The Dolphins face a legitimate 'what if' scenario with Ryan Tannehill. Their quarterback injured his knee (non-contact) in training camp and the team remains in evaluation mode for Tannehill's outlook for 2017 while exploring alternate quarterback measures. Matt Moore is the in-house option and Miami is in discussions with Jay Cutler. Here are the cascading player values if Ryan Tannehill is out of the lineup in 2017:
Cutler had one of his finest seasons in 2015 under Adam Gase (now in Miami) with Chicago. Cutler had his second-highest completion rate (64%) and second-lowest interception rate (2.3%) of his career. While Cutler has oscillated around the NFL average in advanced passing metrics (per profootballreference.com) most of his career, 2015 was a notable season above baseline in the major categories with Adam Gase. Cutler is the upside option compared to Matt Moore for churning out passing production for the quality weapons in Miami. A general pause button on any Dolphins quarterback in 2017 is the track record of Gase. The run game has been a consistent element of his offenses and passing prowess has taken a back seat outside of the Peyton Manning effect during his years with Denver. Cutler would move into the 'QB2 with matchup upside' zone of fantasy quarterbacks in 2017 with a Miami signing.
Ajayi was already a buy recommendation before this 'Ryan Tannehill out for the season' projection as Adam Gase is a strong run game influence. It is worth noting Ajayi had durability concerns during the NFL Draft process, fading his stock from the Day 2 zone to mid-Day 3. Plus Ajayi sustained a concussion in camp worth monitoring for 2017. That said, Ajayi is a workhorse projection and a quarterback shift aids the upside (and floor) projections of usage for the unchallenged Ajayi on the depth chart. A quarterback change late in the process condenses the comfort in a wide-open aerial attack, especially if Jay Cutler is signed in August. Despite the familiarity with the system, the learning curve for the 2017 Miami iteration is present. Ajayi becomes a no-brainer selection in the top-15 of drafts leading up to the season and a worthwhile consideration in late Round 1 for teams looking for a high-volume running back floor and more availability of wide receivers in the mid-rounds.
Landry is the chain-mover of the offense and a critical watch player for 2017. Landry is off to a historic career start considering his 289 receptions and 3,000+ yards over his first three seasons. However, few wide receivers have maintained a long role as primarily a slot receiver outside of catching passes from Tom Brady or Peyton Manning historically. His low touchdown rate and potential volume decline with DeVante Parker rising (plus Julius Thomas seeing more than the 35 targets accrued by de facto starter Dion Sims in 2016 at tight end) are more pressing concerns than a quarterback switch for Jarvis Landry. A projection in the low-WR2 or high-WR3 zone fits for Landry even with Jay Cutler or Matt Moore under center.
Both Matt Moore and Jay Cutler have contributed to strong seasons of Brandon Marshall in the past, Cutler for years in Denver and Chicago, while Moore paired with Marshall in 2011 with Miami for an 81-1,214-6 stat line. Parker is the option on Miami's receiver depth chart most like Marshall with his frame and ball skills down the field. Also, Jay Cutler had Alshon Jeffery in this mold in Chicago. While the passing volume would not be higher than middle-of-the-road for Miami's offense with or without Tannehill, Parker is a hold comparing his before and after projections. For true fantasy breakout achievement, Parker will need to lead (or strongly challenge) for the team lead in targets, a title which Jarvis Landry has recently held heading into 2017.
Larger than the quarterback change for Still's fantasy viability is his strong regression-worthy touchdown rate from 2016. Stills is a hold in best ball formats with his 'any week' big play possibility, but in traditional formats Stills would need a 'what if' scenario involving extended time missed by Jarvis Landry or DeVante Parker to emerge back on the typical fantasy league depth radar.
Jay Cutler projects as the likely Ryan Tannehill replacement, but Moore would be an 'add' recommendation in the QB20-32 zone if gaining the starting role. Moore has an above-baseline 1.3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio for his long-standing career of primarily spot duty. With Miami since 2011, Moore has an even more impressive 1.8-to-1 ratio. His 60% completion rate in Miami is less than ideal, but his last two long runs of opportunity included a 63% completion rate, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions in 2016 and 16 touchdown to nine interceptions with 60% completions back in 2011. There is a reason Moore has hung around the NFL for a decade - he is an ideal backup option with the upside to get a team through a stretch without their primary starter, much like the situation Miami faces this season. The best news for Moore is a foundational run game in place and a strong set of weapons with Jarvis Landry, upside projection with DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills resigned, and Julius Thomas a tight end upgrade (if healthy) over Miami's depth chart a season ago.
On the typical redraft roster depth fringe, Drake gets enough of a boost (from the run game in general for Miami) to warrant stashing as an underrated backup running back. Drake's profile dating back to recruiting days plus his Day 2 pedigree points to more upside than run-of-the-mill incumbent Damien Williams if Jay Ajayi misses time. Drake moves from fringe roster caliber to higher on the handcuff Rolodex.