Know Your Foe Preview – Scouting the Miami Dolphins’ Offseason

Michael Nania breaks down the Miami Dolphins 2018 offseason in this week’s Know Your Foe…

Coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the New York Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the rival Miami Dolphins.

MIAMI DOLPHINS:

Franchise Outlook:

The Dolphins are caught in a state of mediocrity. They are coming off of a six win season, and have won somewhere from 6-8 games in eight of their last nine seasons, save for a fluky wild card season in which they had a negative point differential and the fifth easiest schedule in the NFL. Their anointed franchise quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, is still only 29 years old, but is coming off of a lost season. He still needs to prove he can be more than a decent starter, as he has alternated between above average and below average passer ratings in each of the last four seasons and has only posted a winning record as a starter once, going 8-5 in 2016.

Where is this team going? Their -117 point differential in 2017 was their worst since 2007 and their second worst in the past 50 seasons. With a handful of decent-priced free agent signings, they have not quite fully embraced the rebuild, even though on paper they clearly do not seem far from a team that can compete for elite draft position. After ridding themselves of their most dangerous playmakers on both sides of the ball, is the rebuild their primary focus after all? It’s a bit confusing to deduce the direction of this franchise.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Positives:

Offensive:

  • 10th in lowest sack percentage allowed (5.2%)

Defensive:

  • 4th in fourth down defense (25% conversion rate allowed)
  • 11th in third down defense (37% conversion rate allowed)
  • 10th in punt return average allowed (6.3), 6th in kick return average allowed (19.6)

Negatives:

Offensive:

  • 28th in points per game (17.6)
  • 30th in turnovers (29)
  • 31st in rushing touchdowns (4)
  • 30th in interceptions (21)
  • 24th in net passing yards per attempt (5.6)
  • 24th in rushing yards per attempt (3.9)
  • 32nd in third down conversion rate (32%)
  • 29th in fourth down conversion rate (25%)

Defensive:

  • 29th in points per game allowed (24.6)
  • 29th in takeaways (15)
  • 28th in interception percentage (1.7%)
  • 28th in opponent passer rating (94.8)
  • 23rd in net passing yards per attempt allowed (6.5)
  • 30th in red zone touchdown rate allowed (63%)
  • 25th in sack rate (5.4%)

Draft –

R1, #11: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama – You saw how much the Dolphins struggled against the pass defensively above. That makes the selection of the energetic and versatile Fitzpatrick a definite need-filler. I thought this quote from his NFL.com scouting report was very interesting:

“He’s not quite on the same level of Jamal Adams when it comes to changing the entire culture of a locker room, but he is just as talented and probably more versatile.” – AFC team executive

R2, #42: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State – An athletic behemoth with tantalizing pass-catching upside. I got a little nervous when I saw the former Nittany Lion go to Miami. Seriously, just take a look at this guy’s physical profile:

A 4.54 forty and a 34⅛” vertical at 6’5, 247? He is the prototype modern pass-catching tight end and then some. While his blocking is considered extremely suspect, it will be interesting to see what Gesicki can do in the passing game with all of these tools.

R3, #73: Jerome Baker, OLB, Ohio State – Considered the classic athlete playing football instead of the athletic football player. His speed is notable, also providing him with coverage upside, but scouts question his instincts, drive, and toughness.

R4, #123: Durham Smythe, TE, Notre Dame – After taking a pass-catching specialist tight end in Gesicki, the Dolphins flip the switch and take a blocking Y tight end with Smythe. He only collected 112 yards in his final season, but is hailed for almost lineman-caliber blocking ability as a 6’5, 253 pound tight end.

R4, #131: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State – Ballage has intriguing size and speed, running a 4.46 forty at 6’2, 228. He made his name with an absurd eight-touchdown game against Texas Tech in 2016. However, he was overall unproductive and inefficient in college (a 4.4 YPC that is minuscule compared to most NFL prospects), and has had his fundamentals and vision questioned.

R6, #209: Cornell Armstrong, CB, Southern Mississippi – A 5’11, 193 corner who was mostly graded as an undrafted free agent.

R7, #227: Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio – A speedy 6’0, 235 pound linebacker with special teams potential.

R7, #229: Jason Sanders, K, New Mexico – Connected on 111 of 112 career extra points, but only 25 of 35 (71.4%) field goals.

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – Gesicki worries me. The Jets have had trouble covering tight ends for a long time, and that continued this past season. Gesicki might not have had dominant college production, and he also might struggle to find playing time if he is a blocking liability. However, the tight end has seen its value perpetually increase in the modern NFL because of athletes like Gesicki. I can definitely see him being a problem for this Jets defense.

Free Agency/Trades:

Major trades:

  • The big one for Miami was the trade sending Jarvis Landry to the Browns for a 4th round selection, #123 overall. Whether or not Landry is worth what Cleveland will pay him is debatable, as despite his imposing reception total (400 in four seasons and a league-high 112 in 2017), he only averages 10.1 yards per reception for his career, including a paltry 8.8 in 2017. However, there’s no denying that Landry is an athlete and playmaker whose open-field talent is something that defenses need to account for. He will likely be missed in the short-term.
  • Miami acquired defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams for a fourth round pick and a swap of sixth round picks.

