|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 7, 2023|
2023 Miami Dolphins Outlook
It's been 14 seasons since the Miami Dolphins last won the AFC East. They posted a winning record in each of the past three years (10-6, 9-8, and 9-8) while making the postseason in 2022 for only the third time since 2001. Mike McDaniel looked the part of a successful NFL head coach in his rookie season. The concussion issues at quarterback led to Miami being undermanned behind center in too many matchups. From 2017 to 2020 with the 49ers, McDaniel worked as their run game coordinator before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021. McDaniel has 16 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL.
Frank Smith made the jump from run game coordinator and offensive line coach with the Chargers to Miami's offensive coordinator last season. His NFL career started in 2010 with the Saints as their assistant offensive line coach. He's been in the league for 13 seasons. The Dolphins finished sixth in points scored (397) after ranking outside the top 20 in 11 of the previous 12 years. Their 11th-place finish in offensive yards was Miami's best showing since 2014.
Vic Fangio takes over as Miami's defensive coordinator. After struggling in his first head coaching job in the NFL for Denver over three seasons (19-30), he worked as a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles last year. Fangio has been working in the NFL since 1986 with 19 years of experience at the defensive coordinator position. Last year Miami ranked 24th in points allowed (399) and 18th in yards allowed.
The top two defensive players added via free agency last year were LB David Long and S DeShon Elliott. Both players should help Miami's run defense while projecting to start. Long improved last season in pass coverage, but he doesn't have a sack over 50 games in the NFL (four interceptions over the past two years).
The Dolphins moved on from QB Teddy Bridgewater (FA), TE Mike Gesicki (NE), WR Trent Sherfield (BUF), and LB Melvin Engram (FA).
Miami only had four draft picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, divided by adding one defensive player (CB Cam Smith – 2nd) and three offensive players (RB Devon Achane – 3rd, WR Elijah Higgins – 6th, and T Ryan Hayes – 7th).
Smith brings elite speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and quickness to the Dolphins' secondary, but he must add more strength and bulk to handle physical wideouts in the NFL and add value in run support. His vision and reads grade well when moving forward to the line of scrimmage, helping his ability to make winning plays. Smith must improve his technique to have success in tight man-to-man coverage.
Speed is a clear priority for Miami at the running back position. Achane ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL combined. Most teams shied away from him due to his size (5'8" and 190 lbs.), but he is willing to fight for yards between the tackles. Achane runs with patience and vision with the footwork to make winning cuts in tight quarters. He will make defenses pay with long runs if given daylight at the line of scrimmage. Spacing is needed to win the passing game while having risk in pass protection. Achane should upgrade the Dolphins' return game in his rookie year.
My first thought when researching Higgins was WR Mike Evans due to his size (6'3" and 235 lbs.), but he comes to the Dolphins with a much lower resume. His 40-yard dash (4.54) graded well when considering his build, and Higgins brings a high floor in his route running. At the very least, he gives Miami a bigger third target at wideout with a chance to slide into some action at the tight end position. His ability to block will help late in games when the Dolphins play from the lead.
Hayes gives Miami depth at left tackle. He played on one of the best offensive lines in college over the past two seasons. The next step in his development is improving vs. power rushers, especially if asked to move to guard with Miami, and handle speed rushers outside his frame. Hayes brings a solid foundation to the NFL with the hands, technique, and athletic ability to get better.
Miami fell to 31st in the NFL in rushing attempts (390), leading to the 25th ranking in rushing yards (1,686) with 12 rushing touchdowns. Their rushers had 10 runs of 20 yards or more, with one gaining more than 40 yards. Their backs averaged 4.3 yards per rush, up from 3.5 in 2021.
Their offensive line allowed 35 sacks (9th). The Dolphins climbed to 4th in passing yards (4,765) with 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Miami led the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.2), with the most catches (14) of 40 yards or more.
LT Terron Armstead remains a top player in pass blocking, but he missed four games last season with toe and pectoral issues. Last year he allowed only one sack with minimal pressure on the quarterback. His run blocking tends to be a slight end. LG Liam Eichenberg showed growth last season while remaining a below-par player at his position in all areas. He missed seven games in 2022 due to a knee injury. In each year in the NFL, C Connor Williams improved as a run blocker, highlighted by an exceptional season in 2022. His pass protection skill skills are now in a winning area. RG Robert Hunt is a steady, improving player with three seasons of experience with Miami. Based on the Dolphins' options at right tackle, Ryan Hayes may land the starting job.
