2020 Fantasy Preview: Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

 

2019 was a tale of two Miami Dolphins teams. After being outscored 163-26 in their first four games (and looking like an 0-16 team out of the gate), the ‘Fins rattled off five wins in their last nine games and finished the season 5-11 looking like a team completely reborn. Despite playing behind the worst offensive line in football, Ryan Fitzpatrick ranked in the top half of all quarterbacks in Air Yards (7th), Deep Ball Completion % (13th) and Pressured Completion % (13th) per FantasyData, and was generally a serviceable fantasy QB, finishing the season as the QB17.  Fitzpatrick’s success finally led to the long-awaited breakout of former 1st round pick DeVante Parker, who set career highs in pretty much every stat you can imagine.

A lot of the success in the passing game was out of necessity since the Dolphins defense was historically bad, but also because their running backs were essentially nonexistent all season. Fitzpatrick, yes the quarterback, led the team in rushing yards with 243. It’s not totally out of the ordinary for a QB to lead his team on the ground but we can all agree that Fitzpatrick is no Lamar Jackson. It’s also not like the Dolphins lacked talented running backs either – Kenyan Drake was on the roster for the first six games of the season, Mark Walton flashed and looked like a capable starter prior to getting hit with a four-game suspension, and both Myles Gaskin and Kalen Ballage were popular waiver-wire fantasy pickups as well once they were given starting gig opportunities. That’s all to say that no matter who you have in your backfield it’s tough to establish the run game when your offensive line owns both the lowest pass-blocking grade AND the lowest run-blocking grade in football.

What has Miami done during the offseason to improve their two biggest issues, their backfield and their offensive line, and will it be enough to take this offense to another level? Well, for starters, Pro Football Focus ranks Miami as having the second most improved offensive line during the offseason. They signed guard Ereck Flowers away from Washington as well as center Ted Karras away from New England. Neither player lit the world on fire but they were both average at their positions, a welcome addition for a Miami line that was nowhere near that good in 2019. They also invested significant draft capital in 1st round tackle Austin Jackson and 2nd round tackle/guard Robert Hunt. Both are considered projects but could legitimately start this season, bringing a total of four new starters to the offensive line in 2020 for Miami.

This bodes well for newcomers Matt Breida and Jordan Howard, both of whom are essential locks to out-rush the speedy Fitzpatrick this year. A revamped offensive line should also give Fitzpatrick more time in the pocket, meaning better opportunities for Parker, a healthy Preston Williams, breakout tight end Mike Gesicki and the rest of Miami’s sneaky-good set of weapons. The Miami offense should improve in 2020 thanks in large part to an improved offensive line, but what does that mean for each player’s fantasy contributions? Let’s take a look.

 

Quarterback

 

Tua Tagovailoa

ADP: 163.2, QB26

Did you think I forgot about Tua Tagovailoa? The 5th overall pick in the draft comes into his rookie year having recovered from a season-ending hip injury and amidst a devastating worldwide pandemic. The hip in and of itself is a large question mark; Tua sustained a dislocated hip and a posterior wall fracture last November, ending his 2019 season prematurely and putting his future career in serious doubt. All reports are that the hip has fully healed and that Tua should be ready to go for the NFL season. It’s great news for Tua, but after such a serious injury one has to imagine that it will take some time for him to get back into football shape after focusing on rest and rehab for so long. This could be challenging in the midst of a pandemic that is currently hitting Florida especially hard. Will workouts be held on schedule? Will all of the coaches and players test negative and be allowed to participate?

Per Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, it’s a “foregone conclusion” that Tua starts for the Dolphins in week one. This was back in May, prior to Florida’s current devastating COVID outbreak, so it’s possible that plans have changed since then. My gut tells me that with a shortened training camp and fewer preseason games, Tua may not be ready to take over in week one, and may actually earn the job around week four or week five after getting in a month of practice with the team. There is no sense in rushing him back since Miami is not in win-now mode, so why not start off the year with Fitzpatrick?

