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2021 Team Report: Miami Dolphins

Last updated: Mon, Sep 6

Offensive Philosophy

Over the last two years, the Miami Dolphins offense has been at its best when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing with a devil-may-care verve. Fitzpatrick helped unlock the upside of disappointing receiver DeVante Parker and paper over the Dolphins woeful rushing attack, taking enough risks to make the offense dangerous even if it had little business being good. But Fitzpatrick was not in the team's long-term plans and the Dolphins had amassed too much talent to be content as "dangerous upstarts", so the team surprisingly turned the ball over to rookie Tua Tagovailoa at midseason. The offense immediately scaled back to accommodate the rookie, focusing its passing game into shorter passes to tight end Mike Gesicki and running back Myles Gaskin out of the backfield while a talented defense kept the team close. The Dolphins are hopeful that that early experience will be useful for Tagovailoa and that they'll be able to start pushing the ball back down the field again in 2021, epitomized by an aggressive trade up to acquire speedy Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tua Tagovailoa
Backup(s): Jacoby Brissett

Starting QB: Tua Tagovailoa will remain the Miami Dolphins starter this year after the team let Ryan Fitzpatrick go and it will be interesting to see how he meshes with new co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey. Tagovailoa had a very inconsistent 2020, but having Fitzpatrick looming in the background couldn't have helped, but hiring his former college coach Charlie Frye as quarterbacks coach should help even things out, as should adding some more talent around him. Tagovailoa had a rough first season, but his arm, mobility and acumen should help him bounce back for a much better 2021.

Backup QB: Jacoby Brissett is the aging vet who is there to help Tua improve without threatening his job. Brissett can step in if need be, but nobody will be calling for him like they were Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Running Backs

Starter: Myles Gaskin
Backup(s): Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Myles Gaskin is currently top dog in the kennel but even though he did late last season, he is not really a bell cow back. He can catch the ball well and does run tough, but his ceiling seems pretty limited. The Dolphins had opportunities to add a better back via free agency or the draft, but did not, so barring a surprise move before the season.

Backup RBs: Malcolm Brown is a steady presence as a veteran, but not someone who will carry the ball a ton, outside of short yardage situations. Salvon Ahmed acquitted himself well at times last season, and showed some talent but hasn't shown enough to be a consistent and reliable threat as a runner.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle [R], Will Fuller (SUS)
Backups: Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Mack Hollins, Allen Hurns

Starting WRs: After a big 2019, DeVante Parker had a mediocre 2020, but you can chalk that up to inconsistent quarterback play and a team relying on defense. Parker is still an excellent option for the team when the offense catches up to him, and he should have a bounceback year as Tua Tagovailoa improves. The Dolphins added a tremendous talent in the person of Alabama's Jaylen Waddle, a speedy, sharp route running receiver. He's coming off of an ankle injury which may have cost him the Heisman, but he should step right into a key role here in Miami. Will Fuller has a one year deal to prove he can continue to stay healthy and off steroids. Prior to his PED suspension, Fuller was having a career year and showed he could crack open a game with just one pass. He has a single week left in his suspension to start the season, but will get plenty of time to sync up with Tua Tagovailoa over the summer.

Backup WRs: Preston Williams was lost for the season to a Week 9 ankle injury, and it remains to be seen if he can come back healthy and fight his way through a crowded position group. Lynn Bowden can do a lot of different things, but isn't outstanding at any one of them. He might hang around because of the versatility, but will have little overall impact on the offense. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns both opted out of the 2020 season, and while both have talent, it remains to be seen if they can break out when there are so many other options for Miami. Jakeem Grant did OK last season before suffering a high ankle sprain, and he will have a tough time standing out in this group. Mack Hollins is a special teams guy only.

Tight Ends

Starters: Mike Gesicki
Backups: Hunter Long [R], Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Cethan Carter

Mike Gesicki has improved every season in Miami, and 2020 was his best effort yet. An athletic, tough tight end, Gesicki will continue to be a top option in this offense for some time to come. While Gesicki has the ability to make a big play and change the course of a game, Durham Smythe does not, and is a serviceable option when Gesicki is unavailable. Boston College's Hunter Long, Miami's No. 81 pick, is a good in-line blocker and a decent receiver. He led all FBS tight ends in targets and receptions in 2020 and his length and hands make him a reliable target. Adam Shaheen is a decent backup with little upside, while Cethan Carter is a decent blocker with special teams ability. Miami chose Hunter Long with the 81st pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the former Boston College athlete can block as well as catch the ball. He does a lot of things well, but isn't outstanding in any one area, but has upside worth watching.

Place Kicker

Jason Sanders: Sanders was one of the breakout stars of the kicker ranks in 2020, his third year in the league. The team signed him to a five-year, $22 million extension this offseason to show their belief in Sanders. He made all 36 of his extra point attempts and did not miss a field goal attempt under 40 yards. His 12-for-rate from 40-49 yards and astounding 8-for-9 rate from 50+ yards made him in the #1 kicker in formats that give bonuses for field goal distance. Despite this, he is still only going in the 6-8 range among kickers in fantasy drafts, making him the best value pick at kicker if you aren't waiting until the last round to take yours.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jakeem Grant, Noah Igbinoghene, Jaylen Waddle

The Dolphins had high hopes for Jakeem Grant when they signed him to a four-year extension before 2019, but he has greatly disappointed, averaging just 22 receiving yards per game since. Worse, the team has eased back on his return responsibilities in recent seasons. Grant could remain the team's top returner in 2021, but sophomore Noah Igbinoghene will push for the job, and the team might view special teams as a good way to get highly-drafted rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle involved early.

