Dolphins Fantasy Preview

Jesse Pantuosco
Rotoworld

2018 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 4,638 yards (31st)
Offensive Touchdowns: 33 (25th)
Offensive Plays: 878 (32nd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 507 (30th)
Rush Attempts: 371 (25th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 108 (19th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 206 (4th)

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Coaching Staff

Known bridge-burner Adam Gase, a surly malcontent disguised as a “quarterback whisperer” (though his efforts to breathe life into Ryan Tannehill’s stagnant career proved largely unsuccessful), finally wore out his welcome in Miami, joining Todd Bowles, Vance Joseph, Marvin Lewis and Steve Wilks on the chopping block as casualties of Black Monday. Gase’s exodus paved the way for first-time head coach Brian Flores, who the Dolphins successfully poached from division-rival New England. Alums of the Bill Belichick coaching tree have mostly underachieved outside of Foxboro (Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels and Romeo Crennel come to mind), but the Dolphins are confident Flores can buck that trend. 

Unlike Patricia, who limped into his head-coaching gig with Detroit last season on the heels of a disastrous Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia (a game that saw Nick Foles ascend to legend status), Flores’ stock has never been higher. The Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator (the position was technically left vacant following Patricia’s departure) turned the high-octane Rams to dust in Super Bowl LIII, limiting Los Angeles to its fewest points (three) in the Sean McVay Era. Of the eight head coaches hired this offseason, Flores is one of just two—the other being Denver’s Vic Fangio—to come from a defensive background. The 38-year-old Boston College product will be tasked with overseeing what figures to be a lengthy Fins rebuild. In Miami, Flores will be reunited with former Patriots staffers Chad O’Shea and Patrick Graham, who will serve as offensive and defensive coordinator respectively. Assuming O’Shea implements a system similar to the one he and Josh McDaniels presided over in New England, Miami’s offense should be light years faster than the snail-paced approach championed by Gase last season (second-slowest pace, according to Football Outsiders). 

Passing Game

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen

WR: Kenny Stills

WR: DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant

WR: Albert Wilson, Brice Butler

TE: Mike Gesicki, Dwayne Allen

After mercifully throwing in the towel on Ryan Tannehill, the plain bagel of NFL signal-callers, the Dolphins find themselves starting from scratch at quarterback. Little is expected of this team, so regardless of who the Fins tap as their starter, Miami will still be playing with house money. The Dolphins initially envisioned Fitzpatrick as a bridge starter after inking the well-traveled Ivy Leaguer to a two-year, $11 million contract this offseason and while that remains a distinct possibility, Miami’s draft weekend acquisition of 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen changes the calculus considerably. Rosen was, by virtually every metric, the worst starting quarterback in football last season. He finished dead-last in yards per attempt (5.8), passing yards per game (162.7) and passer rating (66.7) while also earning PFF’s worst grade out of 38 qualifiers at quarterback. Rosen’s debut season would prove to be his final one in Arizona as the Cardinals quickly pivoted to reigning Heisman winner Kyler Murray at QB. 

While those events paint an admittedly bleak picture of Rosen’s career prospects, it’s important to point out the circumstances that led to his Cardinals downfall. The UCLA standout had every reason to fail in Arizona, where he was victimized by both poor coaching (offensive coordinator Mike McCoy repeatedly hung him out to dry while one-and-done head coach Steve Wilks was similarly useless in Rosen’s development) and a bare-bones supporting cast featuring declining slot man Larry Fitzgerald, an underutilized David Johnson coming off injury and not much else. Though it’s never an encouraging sign when a team calls uncle on its first-round pick a year after drafting him, you can see why the Cardinals felt compelled to turn their offense over to Murray, whose skill set makes him a far better fit than the statuesque Rosen would have been in Kliff Kingsbury’s signature Air-Raid scheme.

Luckily Rosen should have a chance to redeem himself almost immediately. Just don’t expect the outspoken 22-year-old to be handed the starting job on a silver platter. There’s strong incentive, especially in a year where the Dolphins are essentially tanking, to see what they have in Rosen and determine whether he’s worthy of franchise status. If Rosen can’t move the needle in 2019, the Fins could easily remedy their QB crisis in next year’s draft, which boasts a star-studded crop headlined by ace signal-callers Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm. As Arizona proved this past year by jettisoning Rosen when a better option became available, the days of being burdened by an underachieving prospect, regardless of draft pedigree, are quickly dying out in today’s results-driven league. That means Rosen won’t have much time to prove himself in Miami, where the veteran Fitzpatrick is already breathing down his neck.

Obviously, we can only glean so much from Rosen’s 14-game sample size as the ringleader of a deeply dysfunctional Cardinals Offense. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is a known brand throughout the NFL. The 14-year vet has brought an element of excitement to every offense he’s ever been a part of. For instance, last year he contributed highly respectable averages of 295.8 passing yards and 9.6 yards per attempt in his eight-game stint atop Tampa Bay’s quarterback mountain. Unfortunately, the birthday cake enthusiast also happens to be a turnover machine with a penchant for rally-killing interceptions (he was responsible for 12 picks a year ago including seven over his final three games). In essence, he’s just good enough to put pressure on Rosen (supposedly Fitzpatrick outperformed him during the spring program) while also mistake-prone enough to be benched at any moment. While handing the keys to FitzMagic would seem counterintuitive to the Dolphins’ rebuilding efforts, Flores insists the starting quarterback position in Miami will be awarded entirely on merit. That’s common coach-speak and often can be taken with a grain of salt but in the case of Flores, a protégé of nonsense-repellant Bill Belichick, he might actually mean it.