From a fantasy perspective, there’s a lot of risk involved here. First, the guy is only eight or nine months removed from a very serious, career-threatening injury. Is he in football shape? Will he have enough practice time to get on the same page with his receivers? I worry that a Tua-led offense actually hurts everyone else’s fantasy outlooks in the short term, but there’s no denying the talent is there. At his current ADP, I don’t think I’ll be rostering him this season, and I would much rather have Teddy Bridgewater, who isn’t coming off an injury and has a guaranteed starting gig, at QB27.

 

Best Case Scenario

Florida enforces a mask mandate, the Dolphins report on time, Tua wows everyone in camp, earns the job, and immediately inserts himself into the discussion for the best young quarterback in the league.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Camp is cut short, Tua doesn’t get into football shape or develop chemistry with any of his weapons and sits for the first half of the season.

 

2020 Projection: 276 completions, 456 attempts, 3,142 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns; 33 carries, 118 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick

ADP: 324, QB36

There was plenty of Fitzmagic in the air in Miami last year as Ryan Fitzpatrick accumulated one of the best statistical seasons of his career. This was due in large part out of necessity because of the terrible Miami defense giving up so many points, but also because Fitzpatrick had a proper set of weapons in his arsenal and didn’t commit too many mistakes. His 2.6 interception% was the second-lowest of his career in seasons he has started 12 or more games. Fitzpatrick did everything Miami asked him to do and more, and it’s a shame that Tua will likely overtake him at some point this season because I was looking forward to watching Fitzpatrick build on the chemistry he had with his receivers.

Yeah, I just said I was looking forward to seeing Fitzpatrick play. You can’t deny he’s a fun guy to watch, and where else are we going to hear about guys from Harvard? Fitzpatrick gives Miami the best chance to win in 2020, which doesn’t really matter to them but for fantasy purposes, it would mean better seasons for Parker, Williams, etc. People also forget that Fitzpatrick finished as QB17 last year and was a valuable piece in the second half of the season. In standard scoring leagues, Fitzpatrick had seven games of 20+ fantasy points with six of them coming in week eight or later. Yes, Ryan Tannehill won a lot of fantasy leagues down the stretch but if you missed out and picked up the other Ryan instead I’m willing to bet you still felt pretty good about it.

If Tua doesn’t earn the starting gig or gives it up at any point during the season then Miami will be in good hands with Fitzpatrick. At his current ADP he likely isn’t getting drafted in many leagues, but keep an eye on this situation and pounce on him if he ends up starting. He’s a solid QB2 and bye week backup when he’s out there.

 

Best Case Scenario

Tua is unable to take the job in camp, the offensive line and backfield are much improved and Fitzpatrick continues to surprise everyone with another solid season in Miami.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Fitzpatrick is relegated to a bench role as an injury fill-in after Tua takes the starting gig in camp.

 

2020 Projection: 74 completions, 121 attempts, 1,103 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns; 15 carries, 83 rushing yards

 

Running Back

 

Jordan Howard

ADP: 105.7, RB42

Jordan Howard signed a 2 year, $9.5m deal with the Dolphins in the offseason and immediately becomes the bell cow back for a team that desperately lacked a #1 guy in 2019. Howard broke out in a big way in his rookie year, gathering 1313 yards on the ground on 5.2 yards per carry. His production got worse in each of the next two years, bottoming out at 935 yards on 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. After a trade to Philadelphia in the 2019 offseason, he had a nice six-game stretch where he averaged 15.1 fantasy points per game before injuring his shoulder and missing essentially the rest of the season. There are some out there labeling Howard as injury-prone but it was the first time he’s missed games in his career due to injury, so dismiss any injury concerns you may have.

One thing to note is that Howard was running behind the best offensive line in football last season and that has obviously changed. Howard had seven runs of over 15 yards in nine games last year compared to nine in fifteen games in 2018. For fantasy purposes he was efficient in his attempts, earning .94 fantasy points per rushing attempt which was ranked 33rd for all running backs with 50+ carries. That should regress a little now that he’s in Miami but as long as he’s given 200+ carries he should still have a nice season. There were only 349 carries to go around in Miami in 2019, which ranked dead last in the NFL, but with that offensive line and that collection of running backs why even bother running the ball at all? Expect more of a focus on the run this year to keep their defense off the field.

