The Dolphins had an unfortunate outcome in 2020. Despite winning 10 games and the NFL expanding the playoffs to seven teams per conference, they still didn’t qualify for the postseason, meaning their winless postseason streak extended to 20 seasons.
In 2021, the Dolphins are handing the full reins of their franchise over to second-year QB Tua Tagovailoa, after a weird handling of the situation last year that included Tagovailoa being benched multiple times for vet Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz is now gone, and Tua has a deep and intriguing group of skill players around him that should set him up for success.
And yet, Deshaun Watson rumors persist. With Miami still set up with a lot of future draft capital, Tua must play well to ensure his future with the franchise. This year is all about him.
Miami Dolphins Franchise Focus Companion Podcast
|Season Win Total (O/U)||9 (-150/+120)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 9 (-121) in late March to 9 (-150)
Super Bowl: +2500 in early February to +3500
Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.
Key Offseason Moves
|Will Fuller (WR)||Jaylen Waddle (WR)||Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB, Was)|
|Jacoby Brissett (QB)||Jaelan Phillips (DE)||Matt Breida (RB, Buf)|
|Malcolm Brown (RB)||Jevon Holland (S)||Julie’n Davenport (OT, Ind)|
|D.J. Fluker (OG)||Liam Eichenberg (OT)||Ted Karras (C, NE)|
|Matt Skura (C)||Hunter Long (TE)||Shaq Lawson (DE, Hou)|
|Benardrick McKinney (LB)||Larnel Coleman (OT)||Davon Godchaux (DT, NE)|
|Justin Coleman (CB)||Gerrid Doaks (RB)||Kyle Van Noy (LB, NE)|
|John Jenkins (DT)||Kamu Grugier-Hill (OLB, Hou)|
|Jason McCourty (CB)||Bobby McCain (S, Was)|
|Cethan Carter (TE)||Matt Breida (RB, Buf)|
|Adam Butler (DT)|
|Robert Foster (WR)|
|Robert Jones (OG)|
|Trill Williams (CB)|
Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule
Quarterback: 8th-softest (+0.38)
Running Back: 9th-softest (+0.70)
Wide Receivers: 11th-softest (+0.21)
Tight Ends: 3rd-softest (+0.73)
Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 28.9 (27th)
Plays per game: 64.6 (14th)
When the game is within a score — Pass: 58.9% (13th) | Run: 41.1% (20th)
When the team is ahead — Pass: 48.4% (21st) | Run: 51.6% (12th)
When the team is behind — Pass: 66.7% (13th) | Run: 33.3% (20th)
Miami was one of the slowest-paced teams in the NFL last year and relied on a balanced attack in all game situations. The Dolphins also played at a snail’s pace in every game-script, ranking 6th-slowest in pace when the game was within a score, 3rd-slowest when leading, and 7th-slowest when trailing. However, the team is now changing offensive coordinators for the fifth-straight season after moving on from Chan Gailey this offseason. And Miami replaced Gailey with… two coaches. That’s right. The Dolphins have co-offensive coordinators after elevating former TEs coach George Godsey and former RBs coach Eric Studesville to the post. While Studesville has never called plays before, Godsey has — it was back in the 2015-16 with the Texans. And in those two years, Godsey called plays for six different quarterbacks: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett (remember him?!), T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage and… B.O. (Brock Osweiler). Godsey ended up giving back play-calling duties to Bill O’Brien after a sluggish start to the 2016 season and between O’Brien’s influence and the Texans disastrous QB play, there really isn’t anything to work off of to know what Miami’s attack might look like this season. Godsey and Studesville were adamant this offseason that the offense is a “collaborative effort” and they put an emphasis on stretching the field with Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. Beyond that, we just don’t know what the Dolphins' attack will look like from a tendencies perspective entering this season.
The Dolphins averaged 2.32 points scored per drive with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and 2.0 with Tua Tagovailoa as the starter.
The offense averaged -0.03 EPA/pass with Tua and +0.12/EPA/pass with Fitzpatrick, per SIS.
DeVante Parker had massive splits with / without Fitzmagic. In Fitz’s starts, Parker averaged 69 yards and 14.0 fantasy points per game.
With Tua, Parker dipped to 44.3 yards and 9.9 FPG.
You might think a reason for Parker’s lack of production is because Fitzpatrick is more aggressive, and while that is true, it’s not as stark of a difference between the two QBs as you might think. Per Next Gen Stats, Fitzpatrick threw into a tight window on 22% of his pass attempts (highest rate among qualified QBs) while Tua threw into a tight window 20% of the time (sixth-highest).
Mike Gesicki was completely boom-or-bust last year. He finished as a TE1 (top-12) just four times.
In his 10 starts, Myles Gaskin averaged 97.1 scrimmage yards per game — which ranked 10th-most among RBs.
He had an extremely high floor as Gaskin finished as an RB2 or better (top-24) in eight of 10 games.
Huber’s Scheme Notes
It’s been quite the run for GM Chris Grier. Just when it seemed former HC Adam Gase’s dismal three years in Miami would ultimately result in his dismissal, Grier made the marvelous decision to hire Brian Flores as his new HC after serving 11 years on staff with New England. Let’s begin with checking out the track record of the trades made by Grier during his six-year tenure. Grier has easily been one of the most aggressive GMs in football. And, with only a pair of exceptions, he’s come away with golden results. As for two where he missed, we find a pair of devastating mistakes. To keep this sequence of events uncluttered, I’ll utilize a numbered list, starting with the moves resulting in positive results:
In his first blockbuster as GM, Grier traded the eighth-overall pick in the 2018 draft to the Eagles in return for a package that included the draft rights to Laremy Tunsil, as well as Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell.
