Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Pickups For Week 14

Look to acquire Taysom Hill

By: Rishi Patel

Welcome back to this NFL column where I will be preaching my advice about which fantasy players you should pluck off your waiver wire each week during this NFL season. 

During each NFL season, there are usually sleepers that emerge who you should pick up off the waiver wire due to various reasons, such as better performances than expected, injuries, etc. It’s important to make good use of the waiver wire as players from here could sometimes be good depth and even a starter for your team in critical stretches. It’s hard to believe we are on the cusp of fantasy playoffs. Going forward, things will get more intense as managers play for all the marbles. Let’s look at some players who could be of value during your quest for the title:

Taysom Hill, QB, New Orleans Saints

Hill is currently dealing with a finger injury but he will try to play through it. The versatile player may have thrown four picks against Dallas in Week 13, but hear me out– Hill can be effective on the ground (he rushed for 101 yards against the Cowboys) and did throw for 264 yards and two touchdowns as well so he does have the talent to shine in both the rushing and passing game. The only hope is that Hill’s injury doesn’t affect his passing tremendously. If anything, adding him as a streaming option this week is good especially since the Saints play the Jets on Sunday. 

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were once left for dead across the pond in London when they allowed the no-win Jags to beat them. Well, that might as well be as distant as the flight to the UK because Miami has been on a torrid stretch lately, winning five straight games. The youngster Tagovailoa has shined as well, posting at least 230 yards in the last three games with a 5:1 touchdown to interception ratio in that span. After their bye in Week 14, Miami gets the Jets, Saints, Titans, and Pats and three of those four teams are in the top-10 in most fantasy points allowed to QBs. Tua’s a great addition in this final stretch. 

Sony Michel, RB, Los Angeles Rams

With Darrell Henderson (quad) ailing in Week 13, former New England back Sony Michel stepped up and delivered his best performance as a Ram, 24 carries for 121 yards and a score. Next up, a marquee matchup with divisional foe Arizona looms on Monday Night Football, and the Rams will look to avenge an early-season defeat to their division rivals. Henderson may return to full form for this contest but Michel is worth adding as a handcuff given his 100-yard day on Sunday. 

JaMycal Hasty, RB, San Francisco 49ers

No surprise here, but the 49ers are banged up all over, including the RB position. Surprisingly, Hasty is the only fully healthy back right now and he’s certainly worth an add given he can take on a workhorse role this week, potentially. That would make him worth streaming. 

K.J. Osborn, WR, Minnesota Vikings

Vikings star receiver Adam Thielen sustained a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s loss to Detroit. With his status murky, the youngster Osborn is worth adding as insurance. The 24-year-old recorded four receptions for 47 yards and a score on seven targets on Sunday and would be the WR2 alongside Justin Jefferson if Thielen is out for some games.

Josh Reynolds, WR, Detroit Lions

Reynolds has reunited with his former QB from LA, Jared Goff, this time in the Midwest. It seems the chemistry hasn’t worn off, as the 26-year-old has posted at least 69 yards in two of three games with Detroit after being traded from the Titans. The Lions don’t have a clear-cut WR1, so Reynolds could see more targets going forward and thus is a solid addition. 

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

The former first-round pick Treadwell hasn’t really shined in the NFL despite being drafted so high but he’s gaining small momentum on this young Jags team. The 26-year-old has posted at least 53 yards in the last two contests while seeing at least five targets in both games. While you shouldn’t assume he’s a must-start each week in fantasy, he is worth adding as depth given his recent numbers. 

Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Washington Football Team

The WFT remains resilient despite a rash of injuries, and you can now add star TE Logan Thomas to that list with a knee injury. Thomas is expected to miss some time which means Seals-Jones will be the TE1 of the team now. The 26-year-old is nursing a hip injury himself, but he’s still worth stashing right now given his role will increase when he can return. 

Looking at the Browns Inconsistent 2021 Season

What should the Dog Pound expect?

By: Andy Davies

Last season, the Cleveland Browns earned their first playoff appearance since the 2002 campaign and their first postseason win since New Year’s Day in 1995

As a result, they went into the 2021 season with plenty of hype. However, it hasn’t worked out like this. The team’s current record is 5-5 and they are in a division where every team has at least 5 wins. 