The structure and personnel of Miami's offensive line grade well, and I expect more growth this season.
QB Tua Tagovailoa - Solid/Safe Pick
Tua Tagovailoa, MIA
Tagovailoa flashed a high ceiling in multiple games last season, but he came out of the season with more questions than answers about his long-term viability in the NFL due to his bouts with concussions. After a dull showing in Week 1 (270/1), his star power at wide receiver shined through in the next week vs. Ravens, leading 469 passing yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately, he crushed fantasy teams the following game (186/1).
In Week 4, Tagovailoa left the game early with his first concussion, costing him two weeks. After another unimpactful start (276/1) against the Steelers, his stock soared over his next three starts (401/3, 302/3, and 285/3). Miami failed to score impact touchdowns via the air in a favorable matchup vs. Houston in Week 12 (299/1). Over the next four matchups (three on the road – SF, LAC, and BUF), Tagovailoa passed for 984 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He played through a bad hit against the Packers, but something was wrong based on his three bad second-half completions to Green Bay. His season ended with three more missed games with a concussion.
When on the field, Tagovailoa gained an impressive 8.9 yards per pass attempt while being on pace to pass for 4,639 yards and 33 touchdowns if he played 17 games. He finished the year with 24 rushes for 70 yards (2.9 yards per carry), following in line with his first two seasons (36/109/3 and 42/128/3 – 3.0 yards per rush) except for touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: I targeted Tagovailoa in many drafts as my backup quarterback last season. He finished 14th in quarterback fantasy scoring (275.40) in four-point passing touchdown formats despite missing four and a half games. Miami has two premium wideouts – Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but they don't rank high in balls to throw to their running backs (73/533/6). In addition, the tight end position grades below the league average unless incoming rookie Elijah Higgins earns more snaps than expected (listed at WR at most sites). Tagovailoa projects as a backend QB1 with a risk/reward feel until he proves he can play an entire season. Upside or 30+ scores with 4,800 combined yards with 17 games played.
Other Options: Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RB Myles Gaskin - Not Draft Worthy
Miles Gaskin, MIA
Gaskin went down a draft-day disappointment in 2021 despite receiving 222 touches. However, he set a career-high in catches (49) and touchdowns (7), leading to the 25th ranking in fantasy points (174.70) in PPR formats despite gaining only 3.5 yards per rush and 4.8 yards per catch, leading to a diminished role last season (10/26 with four catches for 28 yards).
Fantasy Outlook: His play in 2020 (972 combined yards with five touchdowns and 41 catches on 183 touches) gives Gaskin a chance to earn snaps if Miami has any injuries at running back. He projects as a potential running back handcuff for the Dolphins, with no one looking to roster him in 2023.
Other Options: Salvon Ahmed
UPDATE: Gaskin was released and ended up signing with the Vikings.
RB De'Von Achane - Dynasty Only
Over 28 games at Texas A&M, Achane gained 2,930 combined yards with 26 touchdowns and 65 catches. His catch rate (78.3) graded well, along with his yards per rush (6.4) and catch (8.5). In 2022, he set career-highs in combined yards (1,298), touchdowns (11), and catches (36) while receiving 232 touches over 10 matchups. Achane missed two games last year with a foot issue. He finished his college career with four outstanding showings (156 combined yards with a score and seven catches, 179 combined yards with one touchdown and seven catches, 16/122/3 with three catches for one yard, and 38/215/2).
Achane returned 20 kickoffs over the past two years, leading to 30.7 yards per chance with a pair of scores.
Fantasy Outlook: He gives Miami instant insurance for Raheen Mostert based on his speed while offering a better foundation skill set catching the ball. In his rookie season, I expect him to return kicks with a chance to win RB2 touches. I don't see him earning many chances on third downs if asked to release late into the passing game. Call me intrigued, but I can't overpay for his questionable opportunity.
