Preseason - 2021 Miami Dolphins Outlook
2021 Miami Dolphins Outlook
Based on their final ranking in yards gained on offense (22nd) and yards allowed on defense (20th), the Dolphins overachieved in their record (10-6). Miami graded much better in points allowed (338 – 6th) while being slightly better in points scored (404 – 15th). They finished with league average quarterback play (3,937 passing yards with 24 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions) while lacking an impact running back, wide receiver, or tight end. Even with success in wins, Miami failed to make the postseason for the fourth straight season and the 17th time over the last 19 years.
Brian Flores came through New England's system with a variety of jobs over 15 years. Over his last eight seasons with the Patriots, he worked on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive assistant, safety coach, and linebackers coach. Flores has been a part of four Super Bowl winning teams and seven AFC Championships. His record sits at 15-17 after two seasons as the head coach for Miami.
Miami will go with dual options for the offensive coordinator position. The Dolphins promoted Eric Studesville to help run the offense after being their running backs coach over the previous three seasons. He's been coaching in the NFL since 1997, with most of his experience coming from handling running backs. Studesville will have that same role as well in 2021.
George Godsey returns to handle the tight end position plus be part of the offensive game plan. He ran the Texans' offense in 2015 and 2016 while also coming through the Patriots' coaching tree. Godsey has 10 seasons of experience coaching in the NFL.
Josh Boyer returns for his second year as the defensive coordinator after working as the cornerbacks' coach for Miami in 2019 while handling the defensive pass game responsibilities. He worked with Brian Flores in New England for 13 seasons. The Dolphins' defense gave up 156 fewer points in 2020 (338) than in 2019 (494).
The Dolphins' top signing in the offseason was WR Will Fuller. He upgrades the deep passing game while offering the speed to turn a short pass into a touchdown. His presence sets up a much better structure to Miami's receiving core.
They brought in Jacoby Brissett to take over the backup quarterback job after losing Ryan Fitzpatrick to free agency. Brissett has four years of experience in the NFL while offering a ball control skill set.
Miami added C Matt Skura and T D.J. Fluker to the offensive line. Both players have starting experience, but they were paid to be backups. C Ted Karras jumped to New England after starting for Miami over the past two seasons. When at his best, Karras was only a league-average player for his position.
On the defensive side, the Dolphins added CB Justin Coleman and DT Adam Butler. Coleman saw his game fade over the past two seasons after showing flashes in coverage out of the slot for the Seahawks earlier in his career. Butler projects as a rotational player with minimal value against the run.
The Dolphins added Malcolm Brown for running back depth.
In mid-March, Miami swapped draft picks in a deal to acquire LB Benardrick McKinney for DE Shaq Lawson. McKinney missed 12 games last season after working as a high-volume tackler for Houston from 2016 to 2019.
Miami had four selections over the first 42 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. In the first round, they invested WR Jaylen Waddle and DE Jaelan Phillips.
Waddle's play in college gives him an explosive deep threat feel, but his quickness, vision, and route running project to be more of a complete player. Waddle is excellent in the open field with the ball in his hands while playing bigger than his size (5'10" and 180 lbs.). His experience against press coverage is limited, and many of his catches came in space. Miami added him with the sixth overall with the hopes of finding an impact player. Waddle is a former teammate of QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Phillips had fought an uphill battle over his first two seasons in college due to multiple injuries and a pair of concussions. He decided to retire from football after 2018. The time on the sidelines helped him heal in mind and body, leading to a transfer to Miami.
He projects as a disrupter on all downs while offering plenty of upside attacking the quarterback. Offenses will need to account for him in their pass blocking schemes. Phillips plays with vision and anticipation against the run with a high motor. To reach a high level, he needs to improve his technique off the ball plus add more strength to his lower body.
In the second round, Miami selected S Jevon Holland and T Liam Eichenberg.
Holland will transition to safety in the NFL after working as a cornerback in college. He brings an attacking style that works well in run support and attacking the line of scrimmage. Holland is a play-maker with the vision to defend over the short field. His overall speed puts him in liability mode if asked to cover elite wide receivers in the deep passing game.
Eichenberg has questions about his ability to handle speed rushers on the outside. When in the fight in the trenches, his game projects well. He needs to improve his finishing strength with his hands and develop his technique to defend a wider portion of the field in multiple directions. Eichenberg came through college as a left tackle, but his early opportunity may come from the other side of the line.
TE Hunter Long was the choice in the third round. He has concerns about his release and challenges with press coverage, plus negative grades in his blocking skills. Long runs well in space with the ability to attack soft zones and challenge a defense downfield. He has a chain mover feel with strength in his hands. I expect him to fit well in a spread offense while being on the sidelines on most running plays.
