By: Cody Molla (Twitter: @Cmolla1)
The Miami Dolphins are set to be competitive in 2021 after a 10-6 season last year, an offseason focused on setting up young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for success and retaining the core of a top defense in the NFL last year. The success of the Dolphins really will depend on the growth in Tua from his rookie year to now. A big reason that a giant step for the Dolphins can be made is the weapons are in place for Tua. Even though Tua had a 6-3 record last year his numbers were not great and the personnel on the field was sub-par by NFL standards. With the addition of Fuller and Waddle to the receiving corps and Hunter Long as a threat, the weapons at Tuas disposal are no longer an excuse.
Who are these weapons? As it is early in the offseason process the Dolphins receiving room is very crowded at the moment. DeVante Parker, Will Fuller V, and Jaylen Waddle are the only true guarantees to be on the final 53 man roster. NFL teams normally carry six wide receivers on the final 53. This leaves Preston Williams, Lynn Bowden Jr., Jakeem Grant, Malcolm Perry, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Robert Foster, and Mack Hollins as the top candidates for the final three wide receiver spots. There is a likelihood more than three make it due to special teams roles and the versatility of Bowden and Perry to play all offensive skill positions.
The Dolphins have a depth at the position and will wait as long as possible to make cuts trades and decisions with this group. Of course, injuries will happen and this will make decisions a bit easier but these aren’t just camp bodies and these veterans know what it takes and means to be on the roster come opening day.
Given perfect health, my picks for the six guys that will be on the active roster for the majority of the season are Parker, Fuller V, Waddle, Williams, Bowden Jr., and Foster.
Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson were both part of the 2019 Dolphins and opted out in 2020. Wilson made plays in 2019 before injuring his hip. Early reports say Wilson is back in good health and looking like a speedy guy who can make guys miss in space. However, the Dolphins save $2.9 million if he is cut and $3.9 million if traded. Hurns enjoyed a hometown return in 2019 however the Dolphins have better options moving into 2021 and will also save just over a million with his departure. Jakeem Grant has been a pro bowl returner and brings excellent speed however his unreliable hands and inconsistent offensive play make him a cut candidate. Dolphins save $4 million trading or cutting Jakeem. Speed needy teams will surely be in the market for Grant. Hollins is also a causality of the talented receiver room after keeping the Fins season alive late in 2020 with heroic catches.
Malcolm Perry’s versatility allows him to make the roster but I believe he will split his time with the running back group. He surely will play both spots and if not on the 53 man roster is a practice squad candidate.
Tuas sophomore season is poised for a breakout. I believe Tua will throw for just over 4000 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. 12 quarterbacks threw for over 4000 yards in the NFL last year. Tua was drafted to be a top quarterback and being amongst the top in passing yards is not out of reality. Tua racked up 1800 yards in nine starts last year. As we know he wasn’t in the entire game for those starts. With 17 games on the NFL schedule, we will see Tua eclipse the 4000-yard mark.
The leading receiver for the Miami Dolphins will be DeVante Parker. Parker is entering his seventh NFL season. He broke out in 2019 with 72 catches, 1202 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Last year he caught 63 passes for 793 yards and four touchdowns. “Unc” as he is known, has the ability to be the main option in an offense. At 6’3 Parker can jump and win contested 50/50 passes. He is a crafty route runner who can use his frame to get inside on slants and excel on the mid-level routes. Parkers biggest issue in his career has been health. A plethora of lower-body injuries have forced him to play hurt and significantly hurt his production and miss games entirely. When Parker is fully healthy, he is tough to cover and can put up big numbers!
As a Dolphins fan when watching the game it’s easy to tell when he’s healthy and when he is hurt. A prime example of what healthy Parker can do is the final regular season game of 2019. A matchup versus the New England Patriots pit Parker with 2019 Defensive Player of the year Stephon Gilmore. Parker torched Gilmore that game and posted eight catches for 137 yards on 11 targets.
With Tua last year the chemistry wasn’t quite there. A whole offseason of work and preparation will help this connection. More weapons in the offense takes less focus off Parker and will give him more one on one matchups in which he excels. I think Parker will eclipse the 1000 yard mark for the second time in his career and finish with 7 touchdowns.
