“Sauer Notes” AFC East Breakdown: Miami Dolphins
The Philbin experience in Miami ended with more mediocrity for Dolphin fans. Over 52 games, Joe led the Fins to a 24-28 record before being replaced as head coach after Week 4. Miami has now missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons with their last winning year coming in 2008 (11-5). Over the last 14 seasons, the Dolphins have made the playoffs just once. Their offense faded to 27th in points scored (310), which was 78 fewer than 2014. Miami was expected to make a step forward on defense after signing DE Ndamukong Suh. They allowed 389 points (19th) while falling to 25th in yards allowed. Adam Gase takes over as head coach after spending the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos (2013-2014) and Chicago Bears (2015). Gase has 13 years of NFL experience with all of his time directed toward the offensive side of the ball. Clyde Christensen takes over as the offensive coordinator. He spent 14 seasons working for the Colts in various jobs highlighted by offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. Over the past four years, Clyde was the quarterbacks’ coach for Indianapolis with Andrew Luck as his star pupil. Vance Joseph will get the chance to improve the Dolphins’ defense. This will be a step up in job for Joseph as most of his NFL experience comes from being a defensive backs coach for three different NFL franchises (San Francisco – 2006 to 2010, Houston – 2011 to 2013, and Cincinnati – 2014 to 2015).
2015 AFC East Standings
- New England Patriots 12-4
- New York Jets 10-6
- Buffalo Bills 8-8
- Miami Dolphins 6-10
Week 1: @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: @ New England Patriots
Week 3: vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 4: @ Cincinnati Bengals
Week 5: vs. Tennessee Titans
Week 6: vs. Steelers
Week 7: vs. Buffalo Bills
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs. New York Jets
Week 10: @ San Diego Chargers
Week 11: @ Los Angeles Rams
Week 12: vs. San Fransisco 49ers
Week 13: @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 14: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 15: @ New York Jets
Week 16: @ Buffalo Bills
Week 17: vs. New England Patriots
Miami lost three quality defensive starters in the offseason. CB Brent Grimes signed with Tampa Bay, DE Olivier Vernon moved onto the Giants, and DE Derrick Shelby will earn his next check in Atlanta. Grimes played well for the Dolphins over the last three years, but he’ll start the 2016 regular season at age 33 and his wife tends to be a liability on social media. Shelby played in 63 of the last 64 games for Miami while offering minimal value rushing the QB (nine sacks in his career). Vernon is the player the Dolphins will miss the most. He had explosiveness at the line of scrimmage leading to 29 sacks over four NFL season with improvement in his tackling opportunities in 2015 (61 – career high). Struggling LB Kelvin Sheppard will fight for playing time with the Giants. On offense, Miami lost starting RB Lamar Miller to Houston and 3rd WR Richard Matthews signed with Tennessee. Their big offseason signing was DE Mario Williams, who will add value to Miami’s pass rush. G Kraig Urbik was brought in for offensive line depth. S Isa Abdul-Quddus should be a nice upgrade to the Dolphins’ secondary while LB Kiko Alonso has the talent to make an impact if he can stay healthy. CB Byron Maxwell will try to revive his career after struggling in pass coverage for the Eagles in 2015.
1st Round (13): OT, Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
2nd Round (38): CB, Xavien Howard, Baylor
3rd Round (73): RB, Kenyan Drake, Alabama
3rd Round (86): WR, Leonte Carroo
6th Round (186): WR, Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
6th Round (204): S, Jordan Lucas, Penn State
7th Round (223): QB, Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
7th Round (231):WR, Thomas Duarte, UCLA
With four of their first five picks in this year’s draft, the Dolphins addressed the offensive side of the ball. OT Laremy Tunsil was free falling in the draft after someone posted a negative image of him on Twitter. Miami snatched him up with the 13th overall pick–not bad since Tunsil was once considered an option as the number one pick overall. Laremy should be a huge upgrade in pass protection while offering upside in run blocking. He has a nice combination of technique, foot quickness, and vision while needing to add some strength to his lower body.
In the 3rd round, Miami added RB Kenyan Drake to compete for the starting job. Drake has some history of injuries (2014 – broken leg and 2015 – broken arm) but his game will add explosiveness to Miami’s offense. Kenyan will have high upside when he reaches the second level of the defense. The trick for him is gaining more patience and vision to help slow the game where he sees cut back lanes and holes opening when waiting for plays to develop. Drake runs a 4.45 forty with solid short area quickness and open field ability. Most scouts believe he lacks the size (6’1” and 210 lbs.) and durability to be an every-down back in the NFL. His motor is a key asset if the light bulb clicks on to see the winning situations develop.