So, what has gone wrong for a team that many had down as AFC North division winners? Is there still a chance to win it?

Inconsistent Division

The short answer is yes, they can. The AFC North is fast becoming one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, but no team has managed to get some sort of consistency. Baltimore Ravens fans will certainly tell you that. 

They had a 5-1 start, which included a 46-35 win over the reigning AFC Champions Kansas City Chiefs. The week after beating the Los Angeles Chargers 34-6, a team that many have as a Super Bowl dark horse, they lost 41-17 to division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals. On Thursday night, they lost 22-10 to the Miami Dolphins, who were 2-6 before the game. More worryingly for the Ravens, the Dolphins appeared to show the entire league the blueprint as to how to beat them. 

The Cincinnati Bengals were briefly top of the division just a matter of weeks ago but now sits in 3rd place. We have seen the excitement of the Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase partnership but have equally seen the defense allow at least 34 points their last two games as they suffered defeats to the Browns and New York Jets.

There was a difficult start made by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the surprise 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week One, they lost their next three games to go 1-3. However, they have not lost a game since and now sit 5-3-1. Head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season, but they still have to face the Chargers, Ravens twice, the current AFC number one seed in the Tennessee Titans as well as Cleveland.

Cleveland themselves have to also play the Packers on Christmas Day and the rest of their AFC North rivals, but also get to play a 0-8-1 Detroit Lions and an inconsistent Las Vegas Raiders. Their schedule is fairly favourable, but they have to cut out their own erratic performances if they are to succeed.

Sorting Out Their Own Inconsistencies

The Browns have really struggled for consistency this season. They won three straight games after their opening day loss to the Chiefs but have failed to win consecutive games since. 

If a team is to win championships, then they have to win games consistently. Whilst is it more important how you play in January than how you play in October or November, but you have to make sure you play in January past the regular season.

What have the great New England Patriots sides done in the past? Gotten a consistent run of good form down the stretch. This is exactly what the Browns need to do as runs like this help build momentum and confidence in the crucial postseason games.

The Baker Conundrum

Quarterback Baker Mayfield is easily one of the more polarising players in his position. There are some that feel he is the guy. There are others that view him as nothing more than a ‘game manager’. 

So far in 2021, he has 1,990 yards, 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. This has him projected to finish the campaign with just under 3,980 yards but crucially just under 18 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This would have him at around his career best in terms of yardage but his worst season when it comes to touchdown passes.

His career so far has defined patchy. He had amazing seasons in both the 2018 and 2020 campaigns but has been poor in 2019 and 2021. He will be expecting a good season in 2022 judging by how his time as a pro has gone, but there is no guarantee he will earn his new contract. This ends after the conclusion of the 2022 season, which may see him raise his game. He has to be careful that he doesn’t suffer a further dip in form. 

Quarterbacks such as Jimmy Garoppolo and Tua Tagovailoa may be available that would fit into the game manager role and allow the excellent run game to flourish. He will have plenty of suitors due to being the number one overall pick in 2018 and the two excellent seasons he has had but he will want to succeed in Cleveland. This is clear to see. One thing that hasn’t helped is the broken-down relationship with wide receiver OBJ.

The OBJ Dilemma

Say what you want about Odell Beckham Jr, the dynamic around him and Baker’s relationship cannot have helped things in Cleveland. Throughout Beckham’s time in Ohio, the talk of a lack of chemistry between the pair has been a constant talking point.

There is substance to this, with the fact that the Browns made the playoffs last season with Odell injured. 

The loss of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to injury hasn’t helped, despite the best efforts of D’Ernest Johnson. The one-two punch of both backs reduced the need for Baker to throw to ball to. Instead, these injuries have meant Baker has had to throw to ball to. This can be seen by his stats, with Baker projected to throw for career highs in completed passes and his second highest total in attempted passes. 

OBJ’s dad has posted videos on social media of the amount of times Beckham has been open and not received the ball. There is clear frustration from the Odell camp. Now that he has gone, along with the return of Chubb and Hunt, will help ease the tension at the franchise. Should the struggles ease, with such a good plethora of offensive and defensive talent, this should see head coach Kevin Stefanski guide them to another playoff appearance (or two). Should things further unravel, then Baker will be vastly looking over his shoulder at Free Agency and the 2023 draft quarterback prospects.

