That's right, the Juggernaut Index begins anew. For those who aren't familiar with this series, it's our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're not thinking about wins or losses or intangibles here. Instead, we care primarily about yards and points and tangibles. The Juggernaut Index is all about projected fantasy contributions — that's it, nothing else. It's certainly possible for a team to have a successful season in real-life without assisting the fantasy community much at all (see "49ers, San Francisco, 2011"). If you'd like to file a complaint about your favorite team's JI rank, please do so in comments.
The Miami Dolphins somehow managed to build for the future this off-season while simultaneously assembling the pieces of a 2007 fantasy roster. That ain't easy.
It's entirely possible that Miami's Week 1 starting lineup will feature David Garrard at quarterback, Chad Ochocinco at receiver and Reggie Bush in the backfield. Five years ago, that would have seemed like a solid foundation in fake football. Today, it puts you dead-last in the Juggernaut Index.
But of course we're skipping steps, imagining that Garrard will win a position battle that involves incumbent starter Matt Moore and this year's top pick, Ryan Tannehill. And we're also penciling Ocho's name into a roster spot that he hasn't yet earned, and may not deserve.
There are many, many things for Miami's new coaching staff to sort out over the next three months. So let's begin this preview with Reggie, a returning starter who's not really fighting for a job, and who will undoubtedly be the first Dolphins player selected in your fantasy draft.
Last year, Bush redefined himself as an NFL rusher, gaining 1086 yards on just 216 carries (5.0 YPC). He consistently made defenders miss, which we always knew he could do, and he ran willingly and effectively between the tackles, which had never been his calling card. He took goal line carries and converted, plus he remained a useful weapon in the passing game, catching 43 balls for 296 yards on 52 targets. Bush topped his previous single-season rushing high by over 500 yards, and he gained a career-best 1382 from scrimmage. Reggie also managed to appear in 15 games, a significant achievement for a notoriously fragile player.
So what should we do with him in 2012?
Well, early drafters have made him the 21st running back off the board in a typical league (ADP 44.4), so it appears we haven't completely forgiven him for 2007-2010. It's also clear that we aren't buying his talk about gunning for a rushing title. The season ahead is absolutely huge for Reggie, both in terms of legacy and future compensation. He's entering a contract year, and another 1000-yard/200-carry campaign could shake the Etch-a-Sketch on his rep as a situational back.
But no matter how motivated Bush might be, the Dolphins still need to see if second-year RB Daniel Thomas has made real progress during the off-season, or if he remains the same plodder who gained just 3.5 yards per carry in 2011. Thomas' rookie season began well enough — he rushed for 202 yards in Weeks 2-3 — but he was useless and zombified throughout the second half. Steve Slaton still lurks on the Miami's roster, but his name doesn't belong on your cheat sheet. The Dolphins traded up in the fourth round of this year's draft to select Lamar Miller, a product of The U, with the No. 97 overall pick. Miller is a fast dude with big-play ability, a player to target in dynasty drafts. If the team chooses not to re-sign Bush, Thomas and Miller might just make a decent tandem in 2013.
For now, however, it appears that Reggie is the lead dog in Miami's backfield. Head coach Joe Philbin plans to deploy him new ways in 2012. This via the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero:
Unlike last year when Miami mostly used Bush as a traditional running back until very late in the season, Philbin said his staff will try to maximize Bush. He mentioned using him at wide receiver. He mentioned using him in different formations. He mentioned doing things to create mismatches, which is what I thought Miami would do last year.
"We're not just going to hand the ball to him," Philbin said.
That's great news, because Bush might actually be the Dolphins' most talented wideout, in addition to being the most complete back on the roster.
Have a look at this ugliness:
That's just...yikes. If James Jones is indeed available via trade from Green Bay, the Dolphins need to make a few calls.