Three years later, Grier flipped Tunsil, along with Kenny Stills, and 2020 fourth- and sixth-rounders to the Texans for their ‘20 and 2021 first- and ‘21 second-rounders.
With that ‘20 first-rounder (26th-overall pick), Grier flipped it to Green Bay in exchange for the 30th- and 136th-overall picks.
With that 30th-overall pick, he selected Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn.
- Igbinoghene definitely has some work to do, but did play over 500 snaps for the Dolphins during his rookie season.
- He then sent that 136th-overall pick from the Packers and the 141st-overall pick acquired in a deal with Tennessee (see the list of negative dealings below) to Houston in exchange for the 111th-overall pick, where he ultimately selected Solomon Kindley.
- Grier went back to work prior to the ‘21 draft, trading the third-overall pick acquired from Houston (Tunsil deal) to the 49ers for the 12th-overall pick, as well as San Francisco’s 2022 first- and third-rounders, and 2023 first-rounder.
- Then Grier shipped that 12th-, as well as his 123rd-overall pick, and ‘22 first-rounder to the Eagles in exchange for Philadelphia’s sixth- and 156th-overall picks.
- With that sixth-overall pick, Grier selected Jaylen Waddle out of Alabama.
- With the 42nd-overall pick acquired from the Texans (Tunsil deal), the Dolphins selected Jevon Holland out of Oregon.
- With the 156th-overall pick acquired from the Eagles, Grier flipped it to the Steelers for their ‘22 fourth-rounder.
- Grier then traded the 50th-overall pick and his ‘22 third-rounder to the Giants for the 42nd-overall pick.
- With the 42nd-overall pick, Miami selected Liam Eichenberg out of Notre Dame.
- Included in another deal with Houston that swapped Shaq Lawson in exchange for Benardrick McKinney, Grier received the 231st-overall pick.
- With that 231st-overall pick, Grier chose Larnel Coleman out of Massachusetts.
- To close out his dealings to date, Grier sent Ereck Flowers and the 258th-overall pick to Washington in exchange for the 244th-overall pick.
- With that 244th-overall pick, Grier selected Gerrid Doaks out of Cincinnati.
Now that we’ve worked through the positives, let’s jump to those where Grier fell short of the mark:
Prior to the ‘19 season (March), Grier made one of the most bass-ackwards deals in recent history, sending Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s ‘19 sixth-rounder to the Titans in exchange for Tennessee’s ‘19 seventh- and ‘20 fourth-rounders.
With that seventh-rounder (233rd-overall), the Dolphins took Chandler Cox of Auburn, yes, a fullback.
Almost six months to the day after trading Tannehill, Grier traded Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami’s ‘20 fourth-, and ‘21 seventh-rounders to the Steelers in exchange for Pittsburgh’s ‘20 first-, fifth-, and ‘21 sixth-rounders.
With that ‘20 first (18th-overall), Grier selected Austin Jackson out of USC.
- Granted Jackson is expected to continue to start at left tackle this season, he most definitely did not live up to expectations as a rookie. Jackson will need to make a massive leap forward in every phase of his game for the Fitzpatrick trade to look even remotely even.
- With that ‘20 fourth (154th-overall), Grier selected Jason Strowbridge out of North Carolina.
- The ‘20 fourth-rounder acquired from the Titans (Tannehill deal) was subsequently used in a later package sent to the Texans that brought back the 111th-overall pick in the ‘20 draft.
- Grier used that 111th-overall pick to select Kindley, yikes!
Keep in mind, this isn’t even an exhaustive list of Grier’s moves as he’s made several additional deals throughout the years. Attention has been focused on both the most substantial, most recent. With the Tannehill deal, we can view it comfortably from the future with our best armchair QB opinions. However, Tannehill had been placed on the open market and you can guarantee a very long list of teams are just as devastated they didn’t go after him as the Dolphins are for dealing him away. Tannehill was pretty good during his time in Miami. He just never came anywhere close to the top-five QB level where his play has remained during his two seasons in Tennessee. And it just so happens that the true breakout for Fitzpatrick didn’t occur until Grier traded him away to the Steelers.
In both cases, however, it seems to this analyst that Miami gave up on a pair of truly talented individuals without offering them the level of coaching required to bring out the best of their gifts. In that sense, it’s difficult to say how much of the blame should be on Grier for trading them away, or for not hiring the highest quality coaching staff available to take advantage of their skills. You can guarantee Grier is thankful in regards to the outlook on his current position that the list of positive moves, at the very least, lightens the blow from the negatives. We’ll just need to wait a few years for Grier’s younglings to take root before we decide if it’s all been enough. After all of that maneuvering, Grier did trade away the Dolphins’ ‘22 first- and third-rounders, but Miami still holds San Francisco’s ‘22 first-, third-, and ‘23 first-rounders, as well as Pittsburgh’s ‘22 fourth-round pick.
Since we’ve already removed the seal on the trades that resulted in the selection of Jackson and Kindley, let’s begin with a look at the O-line. Everything concerning the prospects for Miami’s O-line revolves around the sophomore season development of Jackson (LT), Kindley (LG), and ‘20 second-rounder Robert Hunt (RT). If Jackson and Kindley continue with the type of subpar play they gave the Dolphins last season, their hold on their starting roles will come into question. If Jackson doesn’t get his form together quickly, free agent addition D.J. Fluker will be ready for an opportunity to step in. Kindley will find himself on an immediate hotseat in training camp after Grier selected Eichenberg in the second round, and added free agent Jermaine Eluemunor from the Patriots. On the other side of the coin, Hunt rewarded the franchise that drafted him with the top seasonal performance on their entire O-line.
