Juggernaut Index, No. 26: The Miami Dolphins

Miami has a new head coach and the same old quarterback. Can Tannehill make a leap? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Miami has a new head coach and the same old quarterback. Can Tannehill make a leap? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking and review of NFL teams for fantasy purposes — repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we concern ourselves with a franchise’s likely contributions to the fantasy player pool. We are not concerned with projected wins and losses. Instead, we’re focused on yards and points. As always, we’re beginning with the league’s least useful teams, working our way toward the elite fantasy juggernauts.

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When you see the raw numbers on Ryan Tannehill, his steady year-to-year statistical gains, you kinda/sorta want to believe…

2013 – 3913 pass yards, 6.7 Y/A, 24 TDs, 17 INTs
2014 – 4045 pass yards, 6.9 Y/A, 27 TDs, 12 INTs
2015 – 4208 pass yards, 7.2 Y/A, 24 TDs, 12 INTs

I mean, those are completely respectable totals right there. In fact, Tom Brady’s stats in his age 25-27 seasons weren’t really so different (that is, if you ignore all of Brady’s winning and the Super Bowls and various individual awards. Which you shouldn’t). It’s not hard to find reasons to be semi-optimistic about Tannehill’s future. He’s a young player who’s already delivered a few nice on-field moments, and he’s never missed a game in his four NFL seasons.

But then you flash back to the many stalled drives, the head-scratching throws, the miles of field position lost to sacks, the red-zone failures, and, well … your optimism recedes. The fear with Tannehill is that he’s the worst variety of NFL quarterback — adequate enough to never lose his job, flawed enough to never win anything meaningful.

We’ll learn a fair amount about Tannehill in 2016, as he adapts to life with new head coach Adam Gase, a renowned quarterback whisperer. Gase’s offense will demand more of Tannehill in terms of at-the-line processing speed and decision-making, and the route concepts will be more advanced. The kid is absorbing his third system in four pro seasons, but, as is often the case, the offseason reports on Tanny’s progress have been positive. (He might be one of the greatest February-to-July QBs in league history.) Gase’s arrival should certainly help Tannehill, and the Dolphins’ offensive line play should improve in the year ahead, thanks to additions at the guard spots (notably first-rounder Laremy Tunsil). Continuity in Miami’s receiving corps will help, too, even if the group is something less than elite.

Tannehill’s best positional finish for fantasy purposes was ninth back in 2014, but he slipped to No. 15 last year — and he was nowhere near the top-10, scoring-wise. You should view him as a backup-quality player in standard formats this season, and a nice value target in two-QB leagues. He’s the No. 21 QB off the board in average drafts at the moment (ADP 149.4), but he hasn’t actually ranked that poorly in any season since his rookie year. I’m not betting on a significant value jump, but I do give Tanny a certain amount of credit for showing up every day and stat-compiling.

And no, that wasn’t much of an endorsement. But it’s all I’ve got. At some point, you’ll talk yourself into using Tannehill as a bye-week replacement for a better QB, and that’s fine. He can do enough to get you through a random weekend in October.

The Dolphins have a nice enough collection of receivers, though it’s a starless group. Jarvis Landry is coming off a terrific PPR season (110 catches) that didn’t help standard league owners nearly as much (1157 yards, 4 TDs). He’s not an uncommonly explosive player and he lacks an extra gear (or the gear before the extra gear), but he’s sure-handed and savvy. He also a security blanket receiver for Tannehill, which counts for a lot in our game. He may not see another 166 targets this season, but he’s sure to see plenty in a more creative offense. Landry is typically drafted in the Edelman-Cobb-Baldwin range in fantasy, which is a bit too expensive for me, unless we’re PPRing.

DeVante Parker (Getty Images)
DeVante Parker (Getty Images)

DeVante Parker is the breakout candidate on this roster, and he finished his rookie campaign with a string of useful games, delivering 445 yards and three spikes over the final six weeks. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, gifted with wingspan and leaping ability, Parker has the look of a guy who should thrive as a starter and primary red-zone threat. Early drafters are paying for the expected breakout, selecting him No. 31 among receivers, so I can’t call him an obvious steal. I do expect to own more shares of Parker than Landry this year, however. He averaged 19.0 yards per reception last year, so his big-play ability isn’t really up for debate.

Kenny Stills remains in the mix for the Dolphins following a quiet season (27-440-3), and the team used a third-round pick on Leonte Carroo, a productive enough player at Rutgers. But it’s wildly unlikely that Tannehill is going to play at a level that produces three draft-worthy fantasy wideouts, so you can really only consider these guys in mega-leagues (or, in Carroo’s case, in dynasty). Tight end Jordan Cameron returns after a season in which he was curiously ignored and unproductive. He won’t be drafted in a typical 8 or 10-team fantasy setup, but let’s remain open to the possibility that a new offensive system could revive his career. Cameron is still just 27, and he’s only two years removed from an 80-catch, 917-yard season. And then there’s this…

Remain attentive to the camp news regarding Cameron and maybe try to keep an open mind — easier to do if he didn’t burn you last year, I suppose.

Miami made a strong run at restricted free agent C.J. Anderson back in March, but ultimately failed to poach him from the Broncos. The Dolphins also reportedly had conversations with James Starks and Chris Johnson before those two re-signed with the Packers and Cards. When the team finally selected a running back in April’s draft, as we all assumed they would, they settled on Alabama’s Kenyan Drake, a player who had only a rotational role at the collegiate level.

So it can be accurately said that Jay Ajayi, as of this writing, was a huge winner during the 2016 offseason. (At present, the Arian Foster threat level appears low). Ajayi’s name sits atop Miami’s backfield depth chart for Miami, and he has a clear shot at a substantial workload in his second pro season. He had a relatively quiet rookie year for the Dolphins, running behind Lamar Miller (49-187-1), but he was a high-volume back at Boise State. Ajayi gained 2358 scrimmage yards on a ridiculous 397 touches in his final college season, with 50 catches included. Gase has already indicated that Ajayi has separated himself from the team’s junior varsity runners, so there’s no reason to fret about a camp battle. The only open issue here is the size and nature of Drake’s role in his first season. He’s an explosive player with receiving and kick-return ability, but he also has a significant injury history and he dealt with a hamstring issue in June. Drake isn’t likely to force a committee arrangement; he’s better suited to a cameo role and third-down work.

Ajayi is without question the Miami back you want to own, and he seems like an excellent value at his present ADP (50.7, RB22). If you’re determined to go the ZeroRB (or cheap-ish RB) route this year, you should be eyeing Ajayi in Round 5. It’s easy to see a path to 280-plus touches in a healthy season.

Miami will open its season with road games at Seattle and New England, so this team’s D/ST basically doesn’t belong on your draft board. You won’t want to mess with this defense until perhaps Week 3 against Cleveland. Safety Reshad Jones is an upper-tier IDP option coming off a 135-tackle, 5-pick season, but no other Dolphins have achieved must-own status.

2015 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 19.4 (27)
Pass YPG – 238.2 (19)
Rush YPG – 93.5 (23)
Yards per play – 5.4 (17)
Plays per game – 61.1 (27)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Cleveland, 31) San Francisco, 30) Philadelphia, 29) Baltimore, 28) Tennessee, 27) Los Angeles, 26) Miami