Should the Dolphins trade for QB Deshaun Watson?

Should Brian Flores trade for QB Deshaun Watson?

By: Cody Molla (@cmolla1)

The rumors have been swirling for months now and every NFL fan has heard about it. Deshaun Watson to the Miami Dolphins. It has been reported the Dolphins do have an interest in Deshaun Watson. Most teams should have an interest in Watson. Watson was recently ranked the 18th overall player in the NFL Top 100. Landing him behind five other quarterbacks only. Watsons rank is not a fluke. His skillset places him amongst the best at the position across the NFL. He led the NFL in passing yards last year with 4823 yards. Nearly 100 more yards than Patrick Mahomes. Watson also added over 400 rushing yards and threw for 33 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He single handily won the Texans four games it seemed like. For all the greatness on the field, the major issue right now is his pending allegations with 22 civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct.

The Miami Dolphins current quarterback Tua Tagovailoa just left last week with a rib injury. Surely the Watson talks have picked up steam again. Hence this exact article. The biggest reason the Dolphins haven’t traded for him yet is the asking price. Dolphins team owner Stephen Ross does not involve himself in football operations however he has been reported saying the price is too much, but he does want Grier (Dolphins GM) to find a way to get Watson. Ross has for years wanted to find a franchise quarterback in Miami.

What if they paid the price of three first round and two second round picks? The obvious plus is you have Deshaun Watson. Watson is 26 years old, has four years of starting under his belt, nearly 15,000 passing yards, over 100 touchdowns, and three games of playoff experience. Those three games of playoff experience match the Dolphins total playoff games since 2001. Watson is a great player! The cons of doing this trade are you lose five premium draft picks. The Dolphins have recently been able to acquire those premium picks in recent trades with the Texans. The current football management of the Dolphins cherishes those picks and believes in rebuilding through the draft. The jury is out so far on the result.

Can a team be built that way? There is one current NFL team that is using this model. The LA Rams. With the recent acquisition of Matthew Stafford, the Rams are set to go seven consecutive years without a first round pick. They drafted Goff first overall in 2016 and tentatively have no first round pick till 2024. Goffs rookie year the Rams went 4-12. Made a coaching change in 2017, and have gone 45-22 including this year since. That includes three playoff appearances and a super bowl loss. It is possible to have success even with a player like Jared Goff at quarterback. Watson is way better than Goff. It is not solely based on quarterback however as the Rams have had one of if not the best defensive player in Aaron Donald as an anchor, a good offensive line, and strong defensive play. How would the Dolphins compare? An atrocious offensive line, with key defensive players like Xavien Howard and a strong defense all around.

The Dolphins recently had three first-round picks in the 2020 draft. They drafted Tua, Austin Jackson (OL), and Noah Igbenoghene (DB). As a Dolphins fan, I would trade these three players for Watson right now if Watson was guaranteed to suit up and play right away with no penalty. That’s not the case. Still, giving up these three players and getting Watson could be a great deal. The key here is the three picks are a lot of draft capital, high draft picks do not translate to a great player. Tua has had success so far as the Miami Dolphins quarterback. Austin Jackson is still learning a tough position to play at offensive tackle and has flashed but struggled, Igbenoghene hasn’t really done much of anything in-game and has been inactive for two games starting 2021 as a coach decision. Yes, the Dolphins DBs are deep and loaded but you would want a first round pick to be active on game day in some capacity.

It’s tough to say whether the pros outweigh the cons in this situation. Just because the Dolphins acquire Watson doesn’t make them super bowl bound or even playoff bound. With the given situation at the offensive line, Watson would be doing more running for his life and making insane plays on the run multiple times a drive. The Dolphins have brought in coaches and players specifically for Tua this year. The current build would fit Watson as he is a great player however it would seem a little odd to sell a player you put many chips in the pot for. What message does it send to the team as well? Yes the NFL is a cutthroat business and it’s a what have you done for me now league. However, after making such a big deal about Tua and doing all they have it would send mixed signals to others. It may as well fire up the rest of the locker room too knowing the organization is looking to win and improve.