An entirely healthy season for Parker is unlikely. He played through injuries for the first time last year and I expect he will play in 15 games this year. Parker will catch 83 passes for 1,100 and 7 touchdowns.
In terms of fantasy football, Parker will be a solid number two receiver who can be had at a decent value. Many people will likely pass on him thinking Fuller V and Waddle will be the flashier picks. Parker also somewhat burned fantasy players last year after his big year so recency bias will be a factor as well.
The new free agent splash for the Miami Dolphins is Will Fuller V. The Dolphins signed Fuller to a one year $10.6 million contract. Fuller was a first round pick back in 2016. Spent his first five NFL seasons with the Houston Texans.
Fuller is coming off a career year in 2020. Before being suspended for PEDs Fuller totaled 53 catches, 879 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Playing only in 11 games Fuller tallied career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Fuller was handed a six game suspension. It will carry over into 2021 for the opening week.
Fuller is a big play threat with big time speed. The knock on Fuller is injuries. Never having played a full seasons schedule in his career he signed this contract looking to prove 2020 wasn’t a fluke. He wants to prove his health and production to the rest of the NFL.
Fuller can truly stretch the field as he had the sixth-best yards per reception last year at 16.6. Until last year Fuller played alongside one of the NFL’s best receivers in De’Andre Hopkins. Sans Hopkins, Fuller proved he can be a lead option in the passing game and produce. Combined with Parker, Fuller will see one on one options and be open for homerun plays.
Many people have questioned Tua’s ability to throw the deep ball. This article by Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald breaks down some of those questions. Some things to highlight are that Tua was hurt by the highest percentage of deep ball drops across the league. I always think of the Jakeem Grant drop of a 90 yard touchdown vs the Bengals.
Barry also points out the Dolphins inability to create separation which was the worst in the NFL as well. The addition of speed with Fuller and Waddle will allow Tua to hit on more deep throws, which he was successful with at Alabama. The success on throws at Alabama can be credited to the skill of players being among the best in the country but Tua was able to be accurate which he was also in his NFL rookie year.
With Fullers one game suspension he is set to play 16 games. I don’t think he will be fully healthy for all of them. I think Fuller will improve his career numbers but by a slim margin. Fuller playing 14-15 games will catch 80 passes for 900 yards and 6 touchdowns. Fuller and Parker will be a solid duo and complementary to one another. Fuller stretches the field while Parker takes up the intermediate.
The other big addition to this Dolphins offense is top pick in 2021, Jaylen Waddle. Waddle is another playmaker with elite speed. Scouts have given the Tyreek Hill comp. Others have linked him to Tyler Lockett. Both productive speedy playmakers in the NFL.
Waddle is set to see lots of snaps as a rookie. He can play inside and outside. Despite missing a lot of his final collegiate season due to injury Waddle was selected sixth overall. Waddle showed his elite speed and playmaking ability over his career at Alabama.
Waddle will have familiarity with his quarterback as both were Crimson Tide contributors in 2019. This familiarity is sure to allow for success and has expectations for Waddle immediately in his NFL career. In a trio with Fuller and Parker, Waddle if left as an afterthought will cause problems for defenses.
Waddle’s ability is legit. He could ultimately be the most talented receiver on the roster with his ability to score from anywhere on the field, outrun the defense, play physical and play make. Waddle comes from a group of receivers including Jeudy, Ruggs, and Smith from Alabama. Some think he is the fastest out of all of them. The point is the talent is true and the upside is very intriguing.
I think Waddle will be used in a variety of roles his rookie year including receiver, return man, and wildcat option. In terms of receiving numbers, I see 700 yards on 60 catches and four touchdowns for Waddle in his rookie year. With health a concern for Parker and Fuller Waddle could see a lot more playing time and feature as the main pass catcher. I think Waddle will have a slow start to the season but be a valuable option from the midseason point on.