RB Raheem Mostert - Quality Backup
Raheem Mostert, MIA
Over his first three years in the NFL, Mostert gained only 36 yards on seven carries while bouncing between five franchises. However, he flashed off the bench in 2018, highlighted by his 7.7 yards per rush.
In 2019, Mostert teased in Week 2 (151 combined yards with a touchdown and three catches), but his next bump in chances didn't come until Week 13 (154 combined yards with a touchdown and two catches). Over his final eight games, including the playoffs, he gained 792 combined yards with 12 touchdowns and nine catches. He scored a touchdown in eight of his last nine contests, with an impressive showing in the NFC Championship game (226 combined yards with four touchdowns and two catches).
Mostert battled knee and ankle injuries in 2020, leading to eight missed games. He finished with 677 combined yards, three touchdowns, and 16 catches, averaging 5.0 yards per rush. His season started with an impact game (151 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches) with an explosive start to Week 2 (105 combined yards with one score and two catches) over 13 snaps. In 2021, he blew out his left knee on his second touch of the year, leading to surgery to repair a cartilage issue.
Despite durability concerns and a potential split opportunity, Mostert gave Miami a career-best season. He finished with 1,093 combined yards with five touchdowns and 31 catches on 211 touches over 16 games. He ranked 25th in running back scoring (170.40) in PPR leagues, with his best value coming in four games (19.20, 20.90, 18.70, and 23.10 fantasy points). Mostert rushed for more than 100 yards in two matches (18/113/1 and 17/136).
Fantasy Outlook: His speed remains intact, highlighted by his 4.9 yards per rush. Mostert will start the season at the age of 31 while coming off a career year. In the early draft season after the 2023 NFL Draft, he ranked 56th at running back while newly added Devon Achane drew RB4 status. In fantasy football, winning is extremely difficult when selecting players after peak years. Mostert makes the most sense for someone looking to handcuff the Dolphins' lead running back role. I will let him beat this season due to his career path and injury risk.
RB Jeffery Wilson - Quality Backup
Jeff Wilson, MIA
The Dolphins acquired Wilson midway through last season to complement Raheem Mostert. Between San Francisco and Miami, he finished his fifth season in the NFL with career highs in almost all areas. Wilson gained 1,045 combined yards with six touchdowns and 22 catches on 198 touches. His profile and success almost matched Raheem Mostert while ranking 30th in running back scoring (160.50 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. He rushed for more than 100 yards in two matchups (17/120/1 and 17/119/1). Miami used Wilson as their RB1 over their final four games last season.
Before last season, he gained 1,561 combined yards with 17 touchdowns and 35 catches on 333 touches over 37 games for the 49ers.
Fantasy Outlook: Wilson flashed multiple times in his career with San Francisco, but most viewed him as a system player in a thriving rush attack. Last year he proved to be a better overall player, giving him a chance to win the Dolphins' RB1 job over the summer. Either way, Wilson will have a challenging time securing 225 touches as Miami will rotate two backs all season. His ADP should fall in a close range with Mostert, while some fantasy drafters will gamble on the best-looking new kid on the block.
WR Robbie Chosen - Not Draft Worthy
Chosen Anderson, MIA
After failing to live up to expectations over four seasons in New York, Anderson developed into a high-volume receiver in Carolina in 2020. He caught 95 of his 136 targets (69.9%) for 1,096 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. Anderson gained a career-low 11.5 yards per catch. The Panthers gave him his best opportunity over the first five weeks (36/489/1) while averaging 9.2 targets. Over his final nine starts, Anderson failed to gain over 95 yards in any matchup, with a combined 49 catches for 456 yards and two touchdowns. Carolina gave him 8.6 targets per game over this span.
The switch at quarterback led to a regression season (53/519/5 on 110 targets) for Anderson in 2021. He finished with 26 fewer targets but a sharp decline in his catch rate (48.2 – 69.9 in 2020). Anderson scored over 20.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues in one contest (7/84/1).
His demise continued last season, leading to no value with the Panthers (13/206/1) and a midseason trade to the Cardinals (7/76).
Fantasy Outlook: In the offseason, Anderson changed his first name from Robbie to Chosen to hopefully breathe new life into his game. He has plenty of NFL experience, and a WR3 role in the Dolphins' offense should lead to some rebound in his play.