Ultimately I don’t see a trade in season for Watson happening. The Dolphins will likely wait till the off season to do anything. They will once again have the most cap room of all NFL teams. They can see how this year plays out with Tua and his broken ribs. They also will get to see how the lawsuit develops and if and what punishment the NFL imposes on Watson as well. The legal dilemma adds a wrench to this case and will hold the key to Watsons NFL future. Any team with Watson at quarterback will be at an advantage.

Previewing the Dolphins at Patriots matchup: Who will come out on top?

By: Cody Molla (@Cmolla1)

It’s here! After getting a taste of NFL football back from the Thursday night game football fans can’t wait for a full NFL Sunday.

One of those games in the late window Sunday is the Dolphins vs Patriots. The Miami Dolphins look to build off a strong 2020 season while the Patriots are a team who struggled last year but has a reloaded roster in an AFC East clash.

This game is full of interesting storylines and a few key matchup’s that will decide this game. For starters, we can focus on the quarterback matchup. The Miami Dolphins are starting Tua Tagovailoa, former Alabama quarterback, in his second season. The Patriots are starting rookie Mac Jones also a former Alabama quarterback. The Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in his third year previously spent 10 seasons as a Patriots assistant and has brought many “Patriot” things to the Dolphins. There are multiple players on each roster who have spent time on the opponent’s team. Even a matchup of twins. Along with all this familiarity comes multiple meetings a year for these two teams who are well acquainted with one another.

The Patriots cut Cam Newton a few weeks ago and named Mac Jones the starter for the regular season. The Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round with the 15th overall pick. Jones will be in for a tough debut as he faces a Dolphins defense that forced the most turnovers in the NFL last season. Led by corner Xavien Howard who picked off 10 passes last season. Mac Jones cast of weapons will include Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith, and Hunter Henry. The backfield will rotate with players like Damien Harris, JJ Taylor, James White, and Rhamondre Stevenson might even see touches.

A large part of the expert football world is picking the Patriots to win this game because of the quarterbacks for each team. I’m not sure why but many claim Mac Jones is the more stable and experienced quarterback even though Mac Jones has never played a meaningful down of NFL football. Brian Flores will throw the kitchen sink at the rookie. The Dolphins defense will give Mac Jones fits and will be much different than the vanilla defensive schemes Jones saw in the pre-season, often vs backups. People seem to forget the Dolphins won six of nine starts with Tua. Tua outplayed Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, and lost to the Chiefs by six points in his first season. A season in which he had limited training camp due to a serious hip injury in college. Now, Tua has nine NFL starts under his belt, a full off season with receivers his built chemistry and continuity with, and a playbook he knows. Yes, the Patriots defense is rebuilt from last year but you tell me who is the more “proven” quarterback?

Both of these coaches are defensive-minded and well-versed in scheming. Bill Belichick s one of the best ever. His track record is long and proven and he is one of if not the best game planners in the NFL. Brian Flores is quickly joining this group of good game planning coaches. Flores has created an elite defense and will be ready to cause havoc for the rookie. Last year Flores’s scheme caused problems for rookie Justin Herbert. Herbert was constantly put under pressure and forced into one interception.

In the second meeting last year Tua was successful versus the Belichick scheme. Tua completed 20/26 passes for 145 yards and an interception. He did rush for two touchdowns, as the Dolphins rushed for 250 yards and three touchdowns total. Tua also played this game down his four top receiving weapons. Durham Smythe and Lynn Bowden were the top playmakers for the Fins in this game. Tua will come into this game with a full complement of weapons and look to get them active!

These weapons will be DeVante Parker, rookie Jaylen Waddle, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki. The running backs included dual-threat Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and Salvon Ahmed. The Patriots are without corner Stephon Gilmore who is on PUP to start the year. Meaning JC Jackson will likely be locked up with Parker. Parker has had much success vs Gilmore in recent matchups so the one with Jackson will be a key this game. The other key matchup for this Dolphins offense comes from the guys upfront. A unit that struggled last season at times. They are still young and will be tested right away this year. The Patriots added some edge rushers with serious talent. In particular Matthew Judon. Judon will lineup on Tuas blindside. Which may be versus recent acquisition Greg Little. Austin Jackson is currently on the Covid list and may be unable to play for Miami. This would be a blow to the  Miami line and an advantage for Judon and Uche coming off the edge.

