The start of free agency and the NFL Draft are behind us, and we are in the quiet period between OTAs and training camp. If you are like me you are looking forward to the approaching season and have probably started to get emails reminding you to renew your fantasy league. In the coming weeks, you will be starting to plan your fantasy football season. Here, we will go over changes that the Miami Dolphins made this offseason, and general expectations going into 2018, with deeper dives into each position group in future articles.
Predicting the value of the Dolphins offensive players is going to be tough, with only a couple players who can be counted on to be consistent fantasy starters at this point. Ryan Tannehill is back from injury and is expected to have a big year. Since Pro Football Focus started ranking quarterbacks in 2013, he has hovered around the middle of the pack (ranked 11th, 18th, 19th), and has been a top 20 fantasy quarterback since 2013. He is going into his third year in Adam Gase’s system (second year playing) and will resume where he left off before injury in his last eight games of 2016 (7-1 W/L with a 69% completion rating, 1,743 yards, 14 touchdowns for a passer rating of 102). In 2016, he posted the second highest accuracy on throws of twenty or more yards (61%), ninth-most yards per attempt (7.70 yards), and the highest red zone passer rating (119.9). No quarterback had been sacked more than Tannehill from 2012-2016 (213 sacks), and this year his offensive line was improved and he should continue to improve as he accumulates more snaps in Adam Gase’s system.
After him, the skill positions are a little more hazy, although this is absolutely not due to a lack of talent. The Dolphins have made a lot of changes on the offensive side of the ball, with most of the media attention being on the loss of Jarvis Landry, who was traded to Cleveland. He ended up signing an extension with Cleveland for an average of $15 million per year, while Kenny Stills is making $8 million per year and he was ranked second in the league in 2017 by averaging 16.5 yards per reception out of the slot (where he was lined up for about half of his snaps). Many are expecting the loss of Landry to contribute to the demise of the Dolphins offensive potential. They lost him but added Albert Wilson, Danny Amendola, second-round pick Mike Gesicki, tight end Durham Smythe, two running backs that can catch the ball in Frank Gore and rookie Kalen Ballage. Devante Parker returns for his fourth season, and the Dolphins hope he can finally live up to his first-round draft pick status. He has the potential and athleticism, and at times has made jaw-dropping plays, but has also been inconsistent. He has failed to play a full season and the most yards he has gained was 744 in 2016. The Dolphins hope he breaks out this year, but he may not be worth more than a late-round draft pick in fantasy at this point. The Dolphins also seem to have improved their offensive line by releasing oft-injured Mike Pouncey and replacing him with Daniel Kilgore. They also signed Josh Sitton, who was the fourth-rated guard in 2017 and tenth lineman overall by Pro Football Focus (https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-top-25-offensive-linemen-of-the-2017-nfl-season) and has posted an 85.0-plus overall ranking for 9 straight years. Not only have they added talent and depth across the offense, but expect even bigger roles for guys like Kenyan Drake, who was one of the better running backs the second half of 2017 and Jakeem Grant, who flashed home run potential late in 2017 with 13 catches for 203 years (15.6 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. This offense is going to be significantly more versatile, with the ball being spread around more than it has been. Kenyan Drake and Kenny Stills will be at the top of their respective depth charts and will be reliable contributors, but we will need to see how the dominoes fall for everyone else.
Not only will the offense be improved this year, but the defense is expected to be drastically improved despite the loss of Ndamukong Suh. Although among the best defensive lineman in the league, he was never able to transform the defense as was hoped. He ate up a lot of the salary cap (earned $60 million over the three years that he played in Miami) and kept the Dolphins from building sufficient depth throughout the roster. Expected to fill the literal hole left by Suh, are two young defensive tackles drafted by the Dolphins. Second year defensive tackle Davon Godchaux was a fifth round pick last year who showed promise in his rookie season, and seems to have worked himself into a starting spot. Two defensive tackles are expected to battle for the other starting spot. Jordan Phillips has been dominant at times but has had a low motor and has been inconsistent. He is going into the final year of his rookie contract and may have worked to finally solve these issues. The Dolphins sent a seventh-round pick in 2019 to the Detroit Lions for Akeem Spence, who played in the same Wide-9 defense the Dolphins run, under the new Dolphins defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. Over the last six weeks of 2017 he was ranked 8 out of 81 tackles in pass rush pressure rate. These three are expected to rotate and split snaps, with defensive end William Hayes rotating in as well.