Grier added Matt Skura over the offseason with sights set on replacing Ted Karras at center. After giving Baltimore a solid trajectory of improvements, across the board, during his first three seasons, Skura’s play fell off the map last year. Miami is banking on that poor play as being the outlier. Finally, we come to Jesse Davis. While Davis started out at right tackle, he shifted to left tackle in Week 5 after Jackson was injured, and eventually settled in at right guard in Week 9 when Jackson returned. If Kindley somehow manages to keep his starting job at LG, Eichenberg and/or Eluemunor’s attention will then shift to Davis’ job at RG. You can be sure Flores and new co-OCs Eric Studesville and George Godsey will want to see an improvement on the 20th-highest sack rate allowed at the expense of Tua Tagovailoa last season.
The Miami running game, in particular, will need to see far better results in order to assist Tagovailoa’s sophomore progression. The Dolphins’ O-line struggled mightily with their run blocking last season. Studesville will serve as both co-OC and running game coordinator. However, since he served under former OC Chan Gailey last year, it’s entirely possible we may see a continuation of the same competitive run concept rates that consisted of Inside Zone, Counter/Misdirection, and Man blocking. Only time will tell if that is, in fact, the plan. After failing to address the RB position, Miami is once again set to rely on Myles Gaskin. While Gaskin doesn’t offer elite elusiveness, he makes up for it with elite receiving efficiency (1.85 yards gained/route [YPRR]).
We can also count on seeing Salvon Ahmed serve in the same RB2 capacity for the Dolphins. But he’ll have some competition for the role from free agent addition Malcolm Brown and seventh-rounder Gerrid Doaks. Doaks is a deep-Dyno stash to file away due to his own receiving chops. Now that he’s another year removed from the devastating hip injury suffered while playing for Alabama, it would be nice to see Tagovailoa return to the rushing production rates from his ‘18 days with the Tide. And it may actually be refreshing for Tagovailoa to work under Studesville and Godsey in their first season as OCs rather than within a system directed by Gailey’s 47 years of coaching experience. The hope is that Tagovailoa will feel more freedom to scramble from the pocket, audible away from the play design, as needed.
On the one hand, Tagovailoa’s ‘20 first round counterparts, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, submitted all-time, record-breaking rates of offensive production during their rookie seasons. On the other, neither were returning from a career-threatening injury that closed off blood circulation to an entire leg. In addition, both the Bengals and the Chargers rostered far better WR groups than was provided to Tagovailoa. All of that said, the ‘21 season will be the time to stop making excuses in Tua’s favor. As long as we keep in mind that the improvements at receiver for Tagovailoa should be nothing short of ground-breaking, Tua only provided us with subtle variations in effectiveness when facing the most common coverage shells. As was the case in college, Tagovailoa continued to be better vs. zone coverage than man. But I am actually expecting that to change this season. And it’s the additions of Waddle and Will Fuller V that should make it happen.
After multiple viewings of every snap of his Bama career, I am fully convinced that Waddle would have submitted Pro Day results comparable to those from Ja’Marr Chase had his ankle been healthy enough for testing. Waddle was on his way toward a monster season with the Crimson Tide last year when he tore up his ankle. And, while previously playing behind his elder WR statesmen, Waddle proved time-and-again to be an efficiency machine. Tying into the Tagovailoa narrative, outside of his results against Cover 4, Waddle proved to be a beast vs. Cover 1 (man). Waddle will combine with Fuller to give Tagovailoa the lid-lifting speed this offense lacked last season. And it just so happens that Fuller’s speciality is facing Cover 1 defenses. Over the last three seasons, Fuller ranks 11th-best among all WRs against Cover 1 with 0.63 FPs/route. On 29% of total routes, Fuller has collected 35% of his yardage, and 47% of his TDs. And his YPRR increases by 39% in those one-on-one matchups.
It’s no doubt an exciting time for Miami fans with the addition of Waddle and Fuller. But do not make the mistake of forgetting about the guy that is likely to continue his role as the team’s WR1: DeVante Parker. For nearly all of the reasons that we can forgive the ‘20 results from Tagovailoa, the same deal applies to Parker. He literally had nothing of substance at outside WR, opposite his station. Parker has proven over the last three seasons to be deadly when facing Cover 1, Cover 2, and Cover 3 schemes. His role is secure. However, Preston Williams once again provided a hint of potential before failing to remain healthy past Week 9. At this point, Williams is best considered as a situational threat/injury fill-in. Since Fuller will be forced to sit the first week of the season due to his PED suspension, Preston will have one chance to prove the assessment incorrect. But, even if Waddle is not ready to start the season, it’ll be Lynn Bowden Jr. that would be first in line as the starting No. 2/slot receiver.
While much of the fantasy community has quickly stuck a fork in Mike Gesicki, I believe that to be an entirely premature judgement. If the expectations were for Gesicki to instantly emerge as a fantasy monster at TE during his rookie season, those assumptions were set without the understanding that the TE position is almost always the slowest to develop in the NFL. With a 58% increase in routes in Year 2, Gesicki provided us with a 57% increase in receptions, and 65% increase in yardage. He also added his first five TDs as a pro. In Year 3, Gesicki’s routes were cut by 16%, yet he still increased his receptions by 4%, yardage by 19%, and TDs by 17%. Those, my friends, are the type of improvements we all want to see, but rarely have the pleasure. And I haven’t even brought up the fact that he’s yet to play with a QB providing anything close to top-10 production. We all want to see the number of Travis Kelce’s and Darren Waller’s immediately triple. In the case of Gesicki, yes, we are being tasked to be patient, but the man is making excellent strides in every phase of his game. And, as much as I love third-rounder Hunter Long, understand that he will also require similar time to develop.
