Fantasy Outlook: The Miami Dolphins
With the 2013 NFL season fast approaching there is a lot of talk around coaching changes and the uncertainty that creates for fantasy football; these include Chip Kelly of the Eagles and Marc Trestman of the Bears. With these coaches, the evaluation leads mostly to speculation and uncertainty. Why not look at some of the second year coaches that we have a sample size of tendencies for the for 2013 season? One of these coaches that is quite intriguing is second year head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Joe Philbin. In 2003 Philbin started his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers, and in 2007, he eventually took on the job as the offensive coordinator. Coach Philbin had five excellent years with the Packers where the offense ranked Top 10 in points scored and yards in all five years, including their 2010 run as Super Bowl XLV champions. After the 2011, season Philbin took the head coaching job for the Miami Dolphins to replace interim head coach Todd Bowles. The Dolphins ended their 2012 season with a mediocre 7-9 record, good for second place in a struggling AFC East conference. The Dolphins also posted unimpressive offensive numbers with the 26th ranked passing offense and 17th ranked run offense. We got a quick look at Coach Philbin's personality during last year's airing of "Hard Knocks," an HBO Series. From what I saw, he surprisingly carries himself in a very militant fashion, rarely showing emotion and taking risks and making judgment calls in a very scientific method. I will not claim to know Coach Philbin personally, so this is just an assumption, but in my opinion, his very serious approach to the game and ability to make the appropriate calculations is what makes him such a great play-caller and offense schemer. Given the right weapons, I have no doubt that he can take the current Dolphins offense to the next level. Will it be what we saw in Green Bay while he was the offensive mastermind that led to one of the most explosive offenses in recent history? Probably not, but it is exciting to think with all the offseason moves and the improvement of several young players that the Dolphins offense has enormous potential for improvement in 2013. Lets look at what coach Philbin did for player production in Green Bay compared to what he did last year with the Dolphins, as well as how the personnel for the team has changed and who the key targets should be for fantasy football in 2013.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill: Aaron Rodgers exploded on the the national football scene in 2008 and continued all they way up through last year averaging over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in all four years under coach Philbin. Tannehill's 2012 appearance was far from Rodgers production where he threw for 3,294 yards and 12 touchdowns. This was to be expected though, as Tannehill has limited experience at quarterback only playing two years at Texas A&M as a converted wide receiver, as opposed to Rodgers, who had three years to wait and develop at the NFL level. Tannehill was thrown into a new offense with limited weapons and actually performed surprisingly well. He should improve in his sophomore year with the added weapons, and although it may not be a huge improvement - and the quarterback position being extremely deep for 2013 - he will make a great QB2 for teams that want to take a late-round flier to back up a number No. 1 option like Robert Griffin III, who has injury concerns going into next year.
Running Back Lamar Miller: There has only been one 1,000-yard rusher under coach Philbin in Green Bay and that was Ryan Grant in 2008 and 2009. After Grant, it becomes a mix of very average options and a committee approach due mostly to injuries. Last year for the Dolphins, Reggie Bush did come close, as he racked up 986 yards and six touchdowns. With him departing to the Lions, it opens the door for a running back who is getting a lot of attention from the fantasy community this offseason, Lamar Miller. The former Miami stand-out didn't get a chance to do much in the limited time he saw in 2012, mostly due to his lack of pass blocking ability and his inability to grasp the offense. However, in those few carries, Miller showed tremendous ability, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Miller also has a lack of other options in his backfield, including the ineffective Daniel Thomas, who is more suited for a goal line and short yardage role than an every down back, and rookie Mike Gillislee, who is fairly raw in NFL standards. Miller's current average draft position is quite high as a third or fourth round pick and the 20th running back drafted. I think it is a bit high, as there is a lot of risk being the unknown, but with the drop off of running backs being so big from the top tier, fantasy owners may find themselves reaching for Miller in the early rounds simply due to lack of better options. Miller should be able to post numbers close to Bush's 2012 output and wouldn't shock me if he hit the 1,000-yard mark, but owners should have some worry that Miller won't get the short-yardage work hurting his touchdown totals.
Wide Receiver Mike Wallace: With a wide range of receiving options such as Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers had a career year with 4,643 yards passing and 45 touchdowns. In 2012, it looked as though the Dolphins had a very conservative approach to their passing game. This was mostly due to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's inexperience but also due to lack of options at wide receiver. Brian Hartline is far from being a capable WR1 and is more suited in a secondary or complimentary role. The Dolphins worked to fix this by signing former Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace to a huge contract. Wallace is most known for his speed and big-play potential, which is something the Dolphins were desperately missing, as seen from Tannehill's 6.8 yards per attempt in 2012. Although Wallace brings the big-play potential, he has always lacked the skill-set needed to be a high volume receiver with his inability to run polished routes and struggles with catching passes in traffic. In the last four seasons, although he did have two 1,000-yard seasons, his career high for receptions was 72, making him a very volatile and risky option in fantasy football. Wallace's average draft position is usually in the fifth round or the 20th wide receiver taken in drafts, this is a decent value in standard scoring leagues, but in point per reception leagues, it is a bit of a reach, as Wallace will lose value due to his limited reception totals. His ceiling could be in the 70 reception range, and Wallace could very likely top the 1,000-yard mark in 2013. One thing to keep in mind is coach Philbin's history with problem players and his approach towards them. Last season Philbin made a decision to let a talented Chad Johnson go during the preseason due to his on going off-field issues. Wallace has had his share of off-field issues but shouldn't discourage drafters as long as the value is good. Other receivers for the Dolphins Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson will have weeks where they post decent numbers but should be fairly inconsistent and too unreliable to own in most leagues.
Tight End Dustin Keller: Tight End Jermichael Finley had his most productive seasons under coach Philbin from 2008 to 2011 and there is a noticeable drop off in 2012. Is this the direct result a coaching change? It's not definitive, but really is a strange coincidence that Finley went from unanimous weekly starter to unrosterable in most leagues in 2012. The argument could be made the other way as well if you look at the 2012 tight end production for the Dolphins, as former tight end Anthony Fasano recorded only 332 yards and five touchdowns. Although, I personally believe former Jets tight end Dustin Keller is much more talented than Fasano and has a great opportunity to be the receiving tight end Philbin desperately needs. Keller had his best year in 2011 posting 65 catches for 815 yards and five touchdowns, which is not out of reach for 2013.