Howard averaged 259 carries per year in his three years with Chicago and was on pace for 211 before the injury last year. I have him projected for 180 carries because of the breakout potential for the #2 guy on the depth chart but Howard should still return solid value at his current ADP.

 

Best Case Scenario

Howard carries the rock 200+ times behind a much improved offensive line and finishes the season as a solid RB2 in fantasy.

 

Worst Case Scenario

The offensive line still stinks and Howard doesn’t find the openings he has in the past to use his excellent burst. As long as he’s not overdrafted he’s at least worth the risk as the number one back on the depth chart.

 

2020 Projection: 180 carries, 722 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns; 14 targets, 9 receptions, 73 receiving yards

 

Matt Breida

ADP: 94.7, RB37

Matt Breida was traded to the Dolphins during the draft for a fifth-round pick, which seems like a steal for a guy with his talent. His 4.38 40-yard dash time was just a fraction of a second off from the fastest in his draft class, and in his first three seasons with San Francisco, he averaged five yards per carry with six touchdowns. He also caught 67 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns. In 2018, his best season, Breida ranked fourth in breakaway rate (total carries of 15 or more yards) with 8.5%, and 24th in yards created per game with 18.9. Yards created are defined as being “generated by the runner after the first evaded tackle” so, on a team with four new starters on a league-worst offensive line, Breida will need to continue creating his own yards if he’s going to find a lot of success on the ground but the talent is obviously there to do so.

Breida will be the yin to Jordan Howard’s yang in this offense and I actually like him more than Howard in fantasy this season. We all know Howard isn’t a pass-catching back, but Breida can be and on an offense that should be throwing the ball a ton that’s a valuable skill to have. Injuries have been an issue in Breida’s career but he should be fully healthy heading into 2020. If Breida can stay on the field, which is, of course, no guarantee, look for the Miami coaching staff to try to find ways to get him the ball in open space where he can use his speed to break out some long plays. Currently being drafted as RB37 according to FantasyData, Breida has a lot of upside and could return great value for you on draft day.

 

Best Case Scenario

Breida stays healthy all season and splits time in the backfield with Howard as the receiving and change of pace option, and puts up a consistent fantasy season with some spiked weeks.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Injury strikes and Breida misses time, or Howard is used as a bell-cow back and Breida splits 3rd downs with Patrick Laird. Both scenarios would be equally devastating for anyone rostering Breida.

 

2020 Projection: 103 carries, 483 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs, 62 targets, 46 receptions, 402 receiving yards, 3 receiving TD

 

Patrick Laird

ADP: 241, RB82

Undrafted in 2019, Patrick Laird was given the opportunity to start in weeks 14-17 and his performance was underwhelming at best. His awful 2.9 yards per carry was certainly made worse by the offensive line in front of him but he isn’t a strong runner between the tackles anyway. Laird has great hands and ideally would be used as a complimentary change of pace back on passing downs. His fantasy role in 2020 is totally dependant on the health of Breida. If Breida gets hurt then Laird will step in as the primary pass-catching back once again. He averaged nearly 9 yards per reception in 2019 which could make him a useful piece in 2020 if he’s given an opportunity but he certainly won’t be racking up the rushing yards anytime soon. He’s a one-trick pony and I wouldn’t draft him in any leagues but, if injury strikes Breida, Laird will be a waiver target in PPR leagues once again.

 

Best Case Scenario

Unfortunately, Laird’s best-case scenario involves an injury to Breida, which nobody wants to see, but a third-down role in a sneaky good offense with an improved offensive line would make Laird a flex play in PPR leagues.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Breida remains healthy for 16 games and Laird is only targeted one or two times per game.

