2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Miami Dolphins
July 23, 2015 | Chet
The Miami Dolphins were the mixed bag their record suggests they were in 2014, finishing 8-8 on the season. It was the sixth consecutive season in which they’ve won six to eight games, as the last winning record the franchise has had was in 2008. The majority of their eight wins came against teams they should’ve beaten as Miami went 1-5 against 2014 playoff teams and suffered four double digit home losses. They also played a couple of high caliber teams tough, with just field goal losses to Green Bay and Denver. For 2015, can the Dolphins break their middling cycle?
2015 Dolphins Schedule
By now you’re aware of the disclaimer I’m going to lay down. Proceed with caution when placing weight on early season schedule analysis. Miami has a roller coaster paper slate with potential cupcakes sandwiched between potential playoff teams all throughout. The AFC East could be the division where passing games go to die outside of New England, but Miami dodges both the Jets and Bills for their fantasy playoff schedule. All in all, I expect peaks and valleys throughout the season for the Miami offense as they rotate sensational and subpar matchups regularly.
Miami may be able to trump any potential pitfall if they are able to continue building on what they were able to accomplish in year one under the guidance of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor combined with a step of improvement from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In just one year, Miami went from one the league’s bottom offenses to just outside of being one the top ones.
Here’s where things get really interesting. For a team that made so many strides in a short window, they cleaned house which leads me to assume they also believed it wasn’t sustainable the way they garnered a lot of that success. Sure, some moves were monetary and free agency induced, but Miami showed they may have been cognizant that the way they excelled on offense is also a fragile way to succeed consistently on offense in today’s NFL. By that, I mean that the Dolphins relied on carrying out long drives to garner almost all of their scoring opportunities while generating little to no splash plays as an offense.
Miami ran 65 more plays in the red zone in 2014 than they did in 2013. On the surface that’s amazing, but the Dolphins also finished dead last in the league in non-red zone scores (four) and had the lowest percentage of their scores come from outside the prime scoring area. Consistently high scoring offenses can find a way to bypass the red zone in conjunction with sustaining drives. Since 2007, here are the 20 teams that averaged four or more red zone trips per game, their reliance on scoring near the paint, and how their red zone opportunities carried over the following season.
|Team||Year||RZ Opp/Gm||RZTD%||Non RZ TD||Non RZTD%||n+1 RZ Opp/Gm|
*NFL AVERAGE FOR NON RZ TD OVER THAT SPAN IN 24.3%
The first thing that jumps out before even looking at the numbers is that elite quarterback play is tied to sustaining major scoring opportunities yearly. If Tannehill continues to stride forward, that may not be an issue, but I doubt many are placing him in the Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning tier just yet. When hitting the actual tally of the table, you’ll see that Miami was dead last in non-red zone touchdown percentage and one of the bottom teams in actually converting red zone trips to touchdowns. Maybe Miami is building something similar to New England in which they just have a consistent dink and dunk juggernaut, but I see it as there’s regression to be expected in terms of how often they’ll reach the red zone in 2015. The real question if that occurs, is can we also expect positive movement towards the mean of them scoring more from outside of the red zone to balance that out? Since Tannehill has taken over the starter, here’s where Miami has ranked in producing touchdowns and scoring outside of the red zone.
|Year||Team TD||Rank||Non RZ TD||Rank||%||Rank|
Over the past three years, Miami has just 68 pass plays of 25 or more yards. That mark is ahead of only Kansas City (62) and Minnesota (60) and only 11 were for touchdowns. In 2014, they were 27th with 22 such pass plays. To maintain being a high scoring offense in today’s NFL, you need to be able to forego relying on reaching the red zone to score. That was a long form way of me saying that I don’t believe we can expect Miami to just roll over how they approach in succeeding on offense in 2015 but that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be successful because they upgraded everywhere in regards to pass catching talent that can possibly generate those big plays.
Laces Out On Landry and the Pass Catchers?
Those moves the Miami Dolphins made involved completely overhauling their pass catching unit. Miami traded the mercurial Mike Wallace who never developed real chemistry with Tannehill, axed Brian Hartline and let tight end Charles Clay walk in free agency. They then traded for Kenny Stills, signed veteran Greg Jennings, signed Jordan Cameron and spent high end draft capital on rookie DeVante Parker. As far as pure talent goes, this is a big upgrade on a meandering unit.