UPDATE: The Dolphins have Chosen to cut ties with Anderson. His NFL career appears to be nearing the end. You should chose not to roster him in any leagues, including dynasty.
WR Tyreek Hill - Stud (low risk)
Tyreek Hill, MIA
The fear of Hill regressing after signing with Miami was a misguided thought. He set career-highs in catches (119), receiving yards (1,710), and targets (170) while regaining some of his lost momentum in yards per catch (14.4 – 11.2 in 2021). Despite playing all 17 games, he did play through some injuries – quad, foot, and ankle. Hill finished second at wide receiver in fantasy points (347.30) in PPR formats while gaining over 100 receiving yards in seven matchups (11/190/2, 10/160, 12/177, 12/188, 7/143/1, 9/146/1, and 4/103). His best play came on the road (79/1,079/6).
Over his last 92 games over six seasons, Hill averaged 5.8 catches for 89.5 yards and 0.66 touchdowns (18.75 FPPG).
To reach a higher ceiling scoring, Miami needs Tua Tagovailoa to improve throwing touchdowns close to the goal line. Last year Hill had five targets inside the five-yard line and six inside the 10-yard line (5/9 in 2021 and 6/12 in 2020). In addition, his value as a runner in 2022 (7/32/1) regressed for the second consecutive year (9/96 in 2021 and 13/123/2 in 2020).
Fantasy Outlook: The success and ceiling of Hill lie in the development and health of his young, rising quarterback. His final 2022 stats price him as a top-five wideout selected in the early draft season this year in the high-stakes market. Miami has Mike White and Skylar Thompson fighting for their backup quarterback job this year, so buyers beware if Tagovailoa has another concussion. Based on his last two seasons, Hill has a floor of 100 catches for 1,300 yards with a chance at double-digit scores.
WR Jaylen Waddle - Stud (low risk)
Jaylen Waddle, MIA
In his first year with the Dolphins, Waddle worked as a high-volume possession receiver (104/1,015/6), leading to only 9.8 yards per catch. His catch rate (73.8) graded well while delivering eight games with seven catches or more. His highlight game (9/137/1) came in Week 12.
The change in offensive structure for the Dolphins after they signed Tyreek Hill led to Waddle becoming a more explosive receiver. He saw his targets (117) fall by 24 from his rookie season (141) while playing one more game. Waddle finished with 29 fewer catches (75) with a new top in receiving yards (1,356) and touchdowns (8). His yards per catch (18.1) aligned with his college career (18.9).
When at his best last season, Waddle gained over 100 yards in five contests (11/171/2, 6/129, 8/106/2, 3/114/1, and 5/143/1), but he also posted fewer than 55 yards in six games (2/39, 3/23, 1/9, 2/31, 3/53, and 5/44). Other than Week 2 (19), Week 6 (10), and Week 12 (10), Miami only looked his way 78 times over his other 14 starts (5.6 per game). The Dolphins gave him only one target inside the five-yard line (4 in 2021). Waddle played through some minor groin and shoulder injuries in 2022.
Fantasy Outlook: At this point in his career, Waddle has shown the ability to work close to the line of scrimmage and move the chains, and beat defenses over the top with his speed. In essence, he gives Miami two impact wideouts with the talent and opportunity to rank in the top 10 in the league in production. I'll set his bar at 90 catches for 1,350 yards and 10 scores while understanding that Waddle could reach a higher ceiling. He comes off the board early in the third round in the high-stakes market in May.
WR Cedrick Wilson - Deep-league Only
Cedrick Wilson, MIA
A couple of injuries to the Cowboys' wide receivers in 2021 led to Wilson becoming fantasy relevant in three games (7/104, 6/35/1, and 5/119/2). He had four targets or fewer in 10 of his 17 matchups. In his third year in the league, Wilson set career highs in catches (45), receiving yards (602), and touchdowns (6).
Miami signed Wilson to a three-year $22.8 deal last season, but he managed only 12 catches for 136 yards on 18 targets over 15 games. The Dolphins had him on the field for only 252 of their 1,128 plays (22.3), leading to WR4 snaps and no fantasy value in any matchup. Early in the season, Wilson battled a rib injury while ending the year with a hip issue.