WR Leonte Carroo was also taken in the third round. Leonte was very productive over his last two seasons at Rutgers. His speed isn’t elite (4.50 forty), and he’ll need to add more strength to break free at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. His route running will be tested at the next level. His ability to win jump balls will be the key to his upside in the NFL. Overall, his resume looks intriguing while his skill set has enough positives to offer upside in the pros with further growth in his game.
With their first pick in the sixth round, the Dolphins added the Smurf WR Jakeem Grant (5’6” and 165 lbs.). He should add instant value in the return game as long as he can hang onto the football. Grant has 4.4 speed with exceptional quickness, and he has more strength than meets the eye (15 reps in the bench press) when you consider his size. His game could have some similarities to WR Tavon Austin’s. Jakeem looks to be more of a gimmick option in the pros at WR with impact value if he finds daylight in the secondary.
Miami drafted CB Xavier Howard in the second round to hopefully upgrade their starting secondary. His game may have more risk than reward at the next level. Howard had success in 2015 when asked to play one-on-one coverage. He played his best ball when matched up against less talented WRs where he gained an edge in press coverage. Xavier has more quickness than deep speed. His style at this point of his career will lead to a high volume of pass interference penalties in the NFL, and doesn’t cater to handling the best WR talent in the league.
The Dolphins added S Jordan Lucas with their second pick in the sixth round plus QB Brandon Doughty and TE Thomas Duarte in the seventh round. Lucas has experience playing cornerback and safety in the college. His overall game lacks impact value. This will lead to his future being a sub nickel or dime player in coverage. Doughty projects to be a possible game manager with a below par arm. He needs to develop his pocket presence and passing technique when under duress. Brandon has the smarts to succeed, and he can read defenses. Duarte had multiple stars in this year’s NFL combine while coming up short in strength. His downside is that his size (6’2” and 231 lbs.) is closer to a WR than a TE. For him to have success in the NFL, he will need to add more bulk and strength while maintaining his speed and quickness.
Ryan Tannehill (QB) – Over four seasons as the starting QB for the Dolphins, Tannehill has a 29-35 record with two 4000+ yard passing seasons on his resume. He’s been sacked 184 times in his career with two of those years resulting in the most yards lost (2013 – 399 and 2015 – 420). Ryan appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough season after setting career highs in passing yards (4045), passing TDs (27), and completion rate (66.4) in 2014. Even with similar pass attempts in 2015 (586), he had a regression in his completion percentage (61.9) with a small step forward in passing yards (4208) and weaker passing TDs (24). His production was about league average while producing only two impact games in 2015 (282 passing yards with four TDs and 351 passing yards and three TDs). On the year, Ryan had six 300 yards passing games and two games with three TDs or more. Over his last ten starts, He had six games with one TD or fewer while passing for only 86 yards in Week 13 against the Ravens at home. Tannehill tends to be a dink and dunk type QB with low production in yards per pass attempts (6.9 in his career – 7.2 in 2015 which was a career high). The Dolphins new offensive coordinator has worked with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck for most of his career so he may be able to unlock the key to Ryan having more success in the deep passing game. Miami has one stud WR and two other options with playmaking ability. With the new weapons and change in coaching staff, it would not be too far-fetched to see Tannehill go for 4500+ yards and 30+ TD.
Jay Ajayi (RB) – Ajayi had an impressive junior season at Boise St. in 2014 where he ran for 1823 yards with 28 rushing TDs with 50 catches for 535 yards and four receiving TDs. His career at college started with him tearing his ACL in his right knee in 2011, which limited his playing time until 2013 when Jay had 271 touches for 1647 yards and 19 combined TDs. After his knee injury, he was arrested for stealing sweatpants leading to a falling out with head coach Chris Peterson. 2014 head coach Bryan Harsin gave Ajayi a clean slate, which led to his big season. His draft value plummeted due to concerns about the long-term health of his right knee. At the NFL combine in 2015, Ajayi flashed his quickness and athletic ability. He ran a 4.57 forty yard dash with 19 reps on the bench press. In addition to his quickness, Jay has shown the capacity to make defenders miss with shoulder fakes and enough power to gain yards after contact in the open field. He has excellent vision with enough acceleration to make big plays when he reaches the second level of the defense. His pass blocking skills grade above average. But he did have some ball security issues in college (11 fumbles). This season Jay looks poised to be the lead dog in the Dolphins rushing attack. Over the last nine games last year, Ajayi had 267 combined yards on 56 touches with one TD. The Dolphins’ RBs had 308 carries in 2015 for 1353 yards and 10 TDs while catching 81 passes for 701 yards and three TDs on 103 targets. This is an upside opportunity for Jay, but he’s a far from a lock to get the whole show. If healthy, he has a solid chance at 200+ carries with 50 catches well within reach. All total 1300+ yards with a chance at eight to 10 TDs is not out of the realm of possibilities for Ajayi. This makes him a back-end RB1 in the Fantasy world. For the record, Lamar Miller was the 5th highest scoring RB in PPR leagues last year.