With their WR additions in mind, we can certainly expect to see Flores’ Dolphins take significant steps toward incorporating the Air Raid concepts that have spread like wildfire across the NFL. It would be a stretch to consider any type of increase in four-wide sets, but having Gaskin in the backfield, and Gesicki attached provides Tagovailoa with five outstanding receiving options, a season removed from only ever fielding three. If Tua can take advantage of these weaponry additions, perhaps he can dispel the rumors of Miami trading for Deshaun Watson before they ever have a chance to take root. From my point of view, the most significant factor potentially working against Tagovailoa will not be his own ability, but determined by the play in front of him along the O-line deciding the ultimate fate for the Dolphins this season.
During his 11 seasons with the Patriots, HC Brian Flores served in coaching roles on special teams, as the safeties coach, linebackers coach, and defensive play-caller. So, it should come as zero surprise that the side of the ball that properly developed first proved to be his defense. Last season, the Miami defense permitted the sixth-fewest PPG (21.1). That was despite allowing the 10th-most passing YPG (251.5), 17th-most rushing YPG (116.4). How was DC Josh Boyer able to accomplish that feat, you might be wondering? A massive component to that answer was pacing the NFL on third-down conversion percentage allowed (31.2%). Even though they permitted the highest rate of 40-plus yard receptions, fourth-most gaining 20 yards, limiting offenses from extending those drives closed down the potential for reaching the end zone. Despite allowing a total of 4,024 passing yards, opposing QBs only managed to throw for 21 TDs (third-fewest).
To drive home the importance Miami coaches instilled into their defense to finish their drives, the Phins’ D held QBs to the sixth-fewest pure passing FPG (13.3). The other half of the equation can be found in Miami ranking in a tie for the third-highest turnover differential (+9). You simply cannot begin a discussion on the Dolphins forcing turnovers without immediately shifting the conversation to Xavien Howard. With recent news involving Howard sweeping across industry platforms, the fact that Howard led the NFL last year with 10 INTs is no secret. However, another important detail that has managed to elude attention, Howard also led the NFL with 20 passes defensed. Considering his coverage was targeted on 90 occasions, those numbers tell us that 33% of all throws into his coverage ended with Howard putting at least one hand on the ball.
The only CB that should be considered above Howard’s level of play is Jalen Ramsey. And Howard is right next to Jaire Alexander, Bradley Roby, and James Bradberry as the 1B tier of elite corners. Since Howard is potentially considering holding out due to complaints over his annual salary being less than teammate Byron Jones, consider this. Even though Jones played just under 20% less snaps, he collected zero INTs, and only defended four passes on 61 targets into his coverage. Based on those numbers, not to mention that Howard also forced two fumbles and added a QB sack — where Jones posted double zeros, it would seem that the Dolphins front office should take Howard’s stance seriously. No NFL franchise wants to set a precedent for submitting itself to holdout threats from players recently signing extensions. But Howard is, by far, the most important player on one of the best defenses in the NFL. If they end up trading Howard, their chances of making the playoffs are eliminated.
What makes Howard so important? Miami finished last season with the highest rate of man coverage schemes. That includes the highest rate of Cover 0. NFL teams averaged a Cover 0 rate in ‘20 of just under 4%. The Dolphins more than tripled that number. A Cover 0 is, for all intents and purposes, an all-out blitz. Every defender that’s not engaged in single coverage over a receiver attacks the pocket. It’s, by a wide margin, the riskiest scheme in football since it leaves its cornerbacks without safety help. As is likely obvious, it requires at least one truly elite corner, preferably two, in order to stick with receivers long enough for the pass rush to get home. In addition, Miami played the third-highest rate of Cover 1. With the defense in man coverage on over 50% of all snaps, you can understand how important Howard becomes as his team’s anointed shadow corner. Just ask Tyreek Hill how good Xavien is in single coverage.
We can safely state that Jones falls short of the mark of being an elite corner. That said, Jones is a very efficient Cover 3 (zone) CB. Since the Dolphins mix in the 12th-highest rate of Cover 3, Howard and Jones combine for a vicious mix. GM Chris Grier also added Jason McCourty and Justin Coleman to a CB room that is also occupied by Nik Needham and Noah Igbinoghene. As long as Howard sticks around, that’s playoff quality depth. Shifting gears, the Dolphins’ have assembled quite an unheralded D-line able to get after the QB. The most lethal of the bunch is EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah. Now that Grier selected Jaelen Phillips out of Miami (FL) with the 18th pick, Ogbah will become all-the-more dangerous. On the interior, the same can be said in favor of 0-tech Raekwon Davis after the acquisition of John Jenkins from the Bears. At 5-technique defensive end, the Dolphins boast ‘19 first-rounder Christian Wilkins as its finest run defender.
The LB unit consists of a most promising youngster entering his fourth season at MIKE in Jerome Baker. Baker is already one of the top-five man coverage LBs in the NFL. So it was no surprise to see Miami recently lock Baker up on a three-year, $39-million contract extension. Whether or not he kicks Baker over to WILL, we can expect to see Benardrick McKinney on the field for as many snaps as his body can take. McKinney’s play dropped off in 2019 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery after four games last season. However, he’s been a consistent man coverage defender throughout his career.
