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   Fantasy Outlook: Miami Dolphins

April 26, 2017
Al Lackner

The Dolphins remind me a bit of the Jeff Fisher-era Titans back in the late 90s. That team had a strong defense and competent offense -- and finished 8-8 for a number of years in a row. Then, in 1999 they hit their stride and made it all the way to the Super Bowl.

I am not necessarily predicting a Super Bowl berth for these Dolphins, but they need to make that next move to go from 8-8 mediocrity to being a true playoff contender. Coach Joe Philbin and his staff are almost certainly on the hot seat to make that happen. Fortunately for them, the team has made a number of positive moves in the off-season to get better.



Quarterbacks

Expectations are somewhat high for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill this season in Fantasy and reality after he played well in 2014, especially after recently signing a rich, new contract. In 2014, Tannehill passed for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and ran for 311 yards and one touchdown. His passing yards, touchdowns and rushing yards were all career highs, and the expectation from coaches, fans and fantasy enthusiasts is that he will build off that performance

Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins have shuffled their receiving corps with Mike Wallace gone via trade to Minnesota, Brian Hartline calling Cleveland home, and Charles Clay gone as a free agent to Buffalo. Replacing them will be Kenny Stills (from New Orleans), Greg Jennings (from Minnesota) and Jordan Cameron (from Cleveland). Tannehill should have a better grasp on Bill Lazor's pass-friendly offense in his second year in the system. Remember, Lazor was groomed by Chip Kelly.

I view Tannehill is a top No. 2 Fantasy quarterback -- with the upside to finish as a No. 1 option (he was a top 10 fantasy QB in many formats in 2014). If your plan is to stock up on RBs and WRs early and draft a starting QB late, Tanny could be a reasonable late-round target.




Running Backs

Lamar Miller

Dolphins running back Lamar Miller was a disappointment in 2013, but he rebounded in 2014 in a big way. He finished last season with 216 carries for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns and 38 catches for 275 yards and one touchdown. One of the quieter 1,000-yard seasons in fantasy, which means that Miller could be a strong value pick.

He took advantage of Knowshon Moreno suffering a torn ACL in Week 6, and he should be the featured option in the backfield again this season. Now, rookie Jay Ajayi (see below) will almost certainly share playing time with Miller, but Miller won't come off the field much, barring an injury. I like the fact that Miller is in a contract year, and he put on weight to help handle a bigger workload. He was a top 12 running back in standard leagues last year, so he certainly has RB1 potential in fantasy, although I best classify him as a strong RB2. He's worth drafting with a 3rd or possibly 4th round pick in the majority of leagues.

Rookie Jay Ajayi was an impressive rusher in college. In fact, we were more than a bit surprised to see Ajayi drop so far in this spring's NFL draft. The Dolphins had to have been very excited to land a player of his talent as late as they did (fifth round). There is plenty to like about the Boise State product: He ran with power, made tacklers miss, caught the ball, blocked well and, most of all, ran with consistent balance. Apparently, teams were scared off by Ajayi's knee (a bone on bone condition) and were worried about his longevity -- even though the kid played 27 games the past two years and says he's pain-free. While Lamar Miller is coming off a solid year, it's worth remembering Ajayi's name. If he remains healthy, he could be an every-down pro back; at the very least, he's a major threat to garner some RBBC touches and is an ideal handcuff pick for Miller owners late in the draft.



Wide Receivers

Jarvis Landry was a surprise Fantasy option as a rookie in 2014, and he played well enough that Miami traded Mike Wallace to the Vikings, making Landry the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart. Landry was second among rookie receivers in receptions with 84 (former LSU teammate Odell Beckham was first with 91), and he was one of 17 receivers in the NFL with 80-plus catches. Folks, in PPR formats, take note.

Jarvis Landry

Landry had five games with seven-plus catches, and he finished with 758 yards and five touchdowns. So while he was productive in terms of catching the ball, he didn't rack up many yards after the catch. Some of that can be explained by Tannehill's lack of a consistent deep ball. We need to see more from Landry to help Fantasy owners in standard leagues, and he should improve with Wallace gone. He could easily eclipse 90-plus catches based on what we saw last season, and if he can approach 1,000 yards with 6-8 touchdowns we could be talking about one of the best value picks of the draft with a mid-round pick in all leagues. I see him as a WR3 in standard formats with the upside to be a WR2 in PPR leagues.