Damien Williams (RB) – After two seasons in the NFL, Williams has a rather boring resume (51 rushes for 181 yards with no rushing TDs while catching 42 of his 55 targets for 329 yards and two TDs). He missed some time in 2015 due to a thumb issue. Over the last ten games last year, Damien only had five rushes for 13 yards and 13 catches for 108 yards. In his two seasons at Oklahoma, Williams had 1909 combined yards with 19 TDs and 43 catches. His resume is short in all areas, but he does have upside as a pass catcher while grading just below league average in pass protection. It’s real tough to believe in his upside especially when this year’s coaching staff added Kenyan Drake to the roster.
Kenyan Drake (RB) – Over four seasons with Alabama, Drake only managed 233 carries for 1495 yards and 18 rushing TDs while showcasing some explosiveness in the passing game (46/570/4 – 12.1 yards per catch). As kick returner in his senior year, Kenyan averaged 26.6 yards per return with a back breaking 95-yard score late in the NCAA Championship game against Clemson. He projects as a change-of-pace back with upside as a pass catcher with value as a returner. His downside is his history of injuries. Drake has an excellent chance at starting the season as the backup RB for the Dolphins.
Jarvis Landry (WR) – The Dolphins gave Landry 184 chances to make plays in 2015 between his 166 targets (6th) and 18 rushes. He gained 1270 combined yards with five TDs. Jarvis had double-digit targets in 11 of his 16 games, which delivered three 100 yard receiving games and three games with double-digit catches. His production in TDs was somewhat of a disappointment considering his high volume of chances. Miami tends to work him close to the line of scrimmage leading to short yardage per catch (10.5). With better QB play and offensive structure, Landry may offer much more upside as far yards to Miami’s offense. He has a rock solid top ten WR opportunity while offering a high level of consistency. His lack of explosiveness at this point of his career pushes his draft value a notch behind the elite WRs in the game. Jarvis looks like a lock to catch 100+ balls for 1300+ yards with growth in his TD production.
DeVante Parker (WR) – Miami placed their bet on Parker in the 2015 NFL Draft when they selected him 14th overall. DeVante has exceptional hands with plenty of size (6’3″) and speed (4.45 forty at the NFL combine). His 2014 season was cut short due to broken bone in his left foot. In his first three seasons at Louisville, Parker caught 113 passes for 1920 yards and 28 TDs. His value at the goal was very clear with 24.8 percent of his catches leading to TDs. After his return from his broken foot, DeVante caught 43 passes for 855 yards and five TDs in six games, which included four 100 yard receiving games and one 200 yard game. For his career, he averaged 17.8 yards per catch with 33 TDs. Parker isn’t a great route-runner, and he needs to prove he can beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage. His resume of success is short as far as catches, but his scoring ability is very intriguing to Miami fans. Last year Dolphin WRs caught 226 passes for 2963 yards and 15 TDs on 370 targets. Many of Parker’s catches in the end zone were the result of jump balls, where he won the battles. His skill set has some similarities to Marques Colston with more open field vision. In his rookie season, DeVante suffered a left foot injury in June which led to surgery and minimal action over the first 11 games of the season (four catches for 49 yards on eight targets). His game looked NFL worthy over the last six games of the year (22 catches for 445 yards and three TDs on 42 targets). Nine of his catches gained 20 yards or more. His success late in the season projected over 16 games would deliver 59 catches for 1187 yards and eight TDs on 112 targets. This should be his floor for 2016.
Kenny Stills (WR) – After his breakthrough season with New Orleans in 2014 (63/931/3 on 84 targets), Stills struggled to get on the same page with Ryan Tannehill. He only caught 27 of his 63 targets (42.9 percent) for 440 yards and three TD. Kenny had three catches or fewer in 15 of his 16 games while being shut out in four different games. His opportunity for success pretty much closed once Parker returned to the starting lineup. Over three years in the NFL, Stills has 122 catches for 2012 yards and 11 TDs on 196 targets. At this point of his career, Kenny is nothing more than an insurance policy with more upside than meets the eye. He’s only started 25 of 47 games in the NFL.
Leonte Carroo (WR) – Based on the WR structure on Dolphins, Carroo adds instant value as a goal-line threat. Over three seasons at Rutgers, Leonte caught 122 passes for 2373 yards and 29 TDS in 30 games. He averaged 19.5 yards per catch and an almost one TD per game. His best season came as a junior when Carroo finished with 55 catches for 1086 yards and 10 TDs. His hands grade as an asset with upside as a blocker in the run game. His game may move slowly due to the WR talent in front of him on the Dolphins’ roster, and he needs to improve his route running skills. Leonte is a player to follow in training camp, but he can’t make an impact without an injury to someone else.
