Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Year of the Fins?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


It’s true the Dolphins only beat one team with a winning record last season. It’s also true that team was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who proceeded to annihilate the Dolphins when they met in the playoffs.

 

The Dolphins are no doubt privy to this information—they lived it, after all—but they sure aren’t showing it. In fact, the Dolphins have become almost cartoonish in their optimism this offseason. Kenneth the Page has a cloudier life outlook than head coach Adam Gase. Look at some of these glowing quotes from Dolphins coaches this offseason:

 

"If Julius Thomas is healthy and we catch some breaks, he can be and has been a 10-touchdown guy.” – OC Clyde Christensen

 

"I really think he'll have a really great year. Gigantic year." – Christensen on DeVante Parker

 

“It was really a great thing to see, his development throughout the year. Hopefully we can go even further with the passing game. He did do a good job of improving in that area.” – Gase on Jay Ajayi

 

Ryan Tannehill is a Golden God. His passes are like priceless works of arts. Fraud, I mean Tom Brady, should bow in his presence.”

 

You got me—I made that last one up. But you get the idea. Glass half full? This is like the Dolphins left the faucet on and now the glass is overflowing. I didn’t think this was even remotely possible, but the Dolphins may actually love the Dolphins more than Kanye loves Kanye. Miami’s relentless optimism (and honestly, wouldn’t you have a bit more pep in your step if this was your daily backdrop?) has been a frequent theme on this site over the last few months. For your convenience, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has highlighted some of our greatest hits.

 

So, according to the Dolphins, they’re the greatest team that has ever existed and will only lose in the event of Bane blowing up Gotham (this was hands down the greatest play of Hines Ward’s career). With word counts to fill and deadlines to meet, the puff piece has become an offseason staple. It’s easy to look at a player through the rose-colored lenses of OTAs, but dominating in shorts and a t-shirt isn’t the same as doing it with a helmet and pads. That’s why Gase’s overflowing stream of positivity needs to be taken with a major grain of salt.

 

That said, the Dolphins are flush with young talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Miami kept its receiving corps in tact this offseason by bringing back deep threat Kenny Stills on a four-year, $32 million contract. DeVante Parker, a former first-round pick out of Louisville, is back for another bite at the apple while slot receiver Jarvis Landry is looking to prove his worth as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. I wasn’t kidding about the young part, either. Stills, the elder statesman of the trio, turned 25 in April. Parker and Landry are both 24.

 

Upon arriving as a second-round pick out of LSU in 2014 (his college teammate Odell Beckham was drafted one round earlier), Landry instantly established himself as one of the game’s premier possession receivers, collecting 84 catches as a rookie before bettering that total with 110 a year later. Landry has topped 1,100 yards in each of his last two seasons while emerging as Ryan Tannehill’s go-to target.

 

Though Landry’s touchdown totals have been noticeably lacking—his career-high is just five—his slot prowess has made him a major PPR asset and should lead to a hefty payday when he hits the open market next offseason. The Fins could also remedy that by hammering out an extension before the regular season starts. They carry over $17 million in available cap room, which should be more than enough to satisfy even Landry’s most ambitious salary demands.

 

Landry is obviously the headliner but Stills and Parker are no slouches. Stills seemed destined to be overpaid in a thin receiver market but instead returned to Miami on a surprisingly reasonable $8 million salary. Fantasy owners probably would have preferred for Stills to land elsewhere, but he’s still capable of carving out a role as Miami’s No. 3 wideout. Stills led the Dolphins with a career-high nine touchdowns last season, though an improvement on that seems unlikely.

 

That brings us to Parker, the wild card of the group. A physical specimen at 6’3/212 with 4.45 wheels, Parker’s makeup has never been in question. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

 

Consistency hasn’t been Parker’s strong suit. Last year his outcomes ranged from 106 yards against New England in Week 2 to just eight in a Week 9 win over the Jets. He’s also been surprisingly fragile, sitting out three games over the last two seasons while being limited in several others. Like all developing players, Parker has taken his lumps. But if even a fraction of his flattering offseason reports are true, the 24-year-old has made noticeable strides and could be headed for a breakout year. If he succeeds in that pursuit, Parker will blow past his current eighth-round ADP.

 

Ryan Tannehill has called this the best offense he’s ever been on, which isn’t a huge bar to clear given some of the middling teams he’s played for, but it’s a noteworthy sound bite nonetheless. Clearly Tannehill feels the best is still to come for the Dolphins as they look to build on last season’s success, which included the team’s first playoff appearance in eight years. Tannehill turned in some of the best numbers of his career before he went down with a partially torn ACL in Week 14, setting career-highs in quarterback rating and completion percentage. The Dolphins’ previous coach, Joe Philbin, didn’t trust Tannehill enough to let him audible at the line of scrimmage. He’s been granted far more freedom under Gase and the results speak for themselves.

