The New York Jets dominated the AFC East offseason news. The New England Patriots were the best team in the AFC East during the season. But the most improved team in the AFC East maybe the Miami Dolphins.
Can an improved air attack, and a return to health on the ground power the Dolphins to the AFC East crown, and you to a fantasy title? To find out, I’m taking my talent to South Beach.
A lot of big name players changed teams in the AFC East this off-season, but none brings a bigger impact to his new team than the Dolphins' acquisition of Brandon Marshall.
With a young quarterback on the cusp of stardom, two running backs capable of being a number one back on almost any other team, and now an electric number one leading a deep list of talented wide receivers, it's not a stretch to imagine the Dolphins as the sleeper source for fantasy football.
Last year, Chad Henne took over at QB for the Dolphins after Chad Pennington went down with an injury. This year, firmly entrenched as the starter, Dolphins' fans and fantasy football owners alike are expecting Henne to soar.
Two things are going to make this happen. One is a shift from a run-first offense (only two teams ran the ball more than the Dolphins last year) to a more balanced attack, likely with the all but complete elimination of the Wildcat from the playbook. The second thing is Brandon Marshall.
Henne threw for nearly 3,000 yards in only 14 games last year, without a bonafide number one target (remember, Ted Ginn Jr, the number one big play threat for a good part of the season, was tied for fourth in football in passes dropped). The expectation this year is for more, more, more. Now he has a target with three straight years of 100 catches and 1,000 yards. So what can we expect?
Last year Henne completed 60.8% of his passes. Expect that number to rise up to around 63%. His yards should see the biggest increase, going from 2,878 yards in 14 games, to likely 3,400 yards.
His TD numbers should see a nice bump, and I expect around 20 TDs, while his INT numbers from last year, sound about right to me at 14. So what is Chad Henne from a fantasy outlook?
He’s on the cusp of being an every week starter and will probably reach that expectation this year, but this is your last year you can grab him as a backup and watch first as he becomes a match up starter. Then around week 11, he becomes your go to guy at the QB spot.
As I mentioned earlier, only the Jets and Panthers ran the ball more than the Dolphins, and no one scored more on the ground than Miami. This should mean that the RB situation is prime for a first round pick, right? Wrong.
First of all, the changing of the offense will affect the running game (though I still expect to see Miami be a top 12 team in rushing attempts), but the days of relying on it as the everything for the team appears to be gone.
Secondly, the question mark over which running back you want on your team is an important one.
Ronnie Brown is coming off his second season ending surgery in three years. His career high for yards in a season is 1,008 way back in 2006.
But, his nose for the end zone (31 TDs in 60 games), the explosion of the Wild Cat offense, the highlights that followed with Brown at QB, and the fact that both times he got hurt he was on his way to a very good season, has made Brown a fixture in the public mind.
On the other hand, also lining up in the Miami backfield is Ricky Williams.
Williams is a young 33 for a running back. Having missed what amounts to two years of football, and playing as a split-time back in the last two, have kept the mileage down on this hard-nose runner.
Last year, Williams’ yards per carry was phenomenal (he had 27 carries of more than 10 yards), and it was arguably his best season since 2002.
While injuries are the risk for Ronnie Brown, there is a risk for Ricky Williams too: his hands.
He’s gotten better the past couple of years holding onto the ball as a part-time player but does have a tendency to put the ball on the ground.
In leagues that penalize for fumbles, this could be crippling, because with a healthy Ronnie Brown, Williams will be fighting for carries. If he starts fumbling, those carries will disappear.
Lex Hilliard and Patrick Cobbs will battle for the third running back position.
Ronnie Brown will be the starter but remains an injury risk. You should expect 13 games, 900 yards rushing with 7 TDs. You can also hope for 24 receptions for 200 yards and another two TDs in the air. The ground to air game makes him a viable number two back in most formats.
I don’t see reason to forecast Williams missing anytime to injury, so I think 16 games, 800 yards rushing and 10 TDs, also making him a viable number two running back.
Remember any week though, one of these two may be made irrelevant by the other.
Lex Hilliard and Patrick Cobbs should only be drafted in the deepest of leagues, or if an injury strikes before your draft.
As I touched in the Chad Henne piece, Brandon Marshall is the most important piece to the Dolphins' receiving core.
The last time a Dolphin had over 1,000 yards was Chris Chambers way back in 2005. On top of that, they’ve never had a player with 100 receptions in their history.
So to say that he brings a dynamic that the Dolphins haven’t seen in a while is a bit of an understatement.
Complementing Marshall are Devone Bess and Brian Hartline. While neither is a household name, both hold value for different reasons.
In Bess, the Dolphins have a WR with solid hands, who can move the chains and act as a possession man next to the elite Marshall.
Consider him a poor man’s Wes Welker, and draft according, moving him up accordingly in PPR leagues, since he seems to be Henne’s security blanket.
Brian Hartline is the projected starter opposite Marshall at this time and on paper has the tools to be right there with Marshall. At 6’2’’ and possessing home-run speed, Hartline is able to stretch the field well, making use of Henne’s great arm strength.
Hands can be a bit of a question for him, and I think he will suffer from Marshall’s presence and the rapport Henne has with Bess.
Brandon Marshall is a clear cut number one fantasy WR. He’s got a young QB who will get him the ball and a running game that will force the safeties to cheat in a bit.
I’m going to err on the side of history and won’t give him 100 receptions, but I think 94 catches for 1,200 yards with 9 TDs is a strong possibility. He’s a number one WR and will be a top 10 receiver at the end of the year.
I said it earlier: I think Bess is the number two man at the end of the year. Fair projection has him with 66 catches, for 600 yards but only 2 scores.
Hartline finishes number three on the Dolphins list, with 40 catches for 525 yards and 5 scores.
Both Bess and Hartline are better suited to be number three or flex options, but if you need one as a number two, favor Bess as I think his numbers will come across more consistently.
Anthony Fasano is not a star TE. He’s not the guy who scored seven TDs two years ago, but he is a better receiving option than he showed last year.
Quite frankly even though the Dolphins don’t have a better option, you should. If you’re stuck in a bye week then you could do worse.
Fasano is one of those dime a dozen TEs who figures to have one big week at some point, leading to people thinking he’s better than he is. You shouldn’t do that. Expect 28 catches for 260 yards and 4 TDs.
The Dolphins are not primed to be a big defense yet. They are a 3-4 defense that lacks a prototype nose tackle and elite pass rushers from the edge.
Karlos Dansby is a fine player and a fine addition to any NFL defense but for fantasy purposes doesn’t do anything for your categories.
The Dolphins also play some very talented passing attacks with Minnesota, Green Bay, Pittsburgh (which will have Roethlisberger back), and New England twice.
They also play some great rushing teams including Baltimore, Tennessee, Cincinnatti, and the Jets twice.
Look somewhere else for a starting defense. If you find yourself hard up for a match-up based defense, they do see Buffalo twice, Cleveland, Oakland, Detroit, and Chicago.
Written by Rick Marsh exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com.
“Now as long as you hurt the other kid as bad or worse than he hurts you, you will have done your job. And I'll be proud of you.” – Dennis Reynolds
Gonna swim with the Dolphins in 2010? Think they can help your fantasy squad? Leave a comment and let us know, or reply to us on twitter @TheFantasyFix
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