Jordan Cameron (TE) – For the second straight season, Cameron only caught 50 percent of his targets leading to Fantasy owners questioning if he’ll even repeat his impact season in 2013 (80/917/7 on 118 targets). His game appeared to offer upside after the first two games of the season (4/73 and 3/62), but Jordan only caught eight of his next 25 targets for 65 yards and a TD. Over the last 14 games of the season, he had three catches or fewer in each game while never gaining more than 35 yards receiving in any game. He had four catches for 20 yards or more in 2015, but three came in Week 1 and Week 2. The growth in depth in WR should work in his favor especially if the Dolphins’ offensive line improves in pass protection. The problem with his upside in 2016 is that there may not be enough balls to go around. The Bears in 2015 threw to the TE (92/917/9), and the Broncos were active throwing the ball to the TE position with Gase as the offensive coordinator. Based on talent, I’d be willing to give him a shot as a possible upside TE2 with the idea of playing him in certain matchups if his role in Miami’s offense makes a step forward.
Andrew Franks (K) – The Dolphins didn’t create many scoring opportunities for Franks in his rookie season. He made 13 of his 16 field goals (81.3 percent) with his three misses coming from 40 yards or longer. He only had two chances from 50 yards or beyond with one crossing the uprights. The added length to extra points led to 33 successful kicks in 36 chances (91.7). Andrew looks to have solid NFL leg, but he needs Miami to create scoring opportunities. He has no real draft value in Fantasy leagues while possibly being of value at times with favorable matchups.
The Dolphins allowed the fifth most rushing yards (2019) in 2015 with 13 rushing TDs. They graded above the league average as far as yards per rush (4.0), but teams had the second most attempts (502) against them in the NFL. They finished 21st in the league in passing yards allowed (4000) with 31 TDs allowed and 7.8 yards per pass attempts (26th). Their pass rush only delivered 31 sacks (25th).
DT Ndamukong Suh was the team’s best run defender with six sacks compared to 8.5 in 2014. DT Earl Mitchell struggled against the run with no real value attack the QB (5.5 sacks in his career in 91 games. Earl missed four games last in 2015 due to a calf issue. DE Cameron Wake missed nine games last year due to a torn Achilles. Cam didn’t have a sack in his first four games of the season while his game made a nice step forward in Weeks 6, 7, and 8 (seven sacks). Wake tends to be a liability against the run. DE Mario Williams tied his career low in sacks (5) playing for the Bills in 2015. In his career, Mario has 96 sacks in 145 career games. This defensive line should pressure the QB as long as Cameron Wake regains his top form. The offseason reports point to a full recovery before the start of the season. DT Jordan Phillips has enough talent to be a run clogger, and he may steal the starting job from DT Earl Mitchell.
LB Kiko Alonso played at a high level in his rookie season for the Bills, but he missed all of 2014 due to an ACL tear in his left knee. He missed five games in 2015 due to a lingering battle with his left ACL leading to an unproductive season. Miami made a move for him in the offseason with hopes that he will regain his impact form. LB Jelani Jenkins had 39 fewer tackles in 2015 with no sacks after flashing some upside in his sophomore season in the NFL. LB Koa Misi will offer upside in run support with limited value sacking the QB (12 sack in 81 career games).
CB Tony Lippett will fight for a starting job at CB for Miami. In nine games in 2015, Tony was just below league average in pass coverage and run support. The Dolphins drafted him in the 5th round in 2015 as a WR. CB Bobby McCain was on the field for 16 games last year leading to 403 plays. McCain is an undersized CB (5’9”) whose biggest asset is his electric quickness with limited top end speed. He’ll struggle with physical WRs with size. CB Byron Maxwell was one of the weakest defensive backs in pass coverage in 2015 after playing at a much higher level with the Seahawks earlier in his career. Miami hopes a change of scenery helps him regain his previous form. Both of their starting safeties (Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus) play well in run support with league average value in pass coverage. Jones will sneak in an occasional sack when asked to blitz.
The defense has value at the first and second levels. They need to get to the QB to cover up their possible weakness in pass coverage. If Alonzo and Maxwell play well, this defense should have serviceable value. I would draft them as my second Fantasy defense while only playing them in favorable matchups.
While they added a bunch of offensive talent via the draft, I believe it will take a few years for everything to come together under new coach Adam Gase. While on the outside their defense looks to be improved with the addition of Mario Williams, they lack talent and depth in the secondary. With this team showing no signs of being an offensive juggernaut, their defense will not be able to keep them in every game, and for that reason I have them finishing exactly where they did in 2015 with a 6-10 record. Nevertheless, in 2017 and beyond that, I expect this team to be a lot better as some of their offensive weapons develop and Tannehill gets comfortable with his whole arsenal and Gase’s offense.