 

2020 Projection: 31 carries, 95 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD; 37 targets, 28 receptions, 251 receiving yards

 

Wide Receiver

 

DeVante Parker

ADP: 74.4, WR31

Is DeVante Parker for real? This is the question we all want to know the answer to after his breakout 2019, and luckily for you, I do have the answer: Maybe. Wait what? Yeah, the answer is maybe, because the question can be answered in two different ways. Let’s start off with Parker the football player. Yes, the talent is for real. Parker finished 2019 as one of the top deep threats in the game with 16.7 yards per reception, good for 8th in the league. He also ranked 4th in air yards with 952. If you combine Parker’s 4.45 40-yard speed with his 19 contested catches in 2019 (tied with Michael Thomas for 3rd in the league), his ability to get downfield and catch any ball thrown his way is up there with the best in the game. Where was this talent in past years though? It was probably there the whole time, but Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger tendencies brought out the best in him. Jay Cutler had 1,495 air yards in 2017, and in 2018 the pair of Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler combined for 1,531 air yards. Fitzpatrick’s number in 2019? 2,349. This is a case of a quarterback making the players around him better by giving them opportunities they didn’t have before.

So, Parker is for real right? In real life talent-wise, absolutely. In fantasy for 2020? I’m not sold on a repeat. If you don’t remember, Preston Williams was the Dolphins receiver breaking out through the first eight games of the season. It was a quiet breakout but Williams averaged 7.5 targets per game compared to Parker’s 6.5. After Williams’ ACL injury, Parker’s targets per game skyrocketed to 9.5. As long as Williams is back I expect Parker’s number of targets to decrease again to around 7, and with a yard per target rate of 9.4, that’s 20 fewer yards per game on the stat sheet.

Parker’s current ADP as WR31 seems about right for him but I do expect that to rise a bit as we get closer to the season and the hype train gets going. In a 12 team league, he’s going at the beginning of the 7th round, but I would rather pass on him and take a guy like Tyler Boyd, who I love this year, a round later. Overall, Parker is the real deal but I don’t think he’ll have the same opportunities this year as he did last year, and that will ultimately hurt his fantasy production.

 

Best Case Scenario

Parker establishes himself as the clear number one option in the offense and builds on his breakout 2019 season. His target share remains the same or even improves and he becomes a legitimate top 10 receiver in the league.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Williams returns and steals some of Parker’s targets, leading to mediocre numbers that do not live up to his ADP.

 

2020 Projection: 110 targets, 63 receptions, 915 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

 

Preston Williams

ADP: 134.6, WR54

Preston Williams started out the 2019 season as an undrafted free agent who flashed in the preseason, made the team, and led the Dolphins in receiving yards (428), targets (60), and receptions (32) before tearing his ACL in week 8. This was certainly unexpected but not totally surprising after his 96/1,345/14 TD senior year at Colorado State, however, the NFL is an entirely different animal and rookie receivers don’t often lead their teams in multiple statistical categories right out of the gate. Williams’ true breakout onto the fantasy scene occurred in weeks 6-8 when he accumulated 15 catches on 24 targets, 196 yards, two touchdowns, and showed wonderful chemistry with Fitzpatrick. Had it not been for his torn ACL we would likely be talking about him in the same ways we talk about A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, and Terry Mclaurin, three rookie receivers who lit the world on fire in 2019.

One stat that does worry me is his 5 drops in only eight games, which tied him for 29th in the league overall, but his 8.3% drop rate put him in the top 10 droppers in the league. If this trend continues I can see more targets going elsewhere and Williams could miss out on an opportunity to build on the solid start to his rookie season.

Williams tore his ACL in November of last year, so we’re about eight to nine months out from the injury. He’s expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but it’s been reported that he has not yet participated in any on-field workouts which is concerning to hear. Whether it’s COVID related or not, keep an eye on this as it’s not crazy to think he may begin the season on PUP. His current ADP in the 11th round isn’t a huge investment but it’s still a risk and you may want to target other upside guys like Anthony Miller or Jamison Crowder who are going around the same time but don’t have the same injury concerns. Approach with caution but Williams could be a true difference-maker for your team if healthy.

 

Best Case Scenario

Williams is back healthy for week 1, picks up where he left off last year, improves and becomes a great value WR2 in fantasy.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Williams starts the year on PUP, returns later in the year, and comes down with a case of the dropsies, hindering his development and ruining your championship aspirations.