As with all teams who intend to field a high rate of single-high safety looks, we’ve saved the safeties for last. Not because of their lack of importance, just the opposite. For the Dolphins, it’s the Eric Rowe show as the box “safety,” eating up tackles. But, following the release of Bobby McCain, Miami is set to rely on second-round rookie Jevon Holland to protect its CBs over the top. Holland opted out of Oregon’s ‘20 season. In the two seasons prior, he provided the Ducks with some of the top FS coverage in the nation. And that’s precisely what the Phins will need in order to make a push for the playoffs. In total, short of Howard forcing his way off the team due to the ongoing contract dispute or Holland flopping at FS, nothing on this defense is going to hold this team back. The limiting factor, as with Tagovailoa, will be its O-line. If their youngsters can provide a stable pocket for Tua to work, do not discount Miami’s chances of reaching the playoffs this season.
Projected Fantasy Contributors
Tua Tagovailoa (Proj: QB22 | ADP: 154 | Pos ADP: QB22)
It’s officially Tua Time for the Dolphins after several starts (and stops) during his rookie season. It once looked like it may never be Tua Time in South Florida with rumors running wild that the Dolphins could make a play for another quarterback, but those petered out once they’re No. 1 target, Deshaun Watson, got embroiled by controversy. The Dolphins instead elected to sign a top backup in Jacoby Brissett, which signaled they were going to give Tagovailoa a real chance in 20201. He didn’t engender much hope for his future after a rough rookie season in which he completed 184/288 passes (63.9%) for 1805 yards (6.3 YPA), 11 TDs, and five INTs in nine starts. Tua admitted this summer that he didn’t know former OC Chan Gailey’s playbook well enough as a rookie, but he'll be much better versed in this year’s playbook with George Godsey and Eric Studesville operating as co-offensive coordinators. More importantly, he’ll be healthier than he was at any time during his rookie year as he’ll be close to 22 months removed from the devastating hip injury he suffered in his final year at Alabama. Tua won’t have any excuses this season after the Dolphins brought in two explosive receivers in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle to pair with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. Tagovailoa is a timing and rhythm passer who works well within the structure of the offense to distribute the rock all over the field, and he’ll actually have the weapons to do it this season after he was throwing to the likes of Mack Hollins and Isaiah Ford at the end of last season. Tua is being drafted as a low-end QB2 but he has plenty of room for growth in his own game in Year Two, especially with an influx of talent. He doesn’t have much of a ceiling with his lack of rushing production after posting 109/3 rushing as a rookie — he ran for just 340 yards over the course of 32 games at Alabama — but he’s worth a late-round pick with a path to easily beat his ADP.
Jacoby Brissett (Proj: RB38 | ADP: 346 | Pos ADP: QB55)
The Dolphins signaled they were moving forward with Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback in 2021 when they inked Brissett to a healthy one-year, $5 million early in free agency. Brissett, who is originally from South Florida, established himself in Indianapolis as the NFL’s premier QB sneak and Hail Mary specialist (he was one-of-one) but he had little else to do behind Philip Rivers. Brissett was thrust into a starting role just before the start of the 2019 season after Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement. He held his own in a tough spot, completing 272/447 passes for 2942 yards (6.6 YPA), 18 TDs, and six INTs while adding 56/228/4 rushing for 15.2 FPG in 15 games. Brissett is built like a linebacker and has a very good arm, and he’s mobile enough to add some designed run concepts for the Dolphins in the event he needs to start. The Dolphins do have a strong cast of receivers if he’s forced into action, but he’s proven to be a low-ceiling QB2 in his 32 career starts over his first five seasons.
Myles Gaskin (Proj: RB25 | ADP: 56 | Pos ADP: RB24)
Gaskin was the waiver wire gem to open last season after he beat out Jordan Howard and Matt Breida in training camp to be the team’s featured back right out of the gates. The fantasy community didn’t get many clues that Gaskin would be the man since the NFL canceled all preseason games, but he took the job and ran with it before knee and ankle injuries forced him to miss six games during his second season. Gaskin posted 142/584/3 rushing (4.1 YPC) and 41/388/2 receiving (9.5 YPR) on 47 targets to finish as the RB9 with 16.6 FPG while playing 69% of the snaps in 10 contests — he averaged an impressive 18.3 touches and 97.2 scrimmage yards per game. He made it out of free agency and the draft relatively unscathed with the Dolphins signing career backup (and fantasy nemesis) Malcolm Brown and drafting Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round to go along with Salvon Ahmed behind Gaskin. The Dolphins passed on running backs with each of their five picks on the first two days of the draft, which could be seen as a positive (they have faith in Gaskin) or it could be seen as a negative (they don’t value any RBs). Gaskin appears to be locked in as Miami’s top back heading into the season but HC Brian Flores proved last year that he isn’t afraid to flip expectations on their head when it comes to his backfield. Gaskin won the job based on merit despite being a complete unknown heading into 2020, and he’ll have to keep proving himself to keep his job this season. Gaskin is one of the tougher picks to make in the fifth round as he could beat his fringe RB2 ADP if he can hold off all comers or he could come back to earth if his job isn’t solidified and the Dolphins use some sort of a committee.
