The Dolphins are in yet another state of transition after they became the first team to lose seven straight games and to win seven straight games in the same season. Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross shockingly fired Brian Flores after two consecutive winning seasons — the Dolphins owned a 19-14 record (.576) in 2020-21. The premature dismissal resulted in Flores filing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL on the basis of racial discrimination and allegations that Ross pressured him to lose games for a better draft position. The fallout from Flores’ firing will likely hang over the franchise for the foreseeable future, and they’re moving forward with Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man Mike McDaniel as the new face of the franchise. McDaniel became the team’s fifth different head coach since 2011, following in the steps of Tony Sparano (2008-11), Joe Philbin (2012-14), Adam Gase (2016-18), and Flores (2019-21) before him.
McDaniel is the latest young offensive mind to land a head-coaching gig from the Shanahan Tree. He got his start in the NFL as an intern under Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos in 2005 before he joined Kyle Shanahan on Gary Kubiak’s staff with the Texans in 2006-08. McDaniel reunited with the Shanahans in Washington where he eventually climbed to WRs coach in 2013 when Pierre Garcon led the NFL with 113 receptions, which is still a franchise record. McDaniel has been one of Kyle’s top assistants ever since before taking his talents to South Beach this off-season. It appears the franchise will stick it out with Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, and his development over the next two to three seasons was clearly critical to the front office since they were down to two McDaniel and Kellen Moore in their head-coaching search.
The Mike McDaniel File
Playcalling Experience: None
Other Coaching Experience: 49ers OC (2021), 49ers run-game coordinator (2017-20), Falcons offensive assistant (2015-16), Browns WRs (2014), Washington WRs (2013), Washington offensive assistant (2011-12), Texans offensive assistant (2006-08), Broncos intern (2005)
Offensive Coaches Worked Under: Kyle Shanahan (2014-21), Mike Shanahan (2005, 2011-13), Gary Kubiak (2006-08)
Notable: Two Super Bowl appearances (Atl 2016, SF 2019), Yale WR (2001-04)
Potential Offensive Changes
The Dolphins have largely ignored their running back depth chart and their rushing attack since trading Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals during the 2019 season, but they’re about to undergo a major shift in philosophy with McDaniel bringing the wide-zone run scheme to Miami. The 49ers finished fourth in run rate (49%), fifth in rushing TDs (22), and seventh in rushing yards per game (127.4). Meanwhile, the Dolphins finished 23rd in run rate (40%), 24th in rushing TDs (12), and 30th in rushing yards per game (92.2). Miami is set to reshape their entire backfield with four of their top-five RB rushing leaders entering free agency, and they’ll need to bring in a fullback after they ran just 10 plays out of 21 personnel (two RBs) last season. The 49ers ran a league-high 425 plays out of 21 personnel with McDaniels coordinating the offense. Miami also needs to revamp one of the league’s worst offensive lines from last season. They’ll be looking for more quickness and speed for their zone-blocking scheme after targeting more size and power for their former man-blocking concepts.
McDaniel will use the run game to set up their passing attack, and the 49ers were among the league’s best at generating big plays off of play-action last season. Jimmy Garoppolo finished 19th with 122 play-action passes but he led the league with 10.1 YPA on those passes. The Dolphins ran the sixth-most RPOs (196) in 2021, and they should continue to be a staple of Miami’s offense, especially since Tua has excelled as an RPO dating back to Alabama. Shanahan’s offenses also love to keep defenses on their toes by routinely finishing at the top of the league in pre-snap motions and shifts. San Francisco’s positional target distribution was around the league average last season, but their TEs were targeted at a 27% rate in 2018-20, well above the league average of 21%. Conversely, 49ers’ WRs saw just 51% of the targets in that same three-season span, well below the league average of 60%.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on the playcaller changes.
Dolphins’ Rushing Game — The Dolphins are going to substantially overhaul their entire backfield this off-season with just Myles Gaskin and Gerrid Doaks currently under contract heading into this season. They’ll be looking for one-cut, downhill runners and more athletic offensive linemen in the draft and free agency to work in their wide-zone scheme. San Francisco’s rushing attack had the seventh-most rushing TDs (86), the 11th-most rushing yards per game (122.5), and the 10th-most YPC (4.4) during McDaniel’s five-year run as an assistant with the 49ers. Similar to how Jets OC Mike LaFleur went after Tevin Coleman last off-season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see McDaniel go after Raheem Mostert and/or Jeff Wilson in free agency since they’re familiar with his system. Gaskin is likely to have a much smaller role in this offense next season, and whoever the Dolphins bring in to be the lead runner will be coveted in fantasy drafts this season.
Jaylen Waddle (WR) — Waddle’s fantasy hype is already at a fever pitch after he re-wrote the NFL’s rookie record book with 104 receptions, and his new coach is fueling the fire by highly recommending him in fantasy. McDaniel told the Dan Le Batard Show, “The best and easiest way to get yards is to give it to a really talented player. The 49ers the last four or five years have led the league in YAC. The reason is because we’re addicted to getting our skill-position players that are good with running the ball, the ball. And so, yes, I would start him in fantasy.”
Waddle isn’t built (5’10”, 182 pounds) to be used like pseudo-running back the way that Deebo Samuel was at the end of last season when he had 5+ carries in 11 straight games (postseason included), but it’s a great sign that McDaniel already recognizes how important Waddle is to his new offense. The second-year WR has a solid chance to build on his 25% target share and it would be gravy if he sees a carry or two per game. He was also criminally underused as a deep threat with an aDOT of just 7.0 yards so it’s easy to see why he’s being selected around 25 picks into early Best Ball drafts.
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on playcaller changes.
Mike Gesicki (TE) — Gesicki’s future with the Dolphins is a bit up in the air as he enters unrestricted free agency for the first time. The Dolphins currently have the league’s most salary cap space with the new League Year looming, and it appears that the new coaching staff wants to get a look at him in 2022, one way (franchise tag) or another (short-term contract). Run blocking will be an important part of McDaniel’s new offense, and Gesicki isn’t exactly known for being a dominant in-line player. He actually led all TEs with 62.5% of his routes coming from the slot last season. Gesicki looks like a poor fit for their new run-heavy attack but McDaniel wasn’t too concerned about it at the combine.
“We’ve had tight ends in our history that have been featured pass receivers and we’ve had featured blockers. On both ends of the system, they are expected and will do both things, majoring or minoring in one or the other, depending on their skill sets. I have no problem, no hesitation, or no concern of Mike being able to contribute as a blocker and we’ll use him the way that’s most appropriate for him.” Gesicki surely isn’t the all-around player that George Kittle is in San Francisco so he’ll have to carve out a role similar to the one Jordan Reed had in Shanahan’s system in Washington as a rookie in 2013. Kittle and the 49ers’ TE were targeted at the fifth-highest rate (27%) at the position in 2018-20 so Gesicki has a chance to be heavily involved in the passing attack if he can get on the field enough. The Dolphins selected Hunter Long in the third round last season, and he’s potentially a player to remember for fantasy if the Dolphins surprisingly let Gesicki walk in free agency.