Juggernaut Index No. 31: The Miami Dolphins
For those who aren't familiar with the Juggernaut Index, this series is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care primarily about yards and points. The Juggernaut Index is all about projected fantasy contributions — that's it, nothing else.
The Miami Dolphins did not provide us with a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 2013, nor a top-24 wide receiver, nor a top-36 running back. This year, no Miami skill player rates as a fantasy starter in the Yahoo preseason consensus ranks. It seems likely that in a great many 8-team leagues, no Dolphins will be selected on draft day.
On the basis of these facts, I can't reasonably rank this team anywhere but near the bottom of the Juggernaut Index. Apologies, 'Phins fans.
That said, I'm actually plenty interested in Miami's 2014 fantasy potential. I'm not here to bury this team. This franchise rebuilt an offensive line that was a colossal embarrassment last year, on-field and off. The team added Pro-Bowl left tackle Branden Albert via free agency, then used a first round pick on right tackle Ja'Wuan James. Mike Sherman is out as offensive coordinator, replaced by Bill Lazor, who served as Nick Foles' position coach in Philly last season.
The hope, clearly, is that third-year QB Ryan Tannehill can make something close to a Foles-ian leap under Lazor. Tannehill delivered a few big moments last season — this game-winner against New England comes to mind — and he finished the year just shy of 4,000 passing yards. But negative plays piled up at an unacceptable rate. Tannehill took a league-high 58 sacks in 2013 (not entirely his fault), he threw 17 picks and he fumbled nine times, losing five. He was also terrible on deep balls, completing just 16 of 64 attempts when targeting a receiver 20-plus yards downfield (per PFF), getting picked six times. You wouldn't think the deep numbers could possibly be so lousy with Mike Wallace in the mix, yet they were.
Early reviews of Lazor's system have certainly been promising, not that you'd expect anything else. Miami's offense should be up-tempo, diverse, balanced and less predictable, plus the enhancements to the O-line should assist Tannehill in no small way. Again, I'm interested. Tannehill has only been drafted in six percent of Yahoo leagues to date (ADP 130.2), so fantasy owners can take a wait-and-watch approach. If you play in a two-quarterback format, he's a respectable starter.
Wallace seems to have embraced Lazor's offense, which utilizes him all over the field instead of simply pinning him to the right side. He was targeted a career-high 141 times last season, but hauled in just 73 balls for 930 yards and five scores. He also had 11 drops, one of the highest totals in the league. So it was not at all times a smooth first season in Miami. Still, in a more creative and flexible system, Wallace has a shot to reclaim his Pittsburgh-era value. This is a 27-year-old with plenty of experience, talent and speed.
Five-year vet Brian Hartline actually led the 'Phins in receptions (76) and receiving yards (1,016) last season, finishing in a virtual tie with Wallace in fantasy scoring. He's posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns with Tannehill, yet he gets not much love from fantasy drafters (ADP 130.6, 14 percent owned). Hartline treats the end-zone like a level-4 biohazard area, so I suppose we can excuse the lack of enthusiasm. Rishard Matthews had his moments last season (most of them during the Tampa game), and Miami used a second-round pick on LSU's Jarvis Landry, who projects as a useful slot receiver. This team isn't starved for talent at wideout. If Brandon Gibson manages to return at full capacity — he tore his patellar tendon last October — we're looking at a deep, decent receiving corps.
Tight end Charles Clay is coming off an excellent season, and he's clearly earned the trust of his QB. Clay hauled in 69 passes last season for 759 yards and six scores, and he added another TD via the ground game. He finished his season with more fantasy points than several brand-name players at his position, including Greg Olsen, Antonio Gates and Martellus Bennett. Clay's season seems repeatable, too, so don't think of his as a lower-tier fantasy asset. If you're looking for a bargain TE, keep this guy in your plans. Clay has proven himself capable of steamrolling would-be tacklers, and he can make wideout-quality receptions as well.
The Dolphins' running game is ... well, let's just say it's under construction. An improved line is a great start, no question. The team also added Knowshon Moreno to the backfield mix in free agency, and that move isn't really looking like a win thus far. Moreno is literally the only player in the NFL who has a pile of negative offseason notes on his player page. This time of year is normally reserved for sunshine and hype, not blurbs like this...
Fitness is apparently the least of Moreno's worries, however, as he's also dealing with a knee injury of as-yet-unknown severity. And according to at least one report, the knee issue is bad. Moreno had a terrific season in Denver in 2013, taking full advantage of Peyton-focused defenses. But he's damaged goods at the moment, and he's tied to a far less threatening passing attack.
If you're drafting today and determined to own a Miami running back (both highly questionable ideas), then Lamar Miller is your guy. He was a bust last season, sure, but the team rarely ran the ball (21.8 attempts per game) and, again, line play was a serious issue. Miller has talent enough to provide RB2-ish numbers if he remains healthy and serves as the clear head of a committee. You can expect his stock to rise throughout draft season.
This team's defense was middle-of-the-pack in almost every aspect last season, purely a matchup play for fantasy owners. Think of them as stream-worthy but not ownable in 2014, too. DEs Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) and Cameron Wake (8.5) are IDPs of interest, as are LB Dannell Ellerbe and SS Reshad Jones. The schedule isn't particularly kind to Miami's defense, fantasy-wise, as the team will face both the NFC North and AFC West. You're not drafting this bunch, except in leagues of unusual size.
2013 Miami Dolphins team stats: 19.8 PPG (NFL rank 26), 247.9 pass YPG (17), 24 pass TDs (15), 90.0 rush YPG (26), 21.8 rush attempts per game (30), 37.1 pass attempts per game (10).