Malcolm Brown (Proj: RB58 | ADP: 321 | Pos ADP: RB84)
The Dolphins signed Brown to a one-year, $1.75 million fully-guaranteed deal to be a veteran back behind younger backs in Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Brown is a sturdy, no-frills runner who will give the Dolphins a back who, in a pinch, can play on all three downs. He also excels as a goal-line back and he can contribute on special teams so he should carve out a role in 2020. Brown posted a career-best 101/419/5 rushing (4.1 YPC) and 23/162 receiving on 30 targets with the Rams a season ago. He opened the year with a significant role, but his playing time decreased as the season went along with rookie Cam Akers taking the backfield over. Brown is likely to be used similarly with the Dolphins, and his fully-guaranteed contract makes it seem like he’s a lock to make their roster. Brown can be left on the waiver wire to start the season in most leagues, and he would need Gaskin and Ahmed to take major steps back to be fantasy relevant.
Salvon Ahmed (Proj: QB62 | ADP: 234 | Pos ADP: RB66)
Ahmed started last off-season with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent out of Washington before the Dolphins claimed him before the start of last season and placed him on their practice squad. Miami eventually had enough of Jordan Howard and Matt Breida and they called him up to be the backup option behind Myles Gaskin. Ahmed posted 75/319/3 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 11/61/0 receiving on 14 targets to average 11.5 FPG in six games — he missed three contests in the second half because of a shoulder injury. He averaged 21.0 touches and 97.0 scrimmage yards per game with two scores in his three games with 60% of the snaps or better with Gaskin out of the lineup. The Dolphins did little to upgrade their backfield this off-season by signing career backup Malcolm Brown and drafting Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. Ahmed will be competing for snaps behind incumbent starter Gaskin, and HC Brian Flores showed last August he’s not afraid to throw a curveball when it comes to his backfield so he could be competing for more than backup snaps. Ahmed is off the fantasy radar in most formats entering the season but he could climb into relevance if this backfield competition is more open than anticipated.
DeVante Parker (Proj: WR50 | ADP: 120 | Pos ADP: WR50)
Parker’s career took a new trajectory in 2019 when he broke out for a top-12 WR finish in overall FP, but he couldn’t maintain his high level of play in 2020 as he struggled through a hamstring injury and a quarterback carousel. Parker posted 63/793/4 receiving on 103 targets to finish as the WR40 with 11.9 FPG in 14 games. His fantasy production from 2019 to 2020 plummeted mostly because of his dip in touchdowns (9>4) and in YPR (16.7>12.6). Parker missed two games with a hamstring injury and he’s now missed 13 games in six seasons and he has just one 16-game campaign (2019). Parker easily paced the Dolphins in target share in each of the last two seasons, but he’ll be facing much tougher competition in 2021 after the Dolphins signed Will Fuller and they drafted Jaylen Waddle sixth overall to play alongside Parker. Miami is also handing over the keys to the offense to Tua Tagovailoa full time after a rocky rookie season so this passing game could have a little more volatility than we’ve seen with Ryan Fitzpatrick in recent seasons. Parker is the best bet to lead the Dolphins in target share this season since he has stretches when he can be a dominant X receiver while the other receivers do more of their work deeper down the field, but it should be pretty tight competition for targets overall. Parker has been the forgotten man in this passing attack with Fuller, Waddle, and Gesicki each being drafted in front of him, but there’s a solid chance he’s the most productive fantasy receiver in Miami and he beats his WR4/5 ADP.
Jaylen Waddle (Proj: WR52 | ADP: 114 | Pos ADP: WR48)
Waddle made the most of his limited opportunities in an absolutely loaded Alabama receiving corps over the last three seasons, and he actually ended up being drafted higher (No. 6 overall) than Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and 2020 Heisman winner DeVonta Smith. Waddle averaged a silly 18.9 YPR in 34 career games with the Crimson Tide, and he posted 3.1 catches per game and 58.8 receiving yards per game with 17 TDs. He received Tyreek Hill comparisons in the pre-draft process because of his electric speed and quickness in a smaller frame (5’10”, 183 pounds). He moves effortlessly at a high velocity, which helps him to create explosive plays at all levels of the field. Waddle can line up all over the formation but he primarily played out of the slot at Alabama, which is likely where he’ll find himself the most this season playing between Will Fuller and DeVante Parker in three-WR sets. The Dolphins had no downfield presence for Tua Tagovailoa outside of Mike Gesicki last season, but that’s changed in a big way with Fuller and Waddle in the fold. It’s yet to be seen if Tua will be able to take full advantage of his speedy WRs after he finished near the bottom of the league in percentage of 20+ yards passes (10%) and NFL passer rating on those attempts (76.7). Waddle doesn’t have as much upside as Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith in this year’s rookie class because of his competition for targets and because of Tua’s unimpressive rookie season. However, Fuller will serve a one-game suspension to open the season and he’s had plenty of injury issues before 2020. Waddle’s history with Tua at Alabama could give him a chance at more targets than anticipated, and he’s worth a look once fantasy drafts reach the double-digit rounds as a WR4/5 target.
Will Fuller (Proj: WR55 | ADP: 95 | Pos ADP: WR39)
Fuller opted to take a one-year deal to hit the open market once again next season after he failed to get the payday he was looking for in free agency. Fuller’s market could have been suppressed a bit because of his extensive injury issues and because of the six-game suspension he received at the end of November. Fuller had an outstanding season as a first-time #1 WR before he got popped for PEDs after Week 12. He actually stayed healthy last season but he still missed at least five games for the fourth straight season for his suspension — he’ll finish up his suspension by missing the 2021 season opener against the Patriots. Fuller still posted career-best numbers with 53/879/8 receiving on 75 targets to finish as the WR8 with 17.2 FPG while playing 87% of the snaps in 11 games. Fuller finished seventh in yards per route run (2.28) and he had only two drops last season, which was once a big concern of his coming out of Notre Dame. Fuller, along with rookie Jaylen Waddle, will bring some much-needed big-play ability to Miami’s offense next season with his 4.32 speed. The Dolphins had no downfield presence last season, but it’s yet to be seen if Tua Tagovailoa will be able to take full advantage of Fuller’s speed after he completed just 38.7% of his passes thrown 20+ yards downfield. Fuller did show off a more complete route tree in his first season without ball-hog DeAndre Hopkins, and he should be a good complement to DeVante Parker, who is a contested-catch specialist like Nuk. The Dolphins got a great bargain with Fuller but he’s being overvalued as a fringe WR3 in fantasy drafts since he’ll have way more competition for targets while the quality of those targets will be going down switching from Deshaun Watson to Tua.