The Dolphins game plan will include a lot of ground attack but we will see Tua in an expanded role compared to last year. Look for Gesicki and Waddle to see lots of targets short and in the intermediate area. Parker and Gesicki will see one on one jump ball passes. Tua will get to throw some deep shots this game as well. Something everyone wants to see. The addition of Albert Wilson and Will Fuller V will help all around too however Fuller V is out for this game serving his suspension for PEDs. I expect Tua and the Dolphins to score enough to win this game.

Josh McDaniels will certainly have plays dialed up to help Mac Jones through his first start. I think they keep the game simple with a run first attack and throw a lot off of play-action. The Patriots starting mac Jones is a favor for the Dolphins who probably spent prep time focusing on Cam Newton. The Dolphins struggle with rushing quarterbacks. This will not be a problem with Jones taking snaps. The revolving door of Patriots running backs will surely be in use in this game. Damien Harris is expected to be a breakout this year but JJ Taylor has some juice in him as well. James White will be the passing down back. The two big tight end additions will be Mac Jones main targets along with Meyers. The tight ends will be matchup vs veteran safeties and rookie Jevon Holland. This will be the key matchups.

I see this game playing out tight and close till the end. Both teams will have a strong defense. I give the advantage offensively to the Dolphins. They focused on building around Tua, and they succeeded in getting weapons. The Dolphins also have the best kicker in the NFL which may play an important role late in the game. Look it up if you don’t think Sanders has surpassed Tucker in the recent year. I think the Dolphins win a close game 27-20. Tua throws for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Jaylen Waddle scores in his debut.

Based on the odds Vegas has the game projected 23-20 in favor of New England. I think the Dolphins can beat Mac Jones and their rivals as they look to improve on their 2020 success and make the postseason this year. Two meetings with the Patriots will be critical and this is the first step. An improved Tua and offense combined with a strong defense get the job done.

Why the Dolphins can really win the AFC East

Tua Tagovailoa can bring the Dolphins to an AFC East title

By: Cody Molla (@Cmolla1)

Far removed from dominating the division in the 70s and early 80s the Dolphins have won 4 division titles since 1985, and only two since 2000. The franchise and fans have their eyes focused on winning a division title and making a splash in the postseason. There is hype and expectations for the Miami Dolphins coming off a 10-6 season last year. Improvement is expected all around, and with that improvement do they win the AFC East?

The hype for this year comes off a strong 2020 season and strong offseason. However, the Dolphins aren’t the only team improved within the division. The Buffalo Bills return their core from last season that played in the AFC Championship game. The New England Patriots return players on defense that opted out of last season and have returned their quarterback for a second straight year who is more comfortable in his position within the offense. The New York Jets are completely turned over and though they don’t pose a threat to win the division in anyone’s eyes, they do have a chance to spoil someone’s season.

The biggest factor in winning the AFC East for the Miami Dolphins is to win their divisional games. Last year the Dolphins went 3-3 in the six division games. They swept the Jets, split with New England, and were swept by Buffalo. The Bills in perspective went 6-0. Winning division games is like winning two games in the standings, not only does it directly give you a game up on your rivals but it gives you tie-breakers which may play a role in deciding a competitive division winner. Yes! The AFC East is now a competitive division. The Patriots are no longer a juggernaut and three teams have playoff expectations placed on them.

To be division winners the Miami Dolphins will need to be 4-2 minimum in the six division games. More likely than not a record of 3-1 in games versus the Bills and Patriots would be necessary as well. This will be tested early in the season as their first two games are with New England and Buffalo.

These rivalry games will be competitive and a handful of key plays need to be made to seal the wins. Last year in a tight opener vs the Patriots the defense failed to stop Cam Newton and the Patriots run game. The Dolphins have the tools to do so this time around and score points to put New England away. As they did in the second meeting last year.

The first Bills game was completive but the Dolphins failed to contain the big pass plays from Josh Allen to his receivers. Part of this was an injured secondary that improved as the season went on. A slow start to the season this year will likely lead to the Dolphins failing to win the division again. A fast start and improved play is expected and will be key to winning the 2021 division crown.

