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2015 Team Report: Miami Dolphins


Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Backup(s): Matt Moore, McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Starting QB: This is the most critical season of Ryan Tannehill career. While the Dolphins just signed him to a 6-year, $96 million contract extension, it's really a 2-3 year contract so he still needs to prove himself if he wants to see anything close to all of it. While Tannehill has improved at least a little every year, his deep ball continues to be an issue and he still has a tendency to hold the ball too long. As it was last season, in order for the Dolphins to take the next step, Tannehill has to do that as well. There are zero excuses For Tannehill this season, given the weapons he has at receiver, which now include veterans Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills as well as rookie DeVante Parker. The team also added tight end Jordan Cameron from the Cleveland Browns. The talent is there for Tannehill to throw to. It will also help him to have Branden Albert back at 100 percent at left tackle. Losing him was a huge problem for the line in 2014, with the net effect being a season of shuffling the offensive line around, which resulted in Pro Football Focus ranking them as the worst line in football last season, responsible for a staggering 210 sacks, hits and hurries. Again, some of that was on Tannehill, who can hold the ball too long, but some of it was also on the line. A healthier line with another year of experience for some of the younger guys will only help Tannehill.

Backup QB: Matt Moore is a serviceable backup with enough starting experience to avoid a drop-off in production if he has to step in due to a Tannehill injury. McLeod Bethel-Thompson has bounced around the NFL and the Arena Football League since 2011 and has never appeared in a regular season game and is a long-shot to make the team. Josh Freeman was cut from the team just prior to the beginning of training camp.

Running Backs

Starter: Lamar Miller
Backup(s): Damien Williams, LaMichael James, Mike Gillislee, Jay Ajayi [R]

Starting RB: Lamar Miller had career numbers in 2014, totaling 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, while also adding 38 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown through the air. He averaged 5.09 yards per carry as well, though he appeared to wear down later in games. The team seemed to think he might not be able to carry the full load as well, never giving him more than 19 carries—he averaged just 13.5 per game and his two 19 carry games happened in the last two weeks of the season. Miller added weight this past offseason (he was reported to be at 225 by the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley), and one would imagine he did that so he can keep up his strength at the end of a game. Miller is in the final year of his rookie contract, so he is incentivized to have a second great season.

Backup RBs: Damien Williams was praised by Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey at the 2015 Senior Bowl, but he could feel a push for his spot at No. 2. Williams worked hard on special teams and in a third-down role last season, and his speed and burst were on display during the moments he was on the field. He's an intriguing player who went undrafted because of massive off-field red flags, but so far it doesn't seem to have been an issue in Miami. That said, the Dolphins drafted Jay Ajayi in part to push guys like Williams. Ajayi dropped to the fifth round because of some real concerns about his knee, specifically an ACL tear in 2011 which destroyed the cartilage around it. He reportedly had an impressive minicamp (per Beasley again) and has the overall skills to be a three-down back if his leg holds up. He could easily supplant Williams as the No. 2, and should at worst end up as the third back otherwise. LaMichael James is a change-of-pace back who could get pushed aside if Williams and Ajayi both play well in camp, though the team could keep him around as cheap depth and help as a kick returner. The odd man out here is probably Mike Gillislee, who sat out last year with a hamstring injury and didn't impress in 2013. Gillislee was a fluid, athletic runner in college and was excellent protecting the quarterback as well, but he has yet to show he can do it at the pro level.


Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, Jarvis Landry
Backups: Rishard Matthews, DeVante Parker (rookie), Matt Hazel, Michael Preston, Tyler McDonald, LaRon Byrd, Nigel King [R], Christion Jones [R], Damarr Aultman [R]