Punt Returners: Jakeem Grant, Jaylen Waddle, Noah Igbinoghene

The Dolphins had high hopes for Jakeem Grant when they signed him to a four-year extension before 2019, but he has greatly disappointed, averaging just 22 receiving yards per game since. Worse, the team has eased back on his return responsibilities in recent seasons. Grant could remain the team's top returner in 2021, but sophomore Noah Igbinoghene will push for the job, and the team might view special teams as a good way to get highly-drafted rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle involved early.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Austin Jackson, LG Solomon Kindley, C Matt Skura, RG Robert Hunt, RT Jesse Davis
Key Backups: OT Liam Eichenberg [R], OL Michael Deiter, OL Larnel Coleman [R]

This decent group hit on three draft picks last year. Austin Jackson has been serviceable at left tackle. The team wants Solomon Kindley at left guard and Robert Hunt at right, with Jesse Davis kicking out to tackle again and second-round pick Liam Eichenberg competing with Davis. At center, Michael Deiter and Matt Skura will compete. This group checks in as a solid, middle-of-the-road option.

Team Defense

The Dolphins D/ST took a big step forward last year. After investing a lot of money in the defense in free agency, the Dolphins tied for first in interceptions, tied for fifth in forced fumbles, and held their opponents to 21 or fewer points the majority of the time. They added the best pure edge rusher in the draft - Jaelen Phillips - and also got a glue piece for the secondary in the early second - Jevon Holland - who can play safety and hang in man coverage. The offense could also improve if Tua Tagovailoa gets better in his second year, setting up the D/ST that was #1 in many scoring systems from Week 3 on to be even better this year. The unit is often going in the 6-8 range of drafts, making them a good target if you aren't waiting until the last round or two to get your D/ST.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Christian Wilkins, DE Raekwon Davis, NT Zach Sieler
Backups: DE Adam Butler, DE Jason Strowbridge, DE Jonathan Ledbetter, DT John Jenkins

Starting DL: Primarily operating out of a 3-4 front, the Dolphins don't have many fantasy-relevant options on the defensive line. Shaq Lawson was traded to Houston after just one season in Miami, which leaves a trio of defensive tackles atop their rotation. Christian Wilkins is a focal point after being drafted 13th overall in 2019, but he has just 4.5 career sacks and needs to generate more pressure. Raekwon Davis was a 2nd round pick a year ago who became a full-time starter but he's more of a space-eater who can tie up blockers for the players around him. Zach Sieler enjoyed a breakout season in 2020 after being waived by the Ravens and earned a 3-year contract extension.

Backup DL: The Dolphins added several depth options in free agency this year in Adam Butler and John Jenkins. Butler has been a productive player during the last two years in New England while Jenkins brings 8 years of experience at Nose Tackle. Jason Strowbridge and Jonathan Ledbetter are both developmental players who are unlikely to make a significant contribution.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Jerome Baker, ILB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Jaelan Phillips [R], OLB Emmanuel Ogbah
Backups: OLB Andrew Van Ginkel, ILB Duke Riley, ILB Elandon Roberts, ILB Sam Eguavoen, ILB Calvin Munson, OLB Vince Biegel, OLB Brennan Scarlett

Starting LBs: Jerome Baker enjoyed a breakout season last year with 7 sacks while often serving as the team's primary 3-down linebacker. He is slightly undersized but has enough range to make plays all over the field. Benardrick McKinney was acquired via trade and should handle more of a run-stopping role to help free up Baker just like he did for Zach Cunningham in Houston. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury but should be fully healthy to start the year. Outside, the Dolphins surprisingly released Kyle Van Noy this offseason, which puts more pressure on rookie Jaelan Phillips to contribute immediately. Phillips is more of a traditional edge rusher who figures to be more comfortable playing up on the line and chasing the quarterback rather than playing in space. Emmanuel Ogbah was one of the biggest surprises of 2020 as he posted a career-high 9 sacks. Both edge players will benefit from playing in front of a strong secondary and could have added fantasy value in leagues that group them with defensive ends.

Backup LBs: The Dolphins could use Andrew Van Ginkel in a regular rotation at outside linebacker after his breakout 5.5 sack season. This team has plenty of experienced depth inside including several former starters in Duke Riley and Elandon Roberts. Sam Eguavoen and Calvin Munson also have some experience but are primarily special teams contributors. Vince Biegel will try to bounce back after missing last year with a torn Achilles suffered in August.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones, SS Eric Rowe, FS Jevon Holland [R]
Backups: CB Noah Igbinoghene, CB Nik Needham, CB Jason McCourty, CB Justin Coleman, CB Jamal Perry, S Brandon Jones, S Clayton Fejedelem

Starting DBs: The Dolphins have arguably the best starting cornerback tandem in the league with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Howard is a shutdown corner with excellent ball skills that helped him collect 10 interceptions last year, which was the highest total in the league since 2007. Jones only has 4 career interceptions in 6 games but his presence helps drive targets elsewhere. Eric Rowe is a converted cornerback who is a capable starter with limited upside from a fantasy perspective. Veteran free safety Bobby McCain was released in May and will likely be replaced by rookie 2nd round pick Jevon Holland.

Backup DBs: Last year's 1st round pick Noah Igbinoghene failed to make much of an impact as a rookie but has the potential to make this group even stronger. Nik Needham has played over 600 snaps in each of the past two years while serving as the team's primary nickel corner. Jason McCourty is 33-years-old but started 11 games for New England last year and brings a ton of experience to this group. Justin Coleman was signed in free agency to provide added competition inside while Jamal Perry provides additional depth. Brandon Jones will get a chance to compete for a starting job this year and should see time as the #3 safety at minimum. Clayton Fejedelem provides experienced depth on the back end and is highly valued for his work on special teams.