Juggernaut Index, No. 25: The Miami Dolphins

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I.

And nope, I'm STILL not talking about the Rams(!)...

We can't say for certain that the Dolphins' offense actually got better during the offseason, but there's no accusing this franchise of inactivity.

Reggie Bush, Jake Long, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano are out. Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller are in. Second-year back Lamar Miller will be relied upon to replace Bush in the backfield, which should work out just fine. Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin will attempt to protect Ryan Tannehill's blindside, which could be a disaster.

So things will at least look different in Miami this year, if not significantly better. The most important variable, without question, is whether Tannehill can make a leap in his second NFL campaign.
As a rookie, Tannehill clearly demonstrated improvement in the final months of the 2012 season. In Weeks 1-10, he threw just five touchdown passes and nine interceptions; between Weeks 11-17, he passed for seven TDs and tossed just four picks. He also ran more often and more effectively in the second half. (Game log here). No, his year-end efficiency numbers didn't look anything like Russell Wilson's or RG3's, and he wasn't anywhere near Andrew Luck's neighborhood in terms of yardage. But we should at least give Tannehill credit for treading water at the highest possible level as an inexperienced 24-year-old.

It helped, of course, that Tannehill's OC in Miami was and is Mike Sherman, his former college coach. It also helps that Tannehill has all the physical tools necessary — arm strength, size, mobility — to be a successful NFL QB. You won't draft him in standard 10-teamers, but there's a decent chance we'll recommend him as an in-season matchup play. I'd like him better if I believed in his line.

The Dolphins suffered from a serious lack of talent in their receiving corps last season, a weakness addressed by the team in free agency. Mike Wallace inked a five-year, $60 million deal back in March, and the team re-signed Brian Hartline, a player coming off a 1,083-yard campaign. Miami also added receiver Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller to the mix. Gibson doesn't seriously move the needle for this offense, but Keller was an interesting add, a clear upgrade over Fasano. While in New York, Keller finished as a top-10 fantasy tight end in back-to-back seasons (2010-11) — no small feat, considering the Jets poor quarterback situation. Keller actually declined a multi-year offer from the Dolphins in favor of a one-year prove-it contract, so he's plenty motivated entering 2013.

But, again, Wallace was obviously the big-ticket offseason acquisition. His hands didn't function properly at all times last year, you'll recall, though he still finished with 836 receiving yards and eight scores. He remains one of the game's most dangerous deep threats, a player with a pair of 1,100-yard seasons to his credit. In 63 career regular season games, Wallace has accounted for 27 gains of 40-plus yards. When he's on the field, opposing defenses are stressed. Last year, the Dolphins had no such player. You'll be drafting Wallace as a WR2 in 2013, hoping he can quickly develop a connection with his new QB.

Hartline had great rapport with Tannehill last season, establishing new personal highs in catches (74), targets (131) and yards (1,083), though he somehow finished the year with only one end-zone spike. He also gained nearly 25 percent of his total receiving yardage in a single game (Week 4 at ARI), when almost no one started him in fantasy. So it was a weird year, one that earned him a more-than-generous five-year, $31 million contract. I'm expecting his yardage to dip in the season ahead, but he'll likely break the plane 4-6 times.

Now that Reggie Bush has relocated to Detroit, second-year back Lamar Miller has a clear opportunity to emerge as a must-start fantasy asset. Miami didn't make any significant additions to its backfield this offseason, so the lightning-quick Miller is the unrivaled No. 1. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry in a supporting role as a rookie, flashing big-play ability. If the Dolphins' line can run-block competently, Miller will deliver a decent profit for his fantasy investors. Yahoo! drafters are taking him outside the top-20 RBs (ADP 71.1) despite his evident talent and his featured role. At his current price, I'm plenty interested. Daniel Thomas is the No. 2 behind Miller on the depth chart, but he's a fumbly plodder (3.5 career YPC). Nothing to see there. Fifth-round rookie Mike Gillislee could easily challenge Thomas for touches; he averaged 5.8 yards per carry over his four-year career at Florida.

The Dolphins defense will feature a few interesting names for the IDP crowd — DE Cameron Wake (15.0 sacks, 53 tackles), SS Reshad Jones (95 tackles), LB Dannell Ellerbe (92 tackles) — and several friendly matchups for standard league owners. (Check the schedule.) This is a group that ranked seventh in the NFL last season in points-allowed (19.8 PPG), and it managed to sack opposing quarterbacks 42 times. Miami opens its season at Cleveland, so they'll likely rank as a top-12 D/ST in Week 1. Feel free to use 'em as needed.

2012 team stats: 18.0 points per game (27), 214.1 passing yards per game (26), 112.6 rushing yards per game (17)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego

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