Starting WRs: The Miami Dolphins clearly wanted to give quarterback Ryan Tannehill as much support as they could this season, and went out to grab two veteran receivers to balance out the youth in the rest of the group and trading Mike Wallace, who was never happy in Miami. Greg Jennings signed a two-year, $8 million contract ($3 million signing bonus) so he's probably going to see a lot of action. Unlike in Minnesota with the Vikings where the bulk of his snaps came out of the slot, he will get more outside routes. That means he'll probably get a few less opportunities, though his yards per catch might go up a little. Kenny Stills might be a veteran, but at 23 years old, he's still young. Traded by the New Orleans Saints to the Dolphins in March, Stills is very reliable (78 percent catch rate in 2014) and a very nice deep threat, but the Saints had him doing much more than that and you can expect the Dolphins to line him up in several spots. After a very good rookie season, Jarvis Landry seems poised for a big 2015, though his numbers might not be what they could have been with both Jennings and Stills in the house. Working mostly out of the slot, Landry was second in targets to the departed Mike Wallace with 112 and he led the team in receptions with 84. He could easily top that this coming season, as Tannehill likes to hit the slot receiver.

Backup WRs: There's a lot of depth behind the starters, but one guy isn't all that happy with the offseason moves. Rishard Matthews has asked to be traded or released. Matthews was supposed to be the up and coming slot guy, but he's never really proven he can handle the role, which is why Jarvis Landry was drafted. The last straw seemed to be the drafting of DeVante Parker with the 14th pick in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. Parker is a big-bodied receiver who attacks the ball in the air with his height and arm-length. He doesn't always snag the ball cleanly when a cornerback is there to challenge him, and he can struggle against more physical corners, but he can also produce some explosive plays. Unfortunately, Parker underwent foot surgery to start June, and could miss all of training camp as well as OTAs. That could retard his development and chances to have a serious impact during his rookie season. If Matthews gets released, it could help Matt Hazel stay on the roster. Yet another slot receiver, Hazel is a good route-runner with good hands who can also produce on special teams. Michael Preston is an interesting player. A tall, rangy athlete, he could be a red-zone scoring threat but the fact that he was out of football last season tells you he needs more work. If he can have a good camp, he could stick though. Tyler McDonald was signed to a futures/reserve contract in January. He has decent speed and fairly good hands, and was a productive player for South Carolina State. He was originally with the New England Patriots, but they cut him after five days to make room for Greg Orton. LaRon Byrd has bounced around the NFL since 2012 because while he has the size and speed, he doesn't use either thing on the field. The undrafted free agents at the bottom of the receiving depth chart are a mixed bag. Damarr Aultman was very productive at Maine, had an insane Pro Day and can return kicks, but at 5'11" he's a bit short for an every down role and he could struggle against NFL corners. Christion Jones is nothing but a special teams guy, but can return punts as well as kickoffs. And Nigel King is a longshot to have an impact because while he has speed and athleticism, he produced very little at Kansas and appears very raw.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jordan Cameron
Backups: Dion Sims, Gerell Robinson, Arthur Lynch, Jake Stoneburner, Tim Semisch [R] , Dustin Keller, Charles Clay (FB) (inj), Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller Dion Sims TE Michigan State, rookie

The Dolphins picked up Jordan Cameron to get a playmaker at tight end, but there are questions about whether he can stay injury free, especially after concussion issues in three seasons. He is a tremendous tight end, a guy who can stretch the field and make highlight reel grabs, but he needs to stay healthy to do it. Dion Sims started out as more of an in-line tight end, a guy who could block well but also catch the ball. He looked good when Charles Clay was hurt last season, but he's more of a blocker. Gerrell Robinson was on the practice squad in Denver, then signed by Cleveland, who didn't really do much with him. Originally a wide receiver, the Broncos moved him to tight end as a backup to Julius Thomas, but he hasn't shown a ton yet. If Robinson is only a pass catcher, Arthur Lynch is his opposite number because he can block, but can't separate or catch. Jake Stoneburner can play wide receiver or tight end, but never produced much at Ohio State. He had a cup of coffee with the Packers in 2013 before ending up on the Miami practice squad last season. He's an OK player, but nothing special.