Fantasy Outlook: Miami won't have as many balls going toward Wilson with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field, and he has a lot to prove in 2023. I can only view him as a possible handcuff to one of the Dolphins' top two wideouts.
Other Options: Braxton Berrios, River Cracraft, Erik Ezukanma, Braylon Sanders, Freddie Swain
TE Elijah Higgins - Dynasty Only
Elijah Higgins, MIA
Over three seasons at Stanford, Higgins caught 119 of his 178 targets for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns. He finished 2022 with career-highs in catches (59) and receiving yards (704), highlighted by his final four games (6/77, 7/105, 8/69/1, and 7/77).
Fantasy Outlook: Higgins appears positioned to transition to the tight end position for his NFL career, but he will be listed as a wide receiver in most fantasy formats in 2023. His speed for his size should play well for the Dolphins, but he does have a lot to prove in scoring and handling a blocking tight end role. His potential intrigues me, so I'll follow his development this summer. However, I don't expect him to be a fantasy factor in his rookie season.
UPDATE: We liked Higgins as a deep sleeper but he was released by the Dolphins, Arizona wound up claiming Higgins, but there's little chance he will make any sort of impact in 2023. At best, he's a dynasty hold in deep leagues.
TE Durham Smythe - Deep-league Only
Durham Smythe, MIA
In 2020 and 2021, Smythe worked at the Dolphins' TE2 with rising production (26/208/2 and 34/357). Last year he finished with about one-third of their tight end opportunity (15/129/1 on 20 targets). His college resume over 22 games (28/381/6) was minimal, suggesting Smythe is only a placeholder until Miami gets Elijah Moore up to speed.
Fantasy Outlook: I can't see the tight end in this offense reaching the heights of 2020 and 2021 based on the Dolphins' offense and their current passing structure. Smythe is a mere waiver wire player with minimal starting value.
Other Options: Eric Saubert, Tanner Conner
PK Jason Sanders - Solid/Safe Pick
Jason Sanders, MIA
Over his first five years in the NFL, Sanders made 126 of his 152 field goals (82.9%) with success from 50 yards or more (16-for-27). In addition, he's made 175 of his 181 extra points in his career. Last year, Miami scored 44 touchdowns while creating 32 field goal attempts.Fantasy Outlook: Sanders has the leg to deliver plenty of long-range kicks. He has one top-ranking season on his resume (2020 – 182.50 fantasy points). The progression of the Dolphins' offense points to him being a possible value at kicker this season. Last year, he finished 14th in kicker scoring (146.40 fantasy points).
Miami - Solid/Safe Pick
The Dolphins jumped to 6th in rushing yards allowed (1,673) with minimal gains in yards per carry (4.2 – 4.4 in 2021). Offenses ran the ball 24.8 times a game against them, with 15 touchdowns allowed on the ground.
Their pass defense fell to 27th in passing yards allowed (3,992) despite allowing only 6.4 yards per pass attempt (11th). Their regression came from the second most passing attempts faced (624). Miami gave up 26 passing scores with 40 sacks and eight interceptions.
In the offseason, the Dolphins acquired CB Jalen Ramsey after he split half of his first eight seasons in the NFL with the Jaguars and Rams. Last year he allowed the most touchdowns (6) of his career despite setting career highs in tackles (88) and defended passing (18). CB Xavien Howard gambled and lost last year based on his spike in yards and touchdowns allowed. However, he did play through groin and knee injuries.
Miami also added DE Bradley Chubb via a trade with Broncos halfway through 2022. Injuries have held him back after showing promise in his rookie season (60 tackles and 12 sacks). DE Emmanuel Ogbah also offers pass-rushing ability (18 combined sacks in 2020 and 2021), but he struggled over 11 games last year due to a triceps issue. LB Jaelan Phillips (first-round draft pick in 2021) was the Dolphins' best defender.
This defense should be much improved if their key players stay healthy. A shorter passing window would be a big win for the Dolphins' secondary, which has some playmakers. In the early draft season, Miami ranks as the 10th-best fantasy defense. I expect them to finish higher in the standings this year.