Preston Williams (Proj: WR123 | ADP: 464 | Pos ADP: WR154)
Williams can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries since he first emerged as an undrafted stud at the beginning of the 2019 season. He tore his ACL after the first eight games of his rookie season before a foot injury, which required surgery last November, cut his sophomore season short after eight games. Williams has posted a solid 50/716/7 receiving on 95 targets in his 16 games over the course of two seasons, but the Dolphins weren’t waiting around to see if Williams could stay healthy in 2021. They signed Will Fuller and they drafted Jaylen Waddle sixth overall to play alongside DeVante Parker, which will push Williams down the depth chart. His aDOT has sat above 13.5 yards in each of his first two seasons — mostly playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick — and he’ll likely slide into a situational deep threat role, which isn’t as appealing with Tua Tagovailoa taking over the offense. Williams is out of the mix in just about all formats this season and he’ll likely need multiple injuries in front of him to be fantasy relevant.
Mike Gesicki (Proj: TE12 | ADP: 115 | Pos ADP: TE11)
Gesicki is entering a make-or-break season in the final year of his rookie contract. He’s set to hit free agency for the first time next off-season, and the Dolphins started to potentially prepare for life without Gesicki when they drafted Boston College’s Hunter Long in the third round. Gesicki is coming off a career after posting 53/703/6 receiving (13.3 YPR) on 85 targets. He finished as the TE8 with 10.6 FPG while playing 63% of the snaps in 15 games. Gesicki has seen the sixth-most TE targets in the last two seasons with 174, but his path to maintaining his 5.6 targets per game in that span got a lot tougher this off-season. The Dolphins had just two receivers to see 55+ targets last season — DeVante Parker was the other at 103 — and Gesicki was the only healthy receiver at Tua Tagovailoa’s disposal in the final two games of last season. He’s now potentially the #4 option in this passing attack after the Dolphins signed Will Fuller and drafted Jaylen Waddle at No. 6. Gesicki is also more of a wide receiver than a tight end as he ran the vast majority of his routes from the slot (67.4%) and out wide (19.7%) compared to inline (12.9%). Gesicki has never topped a 65% snap share and he could lose some opportunities to line up as a WR with Waddle and Fuller now in the mix. His career-best aDOT of 11.1 yards could also dip this season with the more conservative Tagovailoa taking over full time for the aggressive Ryan Fitzpatrick. Gesicki is being drafted as a fringe TE1 but he has a lot more landlines to dodge to finish as a top-12 TE again with Fuller, Waddle, and Long added to the mix and with Tua taking the reins of the offense.
Hansen’s Final Points
No matter how you slice it, Tua Tagovailoa is a tough call this year. I believed in him as a college player transitioning to the pros, but his lingering injury problems and a spotty showing as a rookie cannot be ignored. It’s early, but it does feel like things could break either way for Tua. He will likely augment his fantasy production with his legs, at least a little, as he put up 109/3 rushing as a rookie. But this is not a running QB and he put up only 340 yards over the course of 32 games at Alabama, so his margin for error for fantasy isn’t great (especially with backup QB Jacoby Brissett a threat to vulture short TDs). Tua is a timing and rhythm guy who mostly operates from the pocket, and he will need to get on the same page as his two new WRs, which could take some time. Ultimately, we have him slotted right around his price tag of the QB22 around 150 overall, so I’m okay with him there. If the vibes are good and he actually knows the playbook (which is new this year), then I’ll feel a little better about him. Overall, there’s a lot to like about his revamped receiving corps, but I’m not sure Tua is the ideal guy to take advantage of vertical receivers, and the new OCs are unproven. I don’t find myself actively targeting him, but it won’t be too difficult for him to outproduce his ADP if things go relatively well.
There was a time when I thought Jacoby Brissett might be one of the 32 best QBs in the league, but I’ve pulled back from that now that his sample size has grown. He’s a talented guy with running ability, but I think he does everything a little too slowly, so I’d have to say he’s not a starting caliber QB. He could produce for fantasy, though, if given a shot on this team, thanks to his running and their talented receiving corps. But I don’t think he’s draftable.
One of my main RB rules in fantasy is to be wary of a guy who comes out of nowhere and produces and gets a lot of love the next season, and Myles Gaskin fits the bill well. Knowing there was a need for a RB in Miami last year, I did write about Gaskin in August and how he had a great camp and had a great opportunity, and he could certainly have another great camp and solidify his large role this summer. Gaskin did look good all year and was particularly good in the passing game. On the other hand, he did not look like a good short-yardage runner. That could be a problem with some bigger backs on the roster, especially the annoyingly-solid Malcolm Brown. Gaskin did also break down with knee and ankle injuries, so he still has to prove he can handle a large workload, which he had last year with 18.3 touches per game. He’s a tough call, but not as tough for me: I’m passing on him at his relatively high ADP of 55 and RB24. I have no problem with his ranking among RBs, since that is deserved based on Gaskin’s 2020 season and no serious competition for touches. I’m just not comfortable taking him in the fifth round, either as my RB2 or my RB3. I wouldn’t feel great about Gaskin as my RB, and the fifth round is a little pricey for an RB3 I’m not totally sold on.