While Miami’s quarterback hierarchy remains unsettled, the accompanying receiving corps finds itself on much firmer ground. Not that it’s a particularly impressive group, but at least the Fins have established a firm pecking order behind their tent pole, seventh-year speed demon Kenny Stills. “Consistent” is not an adjective we often associate with Stills, whose receiving outputs ranged from five to 135 yards last season. But there’s no denying the 27-year-old’s nose for the end zone—he’s been the recipient of 21 touchdown throws since 2016—and his elite separation skills. His deep prowess would mesh well with Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger sensibilities, though it’s possible Stills will see more slot activity this year following Danny Amendola’s free-agent defection. Albert Wilson boasts similar vertical traits and appeared poised for a career year in 2018 (26-391-4 receiving line on 36 targets through seven games) before a balky hip sent him to injured reserve. The lingering effects of that injury (his training camp availability is up in the air) renders the ex-Chief a mere late-round flyer in fantasy. 

DeVante Parker’s continued presence on this roster is puzzling to say the least. Seemingly the subject of every offseason puff piece ever written, the perennial disappointment has done little if anything to warrant his first-round price let alone a second contract, which the Dolphins inexplicably gifted him this offseason (presumably because neither side could brainstorm a better idea). Clearly the Fins are optimistic a new offensive staff headed by Chad O’Shea, a long-time receivers coach in Foxboro, can resurrect Parker’s once-promising career. But after topping 50 yards on just one occasion last season while also torpedoing his respective fantasy owners with a slew of goose eggs, there’s no reason to think 2019 will be any less frustrating for the injury-prone 26-year-old. 

Mike Gesicki turned heads by blazing a 4.54 forty at last year’s NFL Combine (95th percentile among tight ends) but didn’t live up to his second-round promise as a rookie. The former Penn State star failed to score a touchdown over his 400 snaps in 2018 while grading out as one of the league’s worst blockers, according to ProFootballFocus. Tight ends are notoriously late bloomers and Gesicki certainly has the athleticism to make a sophomore leap, but even at a sparse fantasy position, he’s not a high priority.  

Running Game

RB: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Mark Walton, Myles Gaskin

OL (L-R): Laremy Tunsil, Chris Reed, Daniel Kilgore, Jesse Davis, Jordan Mills

The Dolphins’ leading rusher in 2018 was million-year-old Frank Gore, which is one of the grimmer sentences I’ve written throughout these previews. To Gore’s credit, he was fairly effective in his lead ball-carrier role (4.6 yards per carry), especially given his advanced age. But the fact that Miami leaned so heavily on a player old enough to have seen Die Hard in theaters (though you’d have to question his parents for letting a five-year-old see that) speaks both to Gase’s inferior decision-making and Miami’s troubling lack of depth at the running back position. No team totaled fewer rushing touchdowns than the Dolphins (seven) and only three—Baltimore, Oakland and San Francisco—produced more fumbles than the five coughed up by Miami in 2018. 

Despite playing Andy Richter to Gore’s Conan last year, Kenyan Drake still enjoyed a moderately successful fantasy season, compiling 1,012 yards from scrimmage to go with nine touchdowns. Five of those end-zone strolls came on the receiving side, a figure that tied him for fourth in the league among running backs. Drake has proven worthy of feature status (4.7 yards per carry average for his career), though he’s never been used in that capacity. Even in the college ranks, Drake never rose to bell-cow level, instead spending his Tuscaloosa tenure as a changeup option behind Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Drake certainly offers the size (6’1”/211) and versatility desired in a No. 1 and understandably doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a committee back, especially ahead of next year’s free agency. The question is whether O’Shea, who observed an exhausting number of Patriots timeshares during his run in Foxboro, is ready to make that kind of commitment. 

Outside of whatever preconceived notion O’Shea may hold on the matter, 2018 fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage looms as the greatest obstacle to Drake’s workhorse aspirations. The former Arizona State Sun Devil saw scarce usage as a rookie (he logged just 92 offensive snaps) but performed admirably whenever called upon, delivering 191 rushing yards on an uber-efficient 5.3 yards per attempt. Ballage went ballistic in a Week 15 showcase against Minnesota (123 yards on 12 carries), though the bulk of his production came on a 75-yard touchdown dash to open the second half. Built like a house at 6’2”/237, the mountain-sized Ballage poses a very real threat to Drake’s goal-line ownership.    

Beyond the Drake/Ballage pairing, the Dolphins’ backfield also offers a pair of ancillary pieces in Mark Walton and Myles Gaskin. A fourth-round pick of the Bengals in 2018, Walton resurfaced with his hometown Fins this offseason following a string of off-field incidents that prompted his release from Cincy. He and Gaskin, a seventh-round rookie out of Washington, will duke it out for third-string duties in Vice City. 

The Dolphins return just two starters from last year’s O line (three if you include Daniel Kilgore, who missed most of the season with a torn triceps), further compromising what was already one of the league’s worst units. Only the Texans, Cowboys, Packers and Jaguars yielded more sacks than the 52 takedowns Miami let up in 2018.

Win Total

Most sportsbooks have the Dolphins down for five wins with FanDuel showing the least confidence at 4.5. Five victories would represent a two-win drop-off from a year ago when the Dolphins finished an underwhelming 7-9. With one of the NFL’s weakest on-paper rosters, a novice head coach and a bear of a schedule with dates against heavyweights in Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles (Chargers), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and of course New England (who Miami has fared surprisingly well against in recent years), it’s easy to see why Vegas has such low expectations for this squad. Five wins isn’t asking much, but looking at the path that lies ahead, I’d say 4-12 would be an accomplishment for the Fins in their current incarnation.

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