Bess is a nice enough PPR option for fantasy owners — he has a pair of 70-catch seasons to his credit — but, if we're being realistic, he'd be the weakest starter on your roster if you were actually forced to use him. Hartline can be a serviceable receiver in a complementary role, but he's done nothing in his three NFL seasons to convince anyone that he's a legit No. 1 (or 2). Naanee is a guy you've probably used as bye-week coverage at some point, and he I'm sure caught two balls for 16 yards that week. That's his signature stat-line.
Cunningham is a sixth-round rookie who finished his collegiate career as Michigan State's all-time leading receiver, but he has only average speed ... for a fantasy expert. Clyde Gates is just the opposite, a fast man for whom the NFLgame moves too fast. Fasano is Fasano. You should hope to get more than 35 catches and 450 yards from your fantasy tight end, given the depth at the position. Michael Egnew was my fifth-round pick in a recent 12-team dynasty rookie draft, and I didn't feel all that great about it at the time. (But that might be related to an anti-Missouri TE bias, not sure).
Into this mess wades Ochocinco, a 34-year-old receiver who couldn't tread water with New England last season, and who reportedly struggled with the complexity of the Pats' option-route system. Chad could very well lead Miami in receiving yardage in 2012 (though I still wouldn't expect him to top, say, 675), or he could fail to make the Week 1 roster. So there's a wide range of possible outcomes here, but still a low ceiling considering the team context.
And, as of this writing, we still don't know who Miami's starting quarterback is going to be ... but whoever he is, you probably aren't going to draft him in standard Yahoo! public leagues.
Rookie first-round pick Ryan Tannehill is unquestionably the QB of the future for the Dolphins, and he's in the unique situation of actually having an experience advantage, in a sense, over the veterans he'll compete with in camp. Tannehill's former college coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, will be his OC in the NFL, so he already has a working knowledge of Miami's West Coast system. By his estimate, "80 to 85 percent" of the Dolphins' playbook looks like the Aggies' old playbook. Tannehill has the requisite NFL arm strength, size (6-4, 220), and athleticism — no worries there. What he lacks is on-field experience against high-level competition; he started only 19 games at quarterback in college. The defenses of the AFC East will show him a few things that he didn't see in those 19 games.
Tannehill is a player to snag in dynasty drafts, but he shouldn't be valued near the level of RGIII and Andrew Luck. He's talented, no doubt, but he didn't complete passes at an exceptional rate last season (61.6 percent) and he threw 15 picks. He's certainly not a finished product — and, again, if he takes over behind center for Miami this season, he'll be tied to a lousy receiving corps.
If Tannehill can't win the starting job right away, the alternatives are Garrard — apparently he's been impressing coaches and working as the No. 1, but c'mon — and Matt Moore, last year's quarterback. Moore helped lead the team to its 6-3 finish in 2011, and he was only partly responsible for its 0-7 beginning. He threw 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his 13 games, averaging 192.1 yards per week. It was a nice year by Moore's standards, but those numbers simply won't pay the fantasy bills — not in an era when five quarterbacks averaged better than 300 yards per game.
If either Garrard or Moore wins the QB battle (a definite possibility, make no mistake), you'll have to simply regard them as a placeholder for Tannehill. They'll rank in the 25-32 range at their position to open the season, not worth a look for fantasy owners. In fact, if you end up with either on your roster on draft day and it's not a two-QB league, then something went terribly wrong.
The Miami defense opens the year as merely a streaming option — maybe try 'em at Arizona in Week 4, or against St. Louis in Week 6. The IDPs to consider are Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake, but those guys are just names from a tier, not players to target.
The bottom line is this: The Dolphins' roster isn't exactly loaded with great names at the skill spots. I'm not sure this team has the NFL's worst group of receivers, but it's close. Everywhere you look on this depth chart, you'll find low-ceiling players, at least for 2012. There's hope for the future — new regime, new QB — but it's not easy to embrace the present.
2011 team stats: 20.6 PPG (NFL rank, 20), 124.8 rush YPG (11), 214.1 pass YPG (23), 27.5 yards/drive (20), 0.13 turnovers/drive (19)