He’s a guy who could be a major factor, or he could be quickly on the outs, but the Dolphins signed Malcolm Brown to a decent one-year, $1.75 million fully-guaranteed deal, and I’m sure HC Brian Flores appreciates his veteran reliability and his versatility, so I’d have to think Brown will be a factor. But with an ADP of 300+, there’s no reason to draft him. If you’re looking for upside from a bigger back on the roster, that’s probably seventh-rounder Gerrid Doaks.
Cast aside as an UFA by the 49ers last summer, Salvon Ahmed was claimed by the Dolphins, who actually needed to feature him for 2-3 weeks. Ahmed actually averaged 21.0 touches and 97.0 scrimmage yards per game in his three games with 60% of the snaps or better with Gaskin out of the lineup, so he cannot be discounted in this backfield. Of course, first let’s see if he makes the team. His ADP of 235 is fine, but it could be cheaper, so I don’t expect to take a flyer on him unless he lights it up in camp.
He’s a longshot as a seventh-round pick this year, but so was Myles Gaskin in 2020 after being a seventh-round pick in 2019, so 2021 seventh rounder Gerrid Doaks is on my radar. He’s a big back who passes the eyeball test, and he also has potential in the passing game with some solid receiving chops. If he has a good camp, he will be a candidate for our “Mr. Relevant” article, which isolates some upside guys to take with one of your last picks.
I have never disputed the fact that DeVante Parker’s level of ability is borderline elite, if not actually elite. I have questioned a bunch of other stuff with Parker, mainly his ability to stay healthy and play hurt. There are a lot of factors to wade through with Parker, and you’re welcome to do just that in this article, but ultimately, my position on Parker comes down to one question: when you add everything in play with him up, is he worth taking at his ADP? Believe it or not, I think he is. Parker didn’t click all that well with Tua Tagovailoa last year, but at least they have a track record together, unlike Will Fuller (Jaylen Waddle did play with Tua at Alabama) and both of those guys are being drafted ahead of Parker. I was not buying Parker around 50-60 overall last year coming off a top-12 in overall FP, but I’m very willing to buy this year with his ADP up a very considerable 60-70 spots. Despite the additions of Fuller and Waddle, Parker should lead this team in target share again this year, and he’s a prototypical X receiver with a complete game.
I honestly don’t have a great feel for now the new (and relatively unproven OCs) will utilize Jaylen Waddle, so he’s a tough guy to handicap, especially considering his young QB has not yet arrived. But I do know this: Waddle’s speed and separation quickness could make him special, so I’ll certainly consider him at his fairly pricey ADP of 115 overall and WR48. For what it’s worth, we do have him ranked a little lower than his ADP, so he’s not somewhere I’m actively targeting. One element that should help is where he lines up, which will primarily be in the slot. Playing inside initially can really help a young wideout with better and easier matchups. Waddle also does have some injury concerns and we can’t expect him to be peppered with targets in a crowded receiving group. Basically, I want to love him for fantasy, but I need some convincing, so we’ll see how the vibes are come August’s end.
For the first time ever, I actually backed Will Fuller last year, and I picked a good year to do so. Fuller was incredible in 2020, but that was with his guy Deshaun Watson, who was beyond incredible a year ago. Fuller is certainly a wild card on his new team, and I do like how he signed only a one-year deal, but like Waddle, he’s tough to handicap, so it comes down to price. At WR39 with an ADP of 95, I’m just not willing to buy a guy who will not play Week 1 (suspended), who has to still prove he can stay on the field, and who will have to compete for targets with a large group of viable targets. Even when he gets targets, it’s a big dropoff going from Watson, a downfield magician, and Tua Tagovailoa who completed just 38.7% of his passes thrown 20+ yards downfield last year. Fuller’s brand name recognition has caused him to be priced too high, so he’s overvalued in 2021.
Coming off a torn ACL last year, I had zero interest in Preston Williams, and that’s about where everyone is with him in 2021, since his ADP is over 400. Williams mostly played well with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in 2019, so he’s not on the draft radar unless his health checks out all summer and Miami suffers multiple injuries at receiver.
I decided not to officially endorse Mike Gesicki last year, which I ended up regretting at times and not regretting at times. That’s Gesicki for you; he’s inconsistent with flashes of brilliance but a lack of consistency. They drafted Boston College’s Hunter Long in the third round this spring, so they are likely preparing to let Gesicki go as a free agent in 2022, which is fair. But it’s also fair to think he may have a career year in a walk year, since he showed some positive signs with Tua Tagovailoa, and he’ll be in a good spot overall in an offense that boasts three high-impact wideouts on the field a ton. The question is, does Gesicki command the ball? I’m still not sure, but I know it will be hard for him to maintain his 5+ targets a game average from the last two seasons with WRs Parker, Fuller, and Waddle in the mix. Then again, Parker and Waddle are new to the team, and all three are injury risks. I could see Tua leaning on the big-bodied Gesicki more than people think, so I am intrigued. We have him ranked right at his ADP of the TE12 going off the board around 120 overall, but I will need to see some good vibes with him to push him any harder. Ultimately, you have to recognize how they are building this passing offense with an impressive threesome at WR, so they don’t exactly appear on the surface to be “all in” on Gesicki this year, and last year they did work in two other TEs, which hurt Gesicki’s upside and production.