The AFC East is full of teams that people love to talk about. Everyone loves to hate on the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for all of the things they have been in the middle of over the last few years. The Jets are from New York, and their lack of quarterback stability is always at the center of conversation, despite their plethora of offensive weapons. And the Bills have Rex Ryan. And we all know how he finds the spotlight.
But one team that never gets much attention is the Miami Dolphins. They are often looked at as a mediocre team that is never truly terrible, but not very good either. There is simply never anything special about them that gets people to talk. But that could could very well change this season.
The disaster that was the Joe Philbin era is officially over. Philbin was fired last season after he began the season 1-3. He was replaced by Dan Campbell, who went 5-7, leading the club to a final record of 6-10. A step back from their 8-8 record a season prior, meaning change was in order.
And change is what the Dolphins did. The Phins bring in the youngest head coach in the league, former Broncos’ and Bears’ offensive coordinator, Adam Gase. Gase is known as a quarterback guru who assisted an aging and aching Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl two seasons ago. Now Peyton was not totally washed up at that point, so I cannot give all of the credit to Gase, but he certainly had a hand in the teams’ success. Then in his sole season with the Bears, he helped Jay Cutler, one of the most inconsistent players in the league, to one of his best seasons. He had a career high in passer rating, but most importantly, a career low in interceptions.
Gase will now get a chance to work with a 28 year old Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill enters his fifth season in the league, and had a decent season last year. Some are saying he has reached his peak, putting up similar numbers to the season prior to last. But at the prime age of 28, and the introduction of a new coaching staff that boasts a quarterback mastermind as the head coach, a breakout season could be on the horizon.
Gase and new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, are expected to bring a faster offense to Miami. They will provide good teachers for Tannehill to learn from, bringing more fire and passion than the reserved Joe Philbin. Tannehill will be given more room to grow, as he will be given more control of the team on the field. But they will not let him get careless, as shown by Gase leading Cutler to his career low in picks. Gase simply knows how to manage a quarterback.
Tannehill taking a step forward under Gase is the key to the Dolphins success on offense. If Tannehill does not take that step forward, it will be the same old, uninteresting Dolphins. But if Gase can work his magic like we have seen him do in the past, this team has the pieces to be explosive.
Simply put, they have weapons. An improved Tannehill has a lot of guys he can put his faith in, which helps in his taking a step forward.
The Phins have a trio of receivers that could all be in line for solid seasons. First up is Tannehill’s favorite target, Jarvis Landry. The man is gold when it comes to yards after the catch. Just throw him a five yard pass and let him work his magic. He has the speed and shiftiness that makes him a Pro Bowl wide receiver. Whenever the Dolphins need a few yards to pick up a first down, Landry is a good bet to get the look.
DeVante Parker is the man everyone will be talking about come the end of the season. Standing at 6’3″ and 218 pounds, Parker boasts a frame that is virtually identical to Atlanta Falcons’ star Julio Jones. Parker was a first round pick that began last season with an injured foot. It was not until week 11 last season that Parker really got to show his stuff. He averaged almost 20 yards per catch, and ended the season with three games over 85 receiving yards. This off-season it appears Parker is healthy, and will enter camp with no limitations. This means more time to gel with a growing Tannehill. Look for Parker to become a true stud this season.
Then there is Kenny Stills who has yet to live up to his true potential. He was traded to Miami from New Orleans before last season. He was underutilized last season, but Gase has gone on record to say Stills will be more involved this year. The talent is there, and he should be the clear cut number three receiver. Look for him to be a fallback option for Tannehill when the other guys are well covered. His skill-set gives me confidence he can do something given the lack of attention he will likely receive from opposing defenses.
And that is not the end of the receiving depth in Miami either. The Dolphins added to rookie wide receivers in this years draft, both of whom could have an impact this season. Those two rookies are third round pick Leonte Carroo out of Rutgers, and sixth round pick Jakeem Grant from Texas Tech.
Then there is tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron had an underwhelming first season in Miami, and would have been gone if he did not agree to take a pay-cut. So why would a guy who struggled with a team be willing to take less money to remain with that team? Apparently a conversation with Julius Thomas, a tight end who flourished under Gase in Denver, was enough to convince Cameron. Gase runs an offense that places a higher value on the tight end position, and we have seen what Cameron is capable of while he was a member of the Browns. Health is always a concern for Cameron, but backup Dion Sims is not the worst backup there is. He could provide a big target in the red zone if he needed to step in for Cameron.
Many are questioning the running game in Miami. Given I see the passing game as their primary focus, I do not share the same concern. Jay Ajayi, a rookie last season was a hot name in fantasy drafts, as many saw him as a sleeper behind then Dolphins running back Lamar Miller. But Ajayi needed to start the season on the IR, and that altered his season much like it did DeVante Parker. Once Ajayi got a crack at the NFL, he ran for an average of 3.8 yards per carry, which is not too shabby. Also like Parker, Ajayi seems to be fully healthy entering this season, and will be poised for a breakout. Rookies who are fantasy sleepers who disappoint, tend to breakout the a year or two later once everyone has forgotten about or discounted them. And given it was an injury that altered his season’s outlook last season, I see no reason why he should not be as hyped as he was last season.
The Dolphins also have rookie running back Kenyon Drake, who was drafted in the third round out of Alabama. Drake could provide a nice option to catch some passes out of the backfield.
The offensive line will need to step up as well, and keep Tannehill off of his back. Mike Pouncey is a Pro Bowler who should anchor the line at center. Branden Albert is one of the more talented lineman in the league, but health is always a concern. Ju’Wuan James is a former first round pick who has also battled injuries. But the key will be the addition of this years first round pick, Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil took a drastic fall in this seasons draft do to concerns over his character. But he has all of the skill needed to anchor a line, and was seen by some as the best player in this seasons’ draft. Personally I feel the character concerns were blown way out of proportion, and he was an absolute steal for Miami. Overall the line needs to remain healthy, and the depth guys need to step up when called upon. But the talent is their for a solid line, as the line boasts four former first round picks.
So the weapons are clearly abundant. Tannehill appears to have everything that he needs to take that next step forward. The end result could very well be the Dolphins becoming one of the more talked about teams in the AFC East, and the NFL. They could certainly become an offensive juggernaut this season. If Gase can help Tannehill progress like he should at this point in his career, watch out for Miami, Ryan Tannehill and DeVante Parker.