The Dolphins should be improved at defensive end this year. Cameron Wake, who has had double digit sacks all but two of the last six seasons, and those two seasons were shortened by injury returns to his left defensive end spot, though he could rotate in and out more than he has in the past.. The Dolphins acquired Robert Quinn from the Los Angeles Rams, where after returning from a serious back injury he was misused as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Quinn and the Dolphins are hoping with a move back to defensive end in the wide-9 defense, he can return to his status as an All-Pro, which he earned while playing that same position in the same defense. William Hayes returns after missing part of last season with an injury, and while he doesn't have a pass rushing prowess of the Dolphins other defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked second among Edge Defenders in 2017 in run stop percentage (15.1%). Charles Harris comes into his second year in the league and is expected to take a large step forward. He flashed at times last year and it was expected he would be a starter this year. Now, he will be competing with Quinn for snaps. Last year’s starter at right defensive end, Andre Branch, has a lot of people questioning his roster status going into 2018. He played very poorly after he had a good 2016, and ended up having knee surgery after the season which seemed as though it was to repair whatever was ailing him. However, due to a fairly large cap hit ($10 million) for 2018 and a steep climb to see snaps, it's been rumored he could be cut or traded but neither of these have happened up to this point. His best chance of sticking is to play left defensive end if Wake’s snaps are limited this year.
At linebacker, the Dolphins will get back Raekwon McMillan, who had by all accounts won the middle linebacker job as a second-round rookie in 2017 before tearing his ACL on his first ever NFL snap. His return will solidify the middle of the defense, who had Mike Hull and Chase Allen starting in his place. Although solid at times, they are more suited for special teams than manning the middle of the defense. Kiko Alonso, while racking up 115 tackles, looked a bit lost at times especially in coverage. However, he was almost by himself last year at the second level, and should play better as he’ll actually be getting help. At the other outside linebacker spot, there looks to be a bit of a battle. Stephone Anthony, former first-round pick for the Saints who has underperformed through his still short career, got the majority of the snaps with the starters this spring, but could be supplanted by this years third round draft pick Jerome Baker.
The secondary is probably the most exciting group to keep an eye on. Xavien Howard is fully entrenched in the number one corner spot, and over the last half of 2017 was an elite cornerback, allowing only a 39.2 passer rating. Bobby McCain returns as the slot cornerback with a new contract, making him the highest paid slot cornerback in the league, but at $20 million over four years it is considered a steal, as he was ranked by PFF as the best cornerback on Miami’s roster with an overall grade of 80.1. The battle for the number two cornerback looks to be a good one between Cordrea Tankersley, who flashed last year, and Tony Lippett who played well in 2016 but missed 2017 with a torn Achilles. Reshad Jones, Pro Football Focus’ fourth-ranked safety in 2017 returns, and looks to continue to lead the back end of the defense. The Dolphins finally addressed the spot next to him this year, drafting Minkah Fitzpatrick 11th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is expected to start right away and play primarily at free safety, but has the versatility to play strong safety, nickel linebacker, and slot corner (where he took most of his snaps last year). The future is bright for this group.
Not only have the personnel changed, but a group of new coaches has been brought in as well. This will be the first season where Adam Gase’s entire staff will have been brought in by him, and the last of the coaches from Joe Philbin’s time in Miami have now been discarded. Among those brought in are new offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, RB coach and Run Game Coordinator Eric Studesville, and new Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains. On the defensive side of the ball, Kris Kocurek was brought in to coach the defensive line and Tony Oden to coach the defensive backs. The Miami Dolphins made a lot of changes this season on the roster and the coaching staff, and their franchise quarterback returns. Now, we see if this translates on the field.