Predicting Dolphins' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2021

Predicting Dolphins' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins' 2021 NFL campaign is going to be about living up to expectations. 

    Heading into the 2020 season, the AFC East was a mystery. Tom Brady's departure from the Patriots left a hole at the top of the division. Buffalo seized it, but the Dolphins made a case as a team to watch and narrowly missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record. 

    That's unfortunate timing: 10-6 would usually make the postseason, but the AFC was unusually competitive. 

    So the Dolphins spent the offseason addressing needs and putting a better suite of weapons around Tua Tagovailoa, who no longer has Ryan Fitzpatrick waiting in the wings if he's not playing well. 

    Realizing their potential as a postseason team is going to take big seasons from key contributors. As we wait for training camp season, here's an early look at who could lead the way for the Dolphins in important statistical categories. 

QB Tua Tagovailoa

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The offseason started with Deshaun Watson rumors, but head coach Brian Flores has been positive about his young quarterback. 

    "A lot of attention gets paid to Tua, but I thought he made a lot of improvement over the course of the season. I'm excited about the future with him," he told ESPN in January when the Watson rumors were at their peak. 

    The Dolphins backed up that talk with the moves they made in the offseason. They went out and got Will Fuller V in free agency and drafted Jaylen Waddle, giving him a ton of speed to work with. Then they signed Matt Skura and D.J. Fluker in free agency and drafted Liam Eichenberg, adding depth and options along the offensive line. 

    Bottom line: There's no reason for Tagovailoa not to succeed in his second season. 

    There's also not a lot of reason to believe he won't. The 23-year-old put up 11 touchdowns to five interceptions with a 6-3 record as the starter in 10 games last season. 

    He should improve on those numbers as a second-year starter who has been handed the reins with better weaponry. 

    Key Stats: 3,920 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 220 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns

RB Myles Gaskin

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    No one should be happier about the way their team drafted in the NFL than Myles Gaskin.

    The Dolphins had every opportunity to add one of the top backs coming out of college. Instead, they waited until the seventh round to take Gerrid Doaks, who will have to do well in camp to even make the roster. 

    The draft gave every indication the Dolphins are high on Gaskin. His chief competition from carries should come from Malcolm Brown, who was signed for $1.8 million this offseason, and Salvon Ahmed who he played over last season. 

    Gaskin should be the top running back for the Dolphins and see plenty of three-down work. In addition to running for 584 yards in seven starts and 10 games, he showed his value as a pass-catcher with 41 receptions for 388 yards. 

    With the speedy additions of Fuller and Waddle, defenses will have even less resources and focus to spend on the 24-year-old coming out of the backfield. 

    The blocking for the back figures to improve, too. Justin Skura is coming from an offense in Baltimore that was run-heavy, while young starters Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt will be another year better. 

    Gaskin should reward the Dolphins (and fantasy football drafters) with a strong season. 

    Key Stats: 905 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 52 receptions, 415 yards, two touchdowns

WR Jaylen Waddle

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Last year it was hard to predict who would lead the Dolphins in receiving on a game-by-game basis, thanks to injuries and a general lack of depth at the position. 

    This year, it will be hard for much better reasons. When Will Fuller V comes back from suspension, the Dolphins will have a receiving corps of him, DeVante Parker, rookie Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki. Any one of those four could post the best numbers in a given matchup. 

    General manager Chris Grier has created an arsenal for Tagovailoa that can win vertically or stretch the field horizontally and rack up yards after the catch. It's a talented group of pass-catchers. 

    Parker led the team in receiving last year, but he doesn't have the best track record of staying healthy and his competition for targets just got tougher. Fuller will serve the final game of his six-game suspension in the season opener and hasn't played more than 11 games in a season in his career.

    Last season, Justin Jefferson, Tee Higgins and Jerry Jeudy all led their teams in receiving as rookies. Waddle has the skills and chemistry with his quarterback to do the same thing in 2021. 

    According to PFF, Tagovailoa completed 74 percent of his passes, boasted a 137.9 passer rating and connected for 16.6 yards per reception when targeting Waddle at Alabama. That's a lot of production and trust that will be established from the get-go. 

    Assuming Parker and Fuller could be banged up at times this season and that Mike Gesicki will have a hard time leading the way as a tight end, Waddle could emerge as the go-to guy earlier than expected. 

    Key Stats: 70 catches, 940 yards, six touchdowns