Notable losses:

  • The Dolphins released Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Rams for one year and $14 million. Despite his age (now 31), Suh was still one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the NFL in 2017.

Notable additions:

  • The Dolphins hired former Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for the same position, reuniting him with Adam Gase.
  • WR Danny Amendola, 2 years, $12 million from New England: Danny Amendola jumped ship from one AFC East team to another. He can be cut without any dead money after 2018, but this seems like a relatively lucrative deal for a 32-year old receiver who has never hit 700 yards in a season and has only played two 16-game seasons. He figures to replace Jarvis Landry in the slot.
  • WR Albert Wilson, 3 years, $24 million from Kansas City: This is a very puzzling signing. The Dolphins needed to find a replacement in the slot for Jarvis Landry, so they not only overpay one, but two slot receivers to fill that hole. I can see the reasoning for Amendola on what is basically a one-year deal for his reliability (when healthy) and veteran presence, but the Wilson signing is tough to figure out. Wilson has 1,544 career receiving yards, good for 28 per game. He averaged a career best 42.1 yards last year, 66th in the league. For that, the Dolphins are guaranteeing him over $14 million and cannot escape without dead money until after 2019. That’s a pretty big commitment for someone who has never been better than his team’s third-leading receiver.
  • G Josh Sitton, 2 years, $13.5 million from Chicago: This is a good move. The Dolphins needed offensive line help (PFF ranked their unit 29th), and the veteran Sitton was graded as the 5th best guard in the league by PFF last year. He’s guaranteed about $8 million on this deal, and the Dolphins can escape it after year one with only $2 million in dead money.
  • RB Frank Gore, 1 year, $1 million from Indianapolis: The 35-year old Gore could potentially end his football career where it all started, right in South Florida where he was born, raised, and became a Hurricane. Gore has posted a YPC below 4.0 in three straight seasons, but the work he has put in over his career is downright incredible. He has not missed a start in his five seasons into his thirties, and is up to 5th all time in carries. His 12 straight seasons of 200+ carries trails only Emmitt Smith (13) for the longest all time. I don’t think Gore will do much to help boost Miami’s subpar rushing efficiency, but it is really cool to see him continue his career at home.

Most damaging loss?

  • The only key losses were Landry and Suh. Since those two have been head and shoulders more productive and dominant than anyone Miami added, I think it is fair to say both are huge losses on their respective sides of the ball.

Landry has unsightly efficiency numbers in 2017, collecting zero 100 yard games despite 10 games with 10+ targets and 6+ targets in every game, but that can be attributed to the lacking QB position and the way the offense utilized him. Just a year ago, Landry had four 100 yard games while averaging 12.1 yards per reception on a 71.8% catch rate; great numbers. The Dolphins are betting highly on projection to replace Landry’s presence.

Suh is a still dominant player, as PFF ranked him 5th among interior defenders in 2017. Miami’s rush defense was its only respectable unit in 2017, ranking 14th in total yards per game allowed and 15th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Suh played a role in that. We shall see if there is a significant difference in the production of Miami’s defensive line with Suh now in Hollywood.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? – I’ll roll with Sitton. Not to write off Amendola or Wilson completely, as each have dangerous assets to their games, but Sitton is easily the most accomplished add by the Dolphins. He is consistently one of the most solid guards in the NFL. For a Miami team that was 32nd in rushing attempts, 31st in rushing DVOA, and 29th in rushing yards, Sitton could make a big difference towards fixing a huge weakness.

Jets Connections –

  • As you saw, Danny Amendola stays in the AFC East and goes to the Dolphins. Amendola’s 32 receptions against the Jets are his second most against a single team; his 33 against the Bills are his most.
  • The Dolphins’ top two draft picks are both New Jersey natives. Fitzpatrick is from New Brunswick and attended St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. Gesicki is from Lakewood and attended Southern Regional in Manahawkin.
  • Albert Wilson has only 30 yards in three career games against the Jets, his lowest average against teams he has faced at least twice.
  • Robert Quinn has zero sacks and only two tackles in two games against the Jets.

Synopsis –

Based on their numbers, Miami was actually fairly lucky to win six games last year, owning the fourth worst point differential in the league. To follow that, they lost their best playmaker on each side of the ball.

Ryan Tannehill will be back and should be a sizable upgrade over the Dolphins’ quarterback production in 2017, so that should be a major boost for their chances of contention. However, like the Jets, the Dolphins have a lot of holes that they will need to overcome if they are to be a playoff team. Frankly, I think the Dolphins have one of the lesser rosters in the AFC. If it weren’t for the difference between Tannehill and McCarron/Allen, I’d put them below the Bills. It feels like another season in the range of six wins could be in order for the Dolphins; potentially worse.

Photo Credit: NFL.com 

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.