The one player returning as an expected major contributor is 2014 second round pick and productive rookie, Jarvis Landry. Landry became just the sixth rookie receiver ever to catch 80 or more passes in a season. Down the stretch he was leaned on as the centerpiece of the passing game as he had 23.4 percent of the team targets from week 10 on. Over that stretch, Landry was 10th in the league in targets (72) and fourth with 54 receptions.
That’s about where the real fuzzy feelings end with Landry, though. While ranking so high in targets and catches, he was still just 28th in receiving yards (457) over that stretch and had just two top-24 scoring weeks for fantasy. While that volume level is alluring, Landry was on a 16 game pace of turning 144 targets into just 944 yards. He was just the second wide receiver in NFL history to have 80 or more catches in a season for less than 800 receiving yards, joining Danny Amendola in 2010 because his targets represented extended handoffs. Per Pro Football Focus, Landry’s 5.5 yard average depth of target ranked 115th in the league, ahead of only Tavon Austin (3.8 yards) at wide receiver as 82.9 percent of his targets were under 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Of all players with 50 or more receptions, no player depended on yards after catch to create yardage more than Landry.
|Player||Rec.||ReYds||YAC||YAC%||YAC / Rec.|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||91||1305||481||36.86%||5.3|
|Steve L. Smith||79||1068||375||35.11%||4.7|
A few weeks ago I highlighted Landry as a regression case since 46.3 percent of his fantasy scoring came from receptions alone, which was the fifth highest percentage of reception reliance for a top-40 scorer in a season since 1970. If you’re banking on him providing the same type of lateral output in 2015, that would be a mistake as those seasons rarely repeat themselves. Although the format is titled “Point Per Reception”, the format has been proven that it only increases the viability of the position itself in comparison to others rather than alter tiers within itself. We’ve done this seemingly every season with a player coming off of a reception reliant season, whether it be Kendall Wright of last year, Pierre Garcon of 2013, down the list to Danny Amendola, Percy Harvin all the way back to Mike Furrey in the hopes of chasing the next Wes Welker and often come up empty handed from the well.
The way you truly want to play on Landry being a fantasy asset that meets his lower WR2 price point is by him progressing as a player that doesn’t rely on those catches and the best way for him to accomplish that is to build off of the good showing he had as a rookie in the red zone. Last season, Landry converted five of 14 red zone targets for scores. That 35.7 percent conversion rate was strongly above the 24.3 league average rate. Miami gave 38 red zone looks to Wallace, Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews last season, so there’s reason to believe he can increase his scoring rate as a sophomore. Another plus for Landry is if your league rewards return yardage as he added 1,158 yards through kick and punt returns, the third most in the league.
I do believe Landry will garner more scoring opportunities but also lose out on targets getting funneled his way and be closer to 80 receptions again rather than 100 since I believe the Miami Dolphins will attempt to incorporate a more dynamic passing attack and have accrued more viable targets than they had last season. In the end, I get the rep as a “Landry hater” when the truth lies in that I just actively avoid players priced at what I believe is their best case scenario. As C.D. Carter points out, his price is already at his ceiling projection and JJ Zachariason doesn’t see the price point matching production as well. As someone who always looks for similar assets at a cheaper cost, Wright and Garcon are available so much later on and have less talent around them when fighting for targets.
Replacing Wallace with efficiency standout Kenny Stills is a solid and underappreciated upgrade for this offense. Stills may not have the roadrunner raw speed of Wallace, but he’s plenty good enough as a vertical asset himself as he has 13 receptions of 30 or more yards over his first two seasons. Tacked on to that lid popping potential, he is a more reliable intermediate target than Wallace. Here are their target charts and catch rates courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
|Player||0-9 Yd Tgt||Tgt%||Catch %||10-19 Yd Tgt||Tgt%||Catch %||20+ Yd Tgt||Tgt%||Catch %|
The initial counterpoint to the above chart is that one had Drew Brees while the other had Tannehill, and there isn’t a great history of Saints’ receivers leaving New Orleans and succeeding, but as Mike Clay pointed out, even when adjusting for Brees’ involvement itno the equation, Stills was still the top receiver in terms of adjusted catch rate. We also had a glimpse of what the ceiling for Stills may be when Brandin Cooks went down last season. After Cooks was lost for the season, Stills was a top-36 scorer in five of those six weeks. Using the Game Splits App at RotoViz, here’s what his potential ceiling could look like as a true secondary option.