Kenny Stills is also now a Miami Dolphin following a trade out of New Orleans. I am not certain what his role will be in Miami, but I suspect that he will more or less take over the spot vacated by Wallace. That is, he will serve serve as the team's top deep threat. Of course, we all saw how Wallace under-achieved in Miami, largely due to Tannehill's unwillingness to go deep often enough. The Dolphins hope that Stills isn't such a one-trick pony and believe that they now have a receiver with some potential in an offense that has turned out to be very receiver friendly. As Stills is one of many new faces with which Tannehill must get acquainted, I would play it conservative with Stills and target him in the mid-to-late rounds in standard and PPR formats.

The drafting of DeVante Parker further muddies the crystal ball in terms of predicting who Tannehill will most likely be targeting this fall. Parker represents the modern-day prototypical wide receiver (6-3, 209, 4.4 speed). Terrific after the catch, Parker was arguably the FBS's most efficient WR in 2014 (19.9 yards per reception), but he missed six games with a foot injury. The former Louisville receiver -- whom the Dolphins took No. 14 overall in April's draft -- figures to see plenty of looks around the the goal line, as he's the Dolphins' tallest WR. Out of the gate, he'll need to fend off Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings for targets opposite Jarvis Landry. But Miami again promises to run a lot of three-WR sets, and Parker is easily its top talent at the position. With Ryan Tannehill at QB, Parker has WR2 upside for this season with potential to be next year's WR1. Realistically I see him more as a fantasy WR4 right now, given his rookie status. Remember, Ryan Tannehill prefers the short and intermediate routes and hasn't shown a propensity to throw the ball deep. That is why Mike Wallace became expendable in the first place -- and why Parker may have more value in traditional leagues than he does in PPR formats, given questions about his involvement (i.e. targets) in the passing game.

There was a time when Greg Jennings was an elite fantasy option. Those were back in the days when he was playing catch with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Alas, those days are long gone. He hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2011 and really hasn't been the same since a 2012 injury led the Packers to part ways with him. That doesn't mean that he has been irrelevant in fantasy, though. In his last two seasons with the Vikings he has been right around 60 catches for 700-800 yards and about 5 TD receptions each year. He could see similar production as he could fill Brian Hartline's possession receiver role. That means limited fantasy upside. Jennings is the type of guy you pick up in the last couple of rounds in deep WR leagues to fill out your bench. Although, I would probably use those picks on a flier with more upside.



Tight Ends

Jordan Cameron

If you draft Jordan Cameron, be prepared to get a backup. He's an extreme injury risk, having suffered concussions in three straight seasons. If he can stay healthy, though, Cameron has top-five upside: The Dolphins would like to use him to spread out the defense, and he plays to the strengths of Ryan Tannehill's intermediate game. Cameron comes over from Cleveland and will ostensibly replace Charles Clay as the team's top mid-range threat. In fact, in 10-12 team leagues, if you do roll the dice with the high-risk Cameron, Clay could be a decent fantasy option to target as his backup. In larger leagues, however, where waiver wire availability is minimal and late-round draft options are miniscule at the TE position, the risk just may be too great. The operative word, which I have probably over-used here, is risk. If you have a low tolerance for it, look elsewhere for your starting fantasy TE.



Special Teams

Caleb Sturgis

Caleb Sturgis suffered a left quad injury at a team-organized kickball event in the off-season. After missing eight field goals last year, Sturgis will be heavily scrutinized in training camp, even facing competition from Andrew Franks.

There are at least a dozen kickers that I would rather target in fantasy, that is to say that I do not view Sturgis as a draftable commodity. He is the type of guy you leave on the waiver wire and pick him up for a single week when your starting fantasy kicker is on a bye.





Defense

Miami Defense

The Dolphins started the season hot (they are in Miami, after all!). In fact, in traditional formats the Dolphins topped double-digit fantasy points in six of their first eight games. Things went downhill quickly after that, however. The same defense compiled just 15 fantasy points from Week 10 on. The only team worse over that span was the Saints. If they were your fantasy D in 2014, hoefully he cashed in early -- and made a smart trade to unload them!

The Dolphins made the biggest splash in free agency by landing DT Ndamukong Suh, who they hope will help stabilize a poor run defense (121.1 rushing yards allowed per game, ninth most). With Suh demanding constant attention, DEs Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon (18 sacks combined in 2014) figure to see more one-on-one match-ups. I view Miami's defense as a borderline starter in fantasy. Both Taylor and Wake are solid defensive line targets in IDP leagues. I am not enamored with their LBs in terms of fantasy; Jelani Jenkins was a top fantasy linebacker early on -- but faded even quicker than the rest of the defense. Meanwhile, Reshard Jones is another strong IDP candidate as a defensive back.


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