The Dolphins' final two players (T Larnel Coleman and RB Gerrid Doaks) came in the seventh round.
Coleman looks the part in pass protection, but he can have issues when challenged by power rushers. His game is more advanced in pass protection despite having vision and mobility to win in run blocking in space. Some of his flaws will be corrected with coaching, and the final piece comes from a deeper drive to win the small battles on the field, which requires a punch to the defender's game at times.
Doaks is a big back (6'0" and 230 lbs.) with a low-level opportunity in college. He comes with build-up speed, which doesn't help his game in tight quarters when asked to be a north/south runner. Doaks doesn't create in space while owning questionable vision. He has more of a finisher feel in games where his style can wear down defenses in the fourth quarter.
Miami moved up to 16th in the NFL in rushing attempts (428), leading to the 22nd ranking in rushing yards (1,688) with 15 rushing touchdowns. Their rushers only had seven runs over 20 yards and none over 40 yards.
Their offensive line allowed 34 sacks (15th – 58 in 2019). The Dolphins slipped to 21st in passing yards (3,937) with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
LT Austin Jackson
Jackson came to the NFL with a first-round pedigree in 2020. His movements project well while needing to improve his hands and technique with his footwork. Jackson has plenty of size (6'5" and 322 lbs.) with an athletic feel. He plays with power and quickness. In his rookie season, Jackson made 13 starts while failing to live up to expectations. His run blocking had plenty of weakness while allowing too many sacks and pressure on the quarterback. I expect much better his second go of the NFL.
LG Solomon Kindley
After getting drafted in the fourth round in his rookie season, Kindley won a starting job in Week 1, leading to 13 games between left and right guard. His season ended in Week 15 with a right knee injury that didn't require surgery. Kindley checked into the NFL at 6'3'' and 337 pounds. His game is all about the fight over his small area of the field. He can't overcome his lack of quickness if tested outside his body. Kindley needs to improve his drop and drive to gain better leverage at the point of contact. Last year he gained experience while failing to be an asset in any area.
C Matt Skura
Over four seasons with the Ravens, Skura worked primarily at center, but he did see time at right guard and left tackle. In 2020, his play in pass protection was favorable except for a pair of games midseason against the Eagles and Steelers. Skura has never been a top player in the NFL while coming to the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
RG Robert Hunt
Just like Austin Jackson, Hunt should replace a weak link in the starting lineup at right tackle. He started 11 of the final 12 games for Miami while offering an edge in run blocking. Hunt improved as the season moved on in pass protection. The Dolphins should move him to guard this season after drafting Liam Eichenberg in 2021.
RT Liam Eichenberg
Eichenberg will find his way into the Dolphins starting offensive line at some position this year. His game looks more advanced as a run blocker, but a downgrade to right tackle may be a win for his success in pass protection.
Miami has four players that have a chance to be better than league average on the offensive line. They might not all achieve winning success this year, but I expect growth. The center position has weaknesses, which will be addressed in the next draft or free agency in 2022.
The Dolphins are on the move offensively. Their offensive line should be much improved while owning a franchise quarterback and an exciting new player at wide receiver. Ideally, Miami would like to control the clock with a ball-control offense while playing well on defense.
Last year, they ran the ball 43.4 percent of the time with league average value in the passing game. Once Tua Tagovailoa shows the ability to be an elite player, the Dolphins will open up the playbook.
QB Jacoby Brissett, CLE - Low Potential
Miami added Brissett for veteran insurance at quarterback. Over five seasons with 32 starts over 49 games, he went 12-20 with 7,042 combined yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Brissett would be a downgrade if needed to start over an extended period of time.
Other Options: Jake Rudock, Reid Sinnett
QB Tua Tagovailoa, MIA - Quality Backup
It took Tagovailoa six games before earning his first NFL start. He didn't throw an interception over his first six matchups, leading to 898 yards with 11 touchdowns. Tagovailoa went 6-3 with 201 passing yards per game with 14 total touchdowns and five interceptions in his nine starts.
His completion rate (64.1) ranked well, but he gained only 6.3 yards per pass attempt with no completions over 40 yards. Tagovailoa passed for over 300 yards in two contests while delivering no games with over two passing touchdowns.
In 2019, Tagovailoa was on a higher path after nine games (2,840 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and three Ints) than Joe Burrow at Alabama, but his season ended in mid-November with a significant hip injury and a broken nose. In Week 8 of the season, he passed for 418 yards with four touchdowns and one Int against LSU, but Burrow (393/3) won the game 46-41.
Tagovailoa had an exceptional TD:INT ratio (87:11) in college with strength in his completion rate (70.0) over his last 24 games.