The downside to Stills other than possibly going into another ambiguous situation is that he’s yet to show us that he has high end touchdown capability in his repertoire yet. He had just six red zone targets while in New Orleans, converting just one for a score. Just 4.8 percent of his targets came in the red zone, the second lowest percentage of any player in the league. His other seven career touchdowns are all from 34 yards or longer. As illustrated in the open, that could be problematic on this roster. Wallace did have 20 red zone targets last year, so perhaps we see a usage shift we never got to see in New Orleans, but I consider Landry, Cameron and Jennings much better options in that area. The cost to acquire Stills has held relatively steady as a your WR4 or WR5, which is still a solid grab for playing on his efficiency being legit and his showcased ceiling in a small sample last season.
The Dolphins gave to be 32-year old Greg Jennings a $3 million signing bonus and another $3 million guaranteed, so I don’t see him as just a roster filler. He’s going to play snaps. I don’t see Jennings as roster worthy for fantasy, but can see him potentially becoming a thorn in our sides all season long in a fashion where he may catch 40-50 passes and then scores five or six times. It’s not even out of the realm of possibilities that Jennings could lead the team in scores considering he’s been a decent red zone target for the majority of his career, which isn’t all Aaron Rodgers induced as it includes a 38.5 percent conversion rate last season on 13 targets. Here’s how his career numbers stack up in that area of the field to the rest of the Miami unit sans Parker.
Our Chad Scott covered Devante Parker prior to the draft and he is in a very intriguing spot in Miami because he already is arguably the most talented receiver on the roster, but there’s also a crowded group surrounding him that is good enough to keep him from seeing major snaps and volume early on. The other factor in his development is how he recovers from precautionary surgery to replace a screw in his foot, which is the same injury Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas suffered early in their careers. Dr. Jeff Budoff broke down that surgery and the potential lingering effects here, which should force Parker to miss most if not all of training camp and the preseason. Losing those reps hurts his initial timetable to find snaps because if Miami starts well, they’ll likely ease his transition to a crawl. Missing that time could also create a great buying-low point on him as I believe Parker gives the offense a big play receiver on all levels of the defense and after the catch and forces himself onto the field when he is healthy. I expect once owners see him inactive for the preseason so close to actual league drafts, his stock could plummet. His situation for me isn’t dissimilar to that of Odell Beckham as a rookie in which he had early health concerns compiled without a clear line to targets. If his stock drops in drafts, I’ll roster him everywhere in hopes of a late season surge.
I’m also very much into the current price point of Jordan Cameron since he’s discounted from what we seen he was in 2012 and his 2013 price. That cost is a play on his ceiling potential, which is a top three tight end while also insulating some of the injury and ambiguity concerns he has entering the season.
Cameron and Charles Clay are two different types of tight ends, but you can see that Clay never approached the type of passing game usage that Cameron did in 2013. Placing Cameron’s route totals around the 30 per game mark is more realistic since the 2013 Browns were a historically pass heavy team, but Clay was targeted more per route opportunity in each of the past two seasons. There’s also 20 missing red zone targets that went to Clay, which tied for the team lead. 23.8 percent of Clay’s targets came in the red zone last season, which was the third highest percentage in the NFL of all players with 50 or more targets. I’ll be looking to add Cameron as the front of a tight end stable if he’s hanging around near the ninth round or later in a lot drafts this summer as that price point has injury concern risks priced in already.
Is It Finally Miller Time?
Lamar Miller finally gave us a taste of what he’s capable of last season as he was a rock steady RB2 for fantasy. Miller had 11 top-24 scoring weeks which were as many as Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster. While he lacked the weekly ceiling of those players, he still added five top-12 scoring weeks to his resume. He did all of this once again on minimal opportunity as only Jeremy Hill had fewer touches per game (15.6) than Miller’s 15.9 out of the top-12 scoring backs overall. Prior to week 15, Miller had more than 15 carries in a game just one time with just 49.5 percent of the team carries through those 13 games. Over the final three weeks of the season, we finally saw a full workload given to him as he handled 75 percent of the carries and had two top-two scoring weeks over those games.
