST gets little respect in the fantasy world. They finished in the 10-12 range in most formats, finishing in the top five in combined interceptions and forced fumbles. Cameron Wake was slow to come on, but he is back in top form, earning an offseason contract from the team. They traded for William Hayes and drafted refined edge rusher Charles Harris in the first round. Combine that with Ndamukong Suh inside and the Dolphins have one of the best pass rush defensive lines in the league. Miami kept Kiko Alonso and signed Lawrence Timmons as key linebackers, and drafted Raekwon McMillan in the second round to provide a future (and maybe present) reinforcement. Outstanding safety Reshad Jones was also signed to an extension after only playing six games last year, so lots of arrows are pointing in the right direction for this unit. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph left to head up the Broncos, but linebacker coach Matt Burke should provide continuity. The team also had two return touchdowns on special teams last year, so there are lots of reasons to target them as potential top ten D/ST available well outside of that range in drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Cameron Wake, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Jordan Phillips, DE William Hayes
Backups: DE Andre Branch, DE Charles Harris [R], DE Terrence Fede, DT Vincent Taylor, DT Davon Godchaux

Starting DL: Cameron Wake is 35 years old, but also coming off a 12-sack season. While not a liability against the run, his main focus is rushing the passer and his low tackle numbers tend to limit his fantasy value to a DE2 level in most leagues. Ndamukong Suh returned to the elite level in his second year with the Dolphins as he collected 72 combined tackles and 5 sacks. Facing a heavy dose of double teams, Suh has failed to replicate his 10 sack rookie season but he's still an elite player at a shallow position. Jordan Phillips is the favorite to start at the other tackle spot, but he's been inconsistent and will need to show improvement to hold onto the job. William Hayes was acquired via trade from the Rams this offseason, and should provide a boost to the league's 3rd worst run defense.

Backup DL: Andre Branch took over midway through the 2016 season when it became clear that Mario Williams had nothing to contribute. He gives full effort and is a solid player, but has limited upside as a pass rusher or fantasy option. The Dolphins added some youth to this group with the selection of Charles Harris in the first round, who brings an explosive first step but needs to develop his all-around game. Terrence Fede and Nick Williams offer depth, but that's about it. Davon Godchaux is a rookie 5th round pick who looks like he could potentially start after a strong camp.


Starters: WLB Kiko Alonso, MLB Lawrence Timmons, SLB Mike Hull
Backups: Chase Allen, Justin March-Lillard, Rey Maualuga

Starting LBs: Kiko Alonso was the only productive Dolphins linebacker last year as he held down the MLB spot. They struggled to stop the run, however, so the team will bump him outside to make room for Lawrence Timmons. Both players figure to be 3-down options and should therefore have plenty of tackle opportunities, but Timmons is likely the better fantasy option as he's been very consistently productive throughout his career in Pittsburgh. Second-round pick Raekwon McMillan as well as veteran Koa Misi were both lost to season-ending injuries so that leaves a huge hole in the starting lineup. An unproven Mike Hull is the leading candidate to start.

Backup LBs: Trevor Reilly and Lamin Barrow also could be in the mix to play soon after the Dolphins linebacker depth was depleted in the preseason and camp.

Defensive Backs

Starters: S Reshad Jones, S Nate Allen, CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Maxwell
Backups: CB Cordrea Tankersley [R], CB Bobby McCain, S T.J. McDonald (susp), S Michael Thomas, S Maurice Smith, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Walt Aikens, CB Torry McAyer

Starting DBs: Reshad Jones is an elite safety who has been one of the few bright spots in this group over the years. He went over 100 solo tackles with 5 interceptions in 2015 and was on a strong pace in 2016 before a shoulder injury landed him on I.R. Nate Allen had some success early in his career with the Eagles, but didn't show much as a backup during his last two years in Oakland. He's a versatile player who can help stabilize the secondary, but may not have a lock on a starting spot. Xavien Howard was a 2nd round pick last year who wound up missing a lot of time to injury, but he flashed his fantasy potential with 40 tackles in just 7 games. Byron Maxwell came out of the tailspin he was in, and eventually made some legitimate contributions to the Dolphins secondary last year. The Dolphins like to use a lot of press coverage and that suits Maxwell well, as long as he can avoid taking too many interference penalties.

Backup DBs: The Dolphins lost Tony Lippett to a preseason injury that placed him on injured reserve, so that really hurt their limited depth. Cordrea Tankersley was a 3rd round pick this year who has the potential to quickly develop into a starter. Bobby McCain is a young corner who has made 8 starts in his career and figures to be an early favorite for the nickel back role. T.J. McDonald had an underwhelming season with the Rams last year, but could bring a physical presence to the Dolphins secondary after he serves his 8-game suspension. Michael Thomas has been a starter in the past, but he's probably best used as a reserve safety who can also fill in at corner in subpackages.

Last modified: 2017-09-05 12:46:29