 

2020 Projection: 105 targets, 56 receptions, 747 receiving yards, 4 TD

 

Albert Wilson

ADP: 221, WR97

Albert Wilson likely isn’t on your radar and I don’t blame you. He’s had a relatively disappointing career up to this point after five years in Kansas City and his last two in Miami, but I’m here to tell you that he could be a diamond in the rough in PPR leagues this season. Wilson finished the last three games of the season with 23 targets, 17 catches, and 197 yards, a pace that would give him 90 catches and 1,015 yards over a 16 game season. Obviously it’s unlikely that he’ll reach those numbers as the third or fourth option in this offense but his increased usage in the last three weeks of the season is eye-opening.

Yes, the return of Preston Williams and an improved Mike Gesicki should eat up a lot of targets, but Miami should be throwing the ball a ton so there should still be plenty of opportunities for a speedy slot receiver to make an impact on this team. Williams and Parker will be drawing a lot of attention downfield which could open up some space for Wilson to run free. I love Wilson in deeper PPR leagues and especially Best ball formats as he could provide some sneaky 15 point games when you least expect it.

 

Best Case Scenario

Wilson breaks out into a PPR machine, catches 120+ balls, and becomes a top 20 WR. Just kidding, but 60-70 catches aren’t out of the question if someone goes down with an injury.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Wilson is rarely used and loses playing time to Allen Hurns, making him un-rosterable in all formats

 

2020 Projection: 71 targets, 47 receptions, 552 yards, 3 TD

 

Tight End

 

Mike Gesicki

ADP: 134.5, TE15

Not long ago, the tight end position in fantasy was dominated by Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce at the top but quickly shallowed out. If you didn’t get one of those two guys then you were likely rotating two or three tight ends in and out of your lineup throughout the season. That changed in 2019. George Kittle broke out and turned in a monster season, making him the definitive TE2 in fantasy. Both Darren Waller and Mark Andrews came out of nowhere to finish as top 5 tight ends. Philadelphia proved to be a TE dependant team with two viable fantasy starters in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Rookie tight ends such as Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson flashed the talent that made them first-round draft picks, and then there was Tyler Higbee, who dominated down the stretch and single-handedly won fantasy championships for many teams. Tight end is suddenly a deep position that many drafters are waiting on and finding valuable starters in the middle rounds.

Mike Gesicki is also one of them. He ranked top 12 in receptions (51), yards (570), air yards (7.8 per reception), touchdowns (5), and red-zone targets (11), and appropriately finished 12th in PPR scoring. He was Fitzpatrick’s number two receiving target in the second half of the season, trailing only Parker in targets while matching him in touchdowns. His 3rd ranked aDOT (10.2) didn’t quite translate to a high yards per target (6.4, 27th), likely because of his 33.3% contested catch rate. It would be great to see some improvement there in 2020 since his 6’6″ 250lb frame should be tough to guard with his 4.55 40-yard speed. With Williams back this year I’d expect Gesicki to spend less time working downfield and more time gashing linebackers on drag and slant routes with his speed and huge frame, leading to a high-floor mid-round PPR TE1.

His current TE15 ADP seems low to me, and I would much rather have him at that price than guys like Fant (TE10), Jared Cook (TE11), and O.J. Howard (TE12). If you’re looking to wait on TE while still coming out of the draft with a TE1, Gesicki is your guy.

 

Best Case Scenario

Gesicki improves his contested catch rate and spends more time running shorter routes, making him a more efficient PPR option while still racking up yards after the catch. He has top 8 upside, folks.

 

Worst Case Scenario

The impact of Williams’ return and a much better backfield cuts into Gesicki’s target share, reducing his utilization and relegating him to a borderline TE1/TE2 fantasy role.

 

2020 Projection: 91 targets, 55 receptions, 580 receiving yards, 4 TD

 

 

Photo courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Ben Brown

Ben is a lifelong resident of the great state of Maine who loves all things tech and all things sports. Having grown up a Patriots fan in the Brady-Belichick era, Ben has become accustomed to perennial success and is unprepared for a post-Brady existence.

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