In terms of fantasy football, Waddle is a flex and wide receiver three until proven otherwise for redraft leagues. If Waddle does have the slow start don’t panic if you drafted him. If you didn’t draft him and someone is antsy to move him, acquire him if you need help and he could be a difference maker. In dynasty leagues, if you have Waddle you are holding all the way through this rookie season and hoping he turns into a Tyreek Hill.
The fourth receiver for the Dolphins will be Preston Williams. I love Preston Williams as a fan. The third year receiver stands at 6’5 218 lbs. He hasn’t played past week 8 in his short career due to injuries. Theme for Dolphins receivers. But, Preston has the ability to make plays and produce in his role. Williams biggest concern outside of health is consistency catching the ball. Williams easily could have a handful more touchdowns to his career numbers but has just dropped passes. His athleticism coming into 2021 following his injuries has yet to be seen but Williams is a Brandon Marshall type of player.
Getting injured on a touchdown grab versus the Cardinals last year ended Williams season. 2020 saw Preston average 16 yards per catch with totals of 18 catches, 288 yards, and four touchdowns. The lack of ability at the receiver position put Williams as the wide receiver two heading into 2020. Before getting hurt he showed the most chemistry with Tua. He will likely serve as a reserve to an outside receiver position moving forward.
This means a season high in snap count Week 1 if healthy due to Fullers suspension. As a primary substitute for the outside Williams should catch 40 balls for 450 yards and 3 touchdowns. Preston could see a few goal line fades given his size. But he needs to show he can catch the ball much more consistently to earn snaps in this offense. The depth of the position is greater and moving into his third year will need to bring that chemistry he had with Tua from 2020 to a higher level to see a starter’s role.
The fifth receiver that will contribute to the offense is Lynn Bowden Jr. Bowden a former college quarterback out of necessity at the University of Kentucky showed some juice in his rookie year with the Miami Dolphins. Drafted 80th overall in 2020 by the Raiders, Bowden was traded to Miami where he led the team in receiving for a few games down the stretch.
Bowden can make guys miss and can play all over the field. He had 28 catches for 211 yards in 2020. He caught over five passes in three of the final four games last season including a team high 82 yards versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14, where the Dolphins lost by six.
Bowden is likely to be a gadget player who is used in the slot and wildcat on offense. His production will be limited but it will be slightly greater than his rookie year. Not sure if it all comes in the receiving game but he should catch 25 passes for 250 yards or so. I expect more touches to come via reverses and sweeps. Maybe he converts some touch passes for big gains or even scores. Bowden shouldn’t be a fantasy option unless injuries pile up and he is needed like last season.
The final receiver on the roster is a sleeper pick to make the roster. Robert Foster will be more of a special teams player than an offensive choice. Foster has produced as a receiver in the NFL though. In his rookie season in 2018, he caught 27 passes for 541 yards and three touchdowns. With a yards per catch of 20 yards, Foster was able to use his 4.1 speed to cash in on big plays. Since then Foster has just five catches for over 100 yards.
The reason he makes the team is his speed and his Alabama connection. Foster was a senior at Alabama during Tuas freshman year. Foster was not a feature receiver at ‘Bama and often worked with the second team offense. Do you know who else worked with the second team offense? Tua! Splitting time with Hurts, Tua threw balls to Foster and that connection will pay off as Foster gets the final receiver spot for 2021. Minimal production from Foster but he could catch a handful of passes and see some deep ball targets with his speed.
The Dolphins have significantly improved the receiving options. We didn’t include the tight ends in this piece but it should be noted Gesicki will see a lot of targets and yards along with Hunter Long. Both are big pass catchers who can mismatch with linebackers and win underneath as the speed takes the top off the defense.
Expect Parker, Fuller V, and Waddle to see the bulk of passes and have very good seasons as Tua eclipses 4000 yards and completes over 350 passes. These three guys should be fantasy football options every week when healthy. If these guys have injuries the secondary receivers could be in line for spot starts as flex players and produce. We’ve seen Tua have success with Bowden and Williams in limited options.
A full off season, a greater understanding of the playbook, and momentum from 2020 with no question of relief from Fitzpatrick sets Tua and the Dolphins offense up to become a successful passing attack and one to watch heading into 2021.