Fantasy Outlook: In the early draft seasons, Tagovailoa has a backend QB2 ADP. He has an intriguing structure at wide receiver (DeVante Parker, Will Fuller, and Jaylen Waddle) plus a top 10 tight end. Miami has the talent to pass for over 250 yards per game. Tagovailoa will chip in with value in the run game. I expect 4,500 combined yards over a 17-game season with a run at 30-plus touchdowns. I view him as a value with a chance to deliver a top 12 quarterback season.
RB Myles Gaskin, MIA - Quality Backup
Miami's running back gained a combined 2,075 yards with 11 touchdowns and 78 catches. Their catch total fell in line with the previous two seasons (77 and 79) despite a drop in targets (96). They gained only 3.9 yards per rush, which fell short of the league average (4.3).
Based on experience running the ball, a fantasy owner won't find a player in the 2019 NFL Draft with a better resume. Over four seasons at Washington as a starter, Gaskin averaged over 250 touches per year, leading to 5,888 combined yards with 62 touchdowns and 65 catches.
He checked in at 5'9" and 205 lbs. at the 2019 NFL combine. His strength (24 reps in the bench press) graded well while coming up a bit short in speed (4.58 40-yard dash) and quickness compared to the top running backs in the NFL. Gaskin sees the field well with the first step to get through tight holes. His short legs don't match his frame, but his quick steps help him weave his way through traffic. He didn't get many chances in the passing game while showing pass-catching hands. Gaskin needs to prove himself in pass protection.
After two productive games (66 combined yards and four catches and 82 combined yards and six catches), Miami turned to Gaskin as their lead back over the next five weeks (437 combined yards with two touchdowns and 20 catches on 20.8 touches per game). He gained only 3.6 yards per carry and 6.8 yards per catch over this span. Over the final nine weeks, Gaskin missed six games with a knee issue and a battle with Covid.
Fantasy Outlook: Gaskin isn't a franchise back, but the Dolphins don't have another running back with a higher ceiling. He should be the top option in the passing game while on a path for 200 rushes. I'm going to set his bar at 1,200 combined yards with about seven touchdowns and close to 50 catches. His ADP (89) as the 33rd running back drafted created a buying opportunity. His training camp news is essential to his 2021 draft value. We need to be careful that Malcolm Brown doesn't steal his thunder.
RB Salvon Ahmed, MIA - Fantasy Handcuff
The Dolphins picked up Ahmed off waivers from the 49ers in late August after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He played on the same team in college (Washington) with Myles Gaskin, where Ahmed gained 2,347 combined yards over 39 games with 21 touchdowns and 50 catches. His best year came in 2019 (188/1,020/11 with 16 catches for 84 yards).
After an injury to Gaskin midseason, Ahmed earned the lead running back role for two games (164 combined yards with one touchdown and six catches on 33 carries) before missing three weeks with a shoulder injury. The Dolphins gave him one more start in Week 15, and he responded with an excellent game (127 combined yards with a touchdown and one catch on 24 touches). Ahmed only had one play that gained more than 20 yards on the year (86 chances).Fantasy Outlook: Ahmed did enough last year to be in the mix for the handcuff for Gaskin, but the structure of the Dolphins' running backs points to a committee role behind their starting back. In the early May drafts in the high-stakes market, Ahmed ranked below Gerrid Doaks in his ADP (310).
RB Malcolm Brown, --- - Deep-league Only
At age 27 for the Rams, Brown posted his best production (581 combined yards with five touchdowns and 23 catches on 134 touches) of his career. He has 10 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, suggesting a possible goal line opportunity if Myles Gaskin struggles to finish his runs in close.
Over the past four years, Brown gained 1,132 yards with 12 touchdowns and 39 catches on 276 carries. His yards per rush (4.1) and yards per catch (7.3) don't jump off the page, meaning his ceiling is relatively low over the long haul.Fantasy Outlook: Brown may have a game or two if asked to start in a pinch for Miami. He'll catch some balls and score when fantasy owners don't want him to. He should go undrafted in most fantasy leagues.
RB Gerrid Doaks, MIA - Not Draft Worthy
Doaks saw action over three different seasons at Cincinnati in college, where he gained 2,119 combined yards with 18 touchdowns and 36 catches. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, with his best success in yards coming in 2020 (975 combined yards with nine touchdowns and 14 catches).
His hands grade better than expected for his limited opportunity. Doaks has a feel for open space in the passing game, and he'll have the ability to chip and release in the late passing game. His top-end speed is better than expected for a big back. Doaks has the tools to work as the rotational short-yardage back for Miami in 2021.Fantasy Outlook: If the summer training camp reports are positive, I'd be willing to place my backup running back bet on Doaks in Miami. I don't expect a massive opportunity, but I could see him outperforming his college stats in the pros.