After one game of 2021 preseason, the national narrative on Tua has piggybacked on their 2020 takes. In the preseason opener, Tagovailoa finished with a stat line of 8-11, 99 yards, and one interception. Tua played in three possessions in the first quarter and got the Dolphins inside the red zone twice on his final two drives. After having a full offseason knowledge of the playbook I saw an improved Tua in limited action. For those who didn’t watch the game and only saw the highlights you likely saw the big reception to Gesicki for 50 yards and the interception that drew large criticism. Yes, the interception was a poor decision. Whenever you throw a bit off rhythm late over the middle in the NFL bad things happen. What would the narrative be if that pass was completed for a touchdown?

What you didn’t see shown in all those highlights was a three and out to start the game, due to a dropped first down on a good corner route ball thrown by Tua that should’ve extended the drive. On the next two drives, Tua showed confidence, aggressive throws, and a handle on the playbook. These are all things he lacked in his rookie season. Tua has now had a full offseason, shown health from the hip injury, and an improved arsenal of weapons.

The Dolphins focused on making improvements around Tua and giving him weapons. Another reason I think Tua’s game is improved enough to win the division is that not all the offensive starters played in the preseason game. Tua defendants will tell you about the lack of weapons last year and how he was throwing to fringe NFL receivers. He did a lot of that in this preseason game and his improvements were noticeable.

Tua is a Drew Brees prototype of quarterback more than the playmaking strong-arm type like Mahomes, Rodgers, and Watson to some effect. Tua’s strengths are being accurate, on rhythm, and hitting receivers in stride allowing them to make the plays with their athleticism. He is not going to throw passes that travel 60 plus yards in the air downfield and cross body. The offense is built around Tua and it has the ability to score points as well as move down the field efficiently and often. Tua is the focus and key for the Dolphins offensive success and a division title.

On the other side of the ball, a huge part of the defense has officially been returned. After requesting a trade last month, All-Pro CB Xavien Howard and the Miami Dolphins came to an agreement on a restructured contract. Howard is coming off the best season in his career thus far and although 10 interceptions is hard to replicate I expect another strong season from X-man. The key will be health. Since coming into the league in 2016 he has 22 interceptions, the second-most in that span. He trails Marcus Peters by one despite playing 19 fewer games in that span. He has missed many games due to knee and ankle injuries.

With Howard, the Dolphins secondary is set up to be one of the best across the NFL. Playing opposite Howard is Byron Jones, who is a top 15 corner in his own right and could be a top 10 layer at his position. Along with the two highly regarded outside corners is a talented slot corner in Justin Coleman who is making his dolphin debut this year, upcoming player Noah Igbinoghene, rookie Jevon Holland, veterans Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, and fellow youngsters in Nik Needham and Brandon Jones. The backend of the Dolphins defense is solid.

The third focus for the Dolphins winning the division is line play on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is the bigger focus. The preseason game versus the Bears didn’t show improvement on the offensive line. In fact, it prompted a trade for another offensive lineman. The Dolphins traded for Greg Little to seek another quality player. The offensive line struggled to protect Tua and open up running lanes consistently last year. Without an offensive line, it doesn’t matter what skill players you have. Look at the Chiefs superbowl performance. I don’t expect the offensive line to be one of the worst in the league but a slight improvement in all the young players will be a huge dividend. How much they’ve learned and improved needs to be seen.  

On defense, the line needs to create pressure and get to the quarterback more consistently. With the good coverage if the pressure gets home early and often the Dolphins defense will have a lot of turnovers and spend limited time on the field. First-round pick Jaelen Phillips was brought in to help with this area of concern.

The Dolphins return to a division title is in sight. A lot of the load falls on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. I believe Tua’s improvement from year one will surprise a lot of people and the addition of playmakers will help this offense a lot. With a strong defense and potent offense, the Dolphins have the capability of winning 12 games. The first two will be the tone setters and the pivotal ones to earn the title of AFC East Champ.

Why the QB situation may prevent the 49ers from winning the NFC West

The 49ers QB spot is a question mark

By: Andy Davies

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. Only the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers (both 6) have more Super Bowl wins than the 49ers (5). The 49ers’ five Super Bowls all came between the years of 1981 and 1994. They have lost two since, in the 2012 and 2019 seasons. The quarterbacks that led the 49ers to the Lombardi Trophy were Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. Three of those five wins saw Montana as the starter and Young as the backup.