 

Following their failed Jordan Cameron experiment, the Dolphins retooled at tight end this offseason by acquiring Julius Thomas from Jacksonville and inking a one-year deal with free agent Anthony Fasano. Thomas failed to make an impact (or stay healthy) during his two years in Jacksonville, but a change of scenery and a reunion with Gase, his former offensive coordinator in Denver, could lead to bigger and better things. Thomas nabbed 24 touchdowns during a two-year span before his fateful excursion to Duval County, so maybe there’s a happy ending to be had here. Fasano, now embarking on his second tour of duty in Miami, isn’t someone fantasy owners need to pay much attention to—he managed eight catches for 83 yards last year. But that’s not why the Dolphins signed him. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in football and should take some of the burden off workhorse Jay Ajayi.

 

On paper it’s an impressive group, but will it amount to any fantasy significance? That remains to be seen. In fact, it would appear fantasy owners have their doubts, particularly in regard to Tannehill, who is being drafted as the 26th quarterback overall. That puts Tannehill off the QB2 radar, limiting his use to two-quarterback leagues and maybe the occasional 12-teamer. With so many weapons at his disposal, Tannehill’s low ranking, especially coming off what was in many respects a career-best season, feels like a slap in the face.

 

But let’s not forget why the Dolphins were successful last year. Without Jay Ajayi steamrolling opponents to the tune of 1,272 rushing yards, the most by a Fins ball-carrier since Ricky Williams in 2003, Miami’s playoffs hopes would have died on the operating table. Tannehill’s career-low 29.92 attempts per game weren’t by accident. The Dolphins tailored their scheme to Ajayi, just as they plan to again in 2017.

 

While there may have been some initial reticence to hop aboard the Ajayi bandwagon, the fantasy community seems to have embraced him in recent weeks. This momentum shift has been reflected in Evan Silva’s latest rankings as Ajayi has made the leap from a mid second-rounder to a borderline first-round pick in 12-team leagues.

 

Ajayi was a bit feast or famine at times last season—almost a third of his rushing yards came against one team (pour one out for Buffalo’s non-existent run defense). He’s also much less accomplished on the receiving side than other backs being drafted in the same range (Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, to name a few). But as the focal point of an offense that attempted the second-fewest passes last season, Ajayi’s volume should be as strong as any back in the league. That alone puts him squarely in the RB1 discussion.

 

Miami certainly fits the label of up-and-coming, but can the Fins live up to their immense, media-driven hype? Until the games start counting, fantasy owners will be left to sort out fact versus fiction.

 

Quick Hits: Darrelle Revis continues to train in hopes of catching on with a team at some point this season. So far teams have given him the cold shoulder following a career-worst season in 2016 … The cap-strapped Eagles are planning to release Ryan Mathews, but won’t do so until he’s healthy. They’re trying to avoid paying him an injury settlement, which would set them back $1.15 million … ESPN’s Adam Schefter said he’d be “hesitant” to draft Ezekiel Elliott as he waits to hear from the league on discipline from an alleged domestic violence incident. Evan Silva had Zeke at No. 7 in his latest rankings, far below his consensus third overall ADP … Tight end Darren Waller was hit with a year-long suspension for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. The Ravens have now endured a league-high 13 drug suspensions since 2010 … ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss believes Mike Gillislee will fill the LeGarrette Blount role this year as New England’s goal-line specialist. Blount, now a member of the Eagles, led the NFL with a career-high 18 touchdowns in 2016. Gillislee tallied nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving) as LeSean McCoy’s backup in Buffalo last season … Matt Jones is now represented by super-agent Drew Rosenhaus. It’s no secret Jones wants out of Washington. The 24-year-old lost his starting job to Rob Kelley last season and fell even further down the running back chain of command when the Redskins added Samaje Perine in the draft … The Eagles pulled the plug on their failed Dorial Green-Beckham experiment by cutting him last week. The 2015 second-round pick has done next to nothing in his two seasons and may be running out of NFL chances … Sammy Watkins tweeted that he believes the 2014 draft class will “change the market.” After the Bills stunningly declined his fifth-year option, Watkins will earn just over $3.1 million in the final year of his rookie deal … Per the Tacoma News Tribune, Deshawn Shead could be out “well into” the regular season. Shead tore his ACL six months ago in Seattle’s playoff loss to Atlanta … Gisele Bundchen made waves when she said Tom Brady suffered a concussion last year and Brady seemed to confirm his wife’s claim in a recent interview with E:60. “We go to bed in the same bed every night, so I think she knows when I am sore," he said. " She knows when I get hit” … 49ers GM John Lynch again questioned Colin Kaepernick’s commitment to playing, saying he should speak up if he wants to continue his career. "I think the way you could best help yourself is not to have someone talk for you, not have statements," he said of Kaepernick. "Go sit down and give an interview and let people know where you stand because he makes a compelling case as to how bad he wants to be in the league when you talk to him." Kaepernick met with the Seahawks in May but hasn’t drawn any interest since.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
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