Miller also was solid near the goal line as he converted six of 14 carries inside the five-yard line for scores on the season. That 42.9 percent conversion rate ranked 11th of 22 backs with double digit carries in that area of the field. In terms of efficiency as a runner, Miller also greatly improved in all areas as he was more effective per carry on every level of run in 2014.
|Year||Att||2 Yd or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|
Out of all backs with 100 or more carries, Miller had the second lowest percentage of carries to go for two yards or less, ranked first in percentage of carries to go for five or more yards and fourth in the 10 yards or longer category. Now entering the final season of his rookie contract, there’s some new added pause given to his outlook within the franchise now that Miami has added rookie Jay Ajayi to the fold. I don’t believe the Dolphins were looking to replace Miller because I don’t believe they would’ve waited until 13 other running backs went off of the board before making their move, rather than Ajayi became more of a luxury pick at that point. But it is worth keeping a tack in the fact that Miami has consistently shown they aren’t willing to unshackle Miller as a workhorse and the fantasy community has steadily valued him more than the Dolphins have shown.
Miller has draft to draft fluctuation often, sometimes going as early as the second round turn or as late as the fourth round. You’re going to have to play his stock by ear in your drafts, but I see Miller as a bankable secondary option that you may be able to get even as your third back in a fortunate scenario. I’m comfortable taking him ahead of Melvin Gordon, Alfred Morris, Carlos Hyde and Andre Ellington, but not before Justin Forsett, Mark Ingram or Frank Gore.
Ajayi was one of my favorite backs in this class and I had him as the second rated back prior to the draft. That overall shine tumbled with his draft stock as teams had to pushed away by more than just his knee concerns to go that late in this class. While the longevity of his career depressed his draft status, he is still 100 percent healthy today, so there are no short term ramifications in terms of performance. As mentioned, there had to be more than just his injury that pushed teams away at that stage and by all indications of this summer, Ajayi just may not be as good of a player as initially thought.
Another one of my favorites from last draft season, Damien Williams is still in the fold, but was used primarily as a receiving threat and played 30 percent of the snaps just once all season. He has the requisite size to be a feature back, but Miami was reluctant to use him as a ball carrier as he had more than five carries in a game just three times.
In a potentially ascending offense under Lazor, who has heavy volume rushing ties that extend beyond his involvement with just Chip Kelly and one that would likely want to run the football more than the 399 times (22nd) they did in 2014, the backup here can have some relevance even if sharing a small role in the offense with Miller this upcoming season. In 2014, Miller accounted for 75 percent of more of the Miami carries just four times.
Making a Mountain out of a Tannehill
A lot has been made out of Ryan Tannehill’s 2014 campaign and for good cause. Tannehill continued to trend upwards in every real and fantasy category including rushing output last season on his way to a top-10 scoring season.
For weekly fantasy, Tannehill ranged consistently on the lower QB1 area as he finished with seven top-12 scoring weeks, five top-six weeks and three top-three ones. The downside was that he still came with a relatively low floor as he had seven weeks in the bottom half of scoring. That weekly floor is still what is keeping his pricing in check as QB13 as I’m still in the camp that believes he belongs in a committee still.
Only Alex Smith attempted a lower percentage of passes 20 yards or more downfield than the nine percent Tannehill did in 2014 per Pro Football Focus and as mentioned in the open, he’s extremely reliant on getting into the red zone to throw touchdowns. 79.4 percent (50 of 63) of his career scores are from the red zone. Also mentioned in the open, I love parts of the Dolphins schedule layout but then also loathe a good portion of it. If Tannehill continues to strive forward, then there’s potential he’s matchup proof as he had top-10 scoring weeks against Buffalo and New England already last season, but he also posted six scoring weeks of QB20 or below. He comes out of the gates with tilts against Washington and Jacksonville, but then draws Buffalo, the Jets and his bye week. That’s three of the opening five weeks you’re likely not using him or feeling positive about doing so. At the very least he needs paired with another quarterback with a favorable early season slate.
C.D. Carter makes a case for Tannehill delivering huge return on his price point . I believe Tannehill continues to progress as a pro and will have multiple QB1 weeks, but he still needs to be the quarterback that slides into the double digit rounds based on myself placing stock in the potential setback in terms of this offense losing efficiency that it had last season in unison with the potential that Tannehill himself may be the reason the offense cannot generate splash plays to bolster his floor and ceiling. While I would classify all of the new components in this offense as upgrades, there are still a lot of moving parts that you’re looking to come together quickly. If he does slide into the double digit round area, then grabbing Tannehill and avoiding the potential ambiguity from the passing pieces is the play.