Young is seen by many as the best backup quarterback in history, considering the gold jacket that he earned despite many years as the backup to Montana. He would win a Super Bowl as the starter after the franchise moved on from Montana. Ever since Young decided to hang up his cleats, the 49ers have struggled to find his replacement. Have they found the guy in Trey Lance?

Perhaps, but here is why the quarterback situation involving Lance and current starter Jimmy Garoppolo could prevent the 49ers from winning the NFC West during the 2021 season.

Struggles Since Young

Jeff Garcia was the man to come in for Young. During his five seasons in the Bay, he threw for 113 touchdowns and 56 interceptions as well as 16,408 passing yards. He had a 35-36 record as a starter for the 49ers in the regular season and a 1-2 record in the postseason, meaning he never hit the heights of his predecessor.

Alex Smith was the number one overall pick in 2005, shattering Aaron Rodgers’ dreams. However, he was a good quarterback, not a great quarterback. Colin Kaepernick replaced Smith and took the 49ers to the Super Bowl. They ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in a game often called the ‘Blackout Bowl’. Kaepernick failed to live up to the standards he set that season.

He would be kicked out of the league for taking the knee in a protest against police brutality in 2016. He has not played a snap in the NFL since. Jimmy Garoppolo was traded from the Patriots to the 49ers midway through the 2017 season. He gave hope to the organization after winning all five of the games he started in 2017. The fanbase had hope going into the 2018 season.

Many non-49ers fans had San Francisco down as their dark horse for the season. A season-ending injury to Garoppolo in Week 3 saw the starting role shared between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. However, the 49ers finished 4-12 as they went into 2019 with the second overall pick. Nick Bosa was selected and transformed the defense of San Francisco and Jimmy G had the best season of his career. He threw for 3,978 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Despite these stats, Garoppolo saw his production limited in the NFC Championship game as the coaching staff decided to use more of their running game. This led to many questions leading to the Super Bowl. The 49ers threw away a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter as they would end up losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.

Garoppolo was criticized heavily for an overthrown pass to Emmanuel Sanders that would have given San Francisco back the lead. His 2020 season saw a mixture of poor form and injury. During the 2021 offseason, the 49ers traded up with the Miami Dolphins to gain the number three overall pick. They took Lance with the pick, showcasing their intentions to eventually move off from Garoppolo. There is now talk of whether San Francisco and head coach Kyle Shanahan will start Lance in week one. The other scenarios discussed are either Lance coming in mid-season or sitting out the whole campaign as the backup to Garoppolo. The uncertainty will have a significant impact on the 49ers’ season.

The Strength of the NFC West

This is a problem that will affect all four teams in the best division in the NFL. There is a chance that all four teams can make the playoffs. Los Angeles has an exciting new quarterback in 2009 first overall pick Matthew Stafford. Both the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray that they would never dream of trading away. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ starting quarterback is largely unpopular by fans, due to a mixture of the overthrown pass in the Super Bowl, his poor 2020 campaign and his injury record.

San Francisco has the least trusted quarterback in the division. With the position being one of the most crucial in all sports, it does not bode well for a team when there is uncertainty in the position. Garoppolo may be benched at some point during the season for Lance. However, the 49ers would be putting a rookie that will still be learning the system into the toughest division in the NFL.

Learning From Mahomes, Jackson, Tua and Burrow

If San Francisco are to help Lance succeed, they will need to take some lessons from recent draft classes. Patrick Mahomes, widely seen as the best quarterback in the league, spent all but one game of his 2017 rookie season as a backup to Alex Smith. The Chiefs then traded Smith the following offseason and Mahomes has never looked back. In his first three full seasons as a starter in the NFL, he has reached two Super Bowls, winning one. He has also been crowned MVP and Super Bowl MVP and reached three successive AFC Championship games. All three have been at home. On the flip side, 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow started in week one of his rookie year. He wouldn’t last the season, only playing ten games before injury curtailed his first NFL campaign. He was impressive before his injury but there are no guarantees he will be the same player when he returns.

Lamar Jackson was a backup to Joe Flacco