Place Kicker

Caleb Sturgis, Andrew Franks [R]: Sturgis had a good season by typical fantasy standards, finishing 11th in total points and tied for third in field goal attempts, but his 78.4% accuracy was among the worst rates posted by full-time kickers. He was also only 9 of 16 from 40 yards or longer. Sturgis wasn't stellar in 2013, either, so don't be shocked if UDFA Andrew Franks gives Sturgis a run for his money in training camp. Franks will get a chance to have a headstart on Sturgis with the veteran out until training camp with a leg injury. Avoid Sturgis in early drafts, just in case he can't hang onto it this summer.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Damien Williams, Jarvis Landry

Jarvis Landry finished 5th in the league after taking over for Marcus Thigpen on kickoff returns in 2014. Though the Dolphins went with LaMichael James early in the season, a fumbled kickoff in Week 1 was enough to prompt his release. After briefly using Raheem Mostert, Miami went back to Jarvis Landry briefly and then gave the return job to Damien Williams. The situation remains fluid enough it could switch back to Landry at any time.

Punt Returners: Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews

Jarvis Landry's college resume was lacking when it came to the return game, but he gave the team reason to name him as a returner with explosive returns during training camp last season. During the season he was kept more bottled up, with a return average that placed him around the middle of the league. Though LaMichael James started the season as the primary returner, he was cut.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Braden Albert, LG Dallas Thomas, C Mike Pouncey, RG Billy Turner, RT JaWuan James
Key Backups: T Jason Fox, G Jeff Linkenbach, C J.D. Walton, T Donald Hawkins, G Jacques McClendon, G Jamil Douglas [R], C Sam Brenner

The Dolphins' line receives a huge upgrade from the end of last season, primarily because of the return of left tackle Branden Albert. Albert was having an excellent 2014 season before tearing both his ACL and MCL in week ten. Albert is a well above average left tackle in this league and his return greatly increases the pass protection for Ryan Tannehill. Tackle Ju'Wuan James was subbing for Albert at left tackle at the end of last season, and will be able to slide back to his more natural right tackle position for this season. James played admirably at both positions. Another high quality player on the Dolphins' line is center Mike Pouncey. The two time Pro Bowl player was actually at guard last year, but should improve with a move back to his more natural center position. The team extended Pouncey's contract this offseason, making him the highest paid center in the league. At the guard spot, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner are penciled into start. Thomas had an up and down year and Turner only played week seventeen, at right tackle. Neither are amazing players but both are relatively young and the team plans on them improving with time. Should the Dolphins need further options, they signed Jason Fox and Jeff Linkenbach as a swing tackle options, and drafted Jamil Douglas as a possible competitor with Thomas at left guard. Fox is a former UM star and Linkenbach has started a bunch of games over the last few seasons for the Colts and the Chiefs. Neither player should be overlooked as viable option in the lineup, should the young guards not pan out. This line has two borderline elite players at left tackle and center, and an above average right tackle. It's important to have quality at these key positions, and as a result the team is a mid-tier unit with upside to be ranked higher as the guard situation settles and the overall cohesion improves. In the long term this is a fairly young line and could have their best football in front of them.

Team Defense

The Dolphins D/ST faded in the second half of the season, but they were strong in the first half of the 2014 campaign, posting at least six sacks+takeaways in six of their first eight games. They finished in the middle third of the league in almost all key D/ST categories, including yards and points allowed, but the Dolphins do sport one of the best DE combos in the league with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, and the addition of Ndamukong Suh should only help them find the quarterback more often. Suh is a dominant force and could push the Dolphins well into the everyweek startable D/ST category. At the very least, you'll want to give them a long look when they face the weaker QBs of the AFC South, NFC East, and their own division. With an opening slate of Robert Griffin III, Blake Bortles, Matt Cassel, and whomever the Jets trot out there, the Dolphins are certainly one of the D/STs worth a pick before the last round of your fantasy draft.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Cameron Wake, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Earl Mitchell, DE Olivier Vernon
Backups: DE Derrick Shelby, DT Jordan Phillips (R), DT Anthony Johnson, DT Kamal Johnson, DT A.J. Francis

Starting DL: The Dolphins made one of the biggest free agency splashes in the league this year when they signed Ndamukong Suh to a record 6-year, $114 million contract, which made him the highest-paid non-QB in the league. He's clearly an elite player, but that's a huge portion of their cap to tie up on one interior defensive lineman. Nevertheless, his presence should make things much easier for Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the outside. Wake is still a very effective pass rusher at 33 years of age, but his production has slipped a bit so we'll see how much he has left. Vernon broke out in 2013 before slipping a bit last year, but at 24 years old he still has a chance to become an impact player. Earl Mitchell is expected to start after serving mainly as a backup a year ago, but he has plenty of experience from his time in Houston.

Backup DL: The Dolphins will be without the services of former #3 overall pick Dion Jordan, who was given a year long suspension for violating the league's drug policy. He's failed 3 tests for banned substances in the past year, and is looking like a certain bust at this point given how little he's contributed as a pro. Derrick Shelby was signed as an undrafted free agent and has developed into a valuable backup, especially given what happened with Jordan. Inside, the Dolphins have some young players who will compete for playing time in training camp following the release of Randy Starks and defection of Jared Odrick to the Jaguars. Jordan Phillips is an athletic freak, but he didn't produce much in college and has a history of back problems so he could be a boom or bust pick. Anthony Johnson, AJ Francis, and Kamal Johnson all have shown some potential, but none are proven at this point.


Starters: WLB Jelani Jenkins, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, SLB Koa Misi
Backups: OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB Jordan Tripp, OLB Chris McCain, ILB Jake Knott

Starting LBs: The emergence of Jelani Jenkins last year made Dannell Ellerbe expendable, and he was traded to the Saints during the offseason. Jenkins is an extremely productive linebacker who can make plays all over the field, although he didn't have a ton of competition at times so that might have inflated his numbers a bit. Koa Misi was a competent starter inside who can be a decent fantasy option due to his situation, but he doesn't make many big plays and would always be at risk of losing his spot to a better player. It appears that may have already happened as Miami is giving Kelvin Sheppard a long look at MLB, which would allow them to slide Misi back outside. Sheppard appears to have found a home in Miami, but his fantasy upside is likely limited.

Backup LBs: Chris McCain was an undrafted rookie who saw very limited playing time a year ago, but he could start on the strongside if the Sheppard experiment doesn't work out. Spencer Paysinger has starting experience during his time with the Giants and he'll provide some much needed depth. Jordan Tripp also figures to be in the mix for playing time, but his contributions will probably come mostly on special teams. Jake Knott also provides some depth inside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Brent Grimes, SS Reshad Jones, FS Walt Aikens, CB Jamar Taylor,
Backups: CB Will Davis, CB Zack Bowman, CB Brice McCain, CB Bobby McCain (R), S Jordan Kovacs, S Ced Thompson (R)

Starting DBs: Brent Grimes doesn't have ideal size to play corner against the league's bigger receivers, but he battles hard and gets the most out of his abilities. Reshad Jones has established himself as a leader in the secondary and a core player for the Dolphins defense. He has posted at least 70 solo tackles for 3 years in a row, including 2014 when he missed the first four games due to a suspension. He was supposed to be joined at safety by Louis Delmas, but his bad luck with injuries continued as he suffered a torn ACL in training camp. He'll be replaced by Walt Aikens, a corner who was converted to safety who has ideal size and solid cover skills. The Dolphins released Cortland Finnegan and are in search of a second starting corner. Jamar Taylor, a 2nd round pick in the 2013 draft, has not shown much as of yet but appears to be the favorite to start.

Backup DBs: Will Davis has plenty of experience, but he's probably better suited to a nickel back role. Zack Bowman has starting experience with the Bears and Giants, and should compete for playing time here as well. Brice McCain was signed from the Texans, and figures to contribute primarily in subpackages. Bobby McCain was a 5th round pick who also looks better suited to play in the slot due to his lack of height. Jordan Kovacs has spent time on the practice squad the past couple seasons and will try to earn a roster spot in camp. Ced Thompson is an impressive athlete with the cover skills to match up against tight ends.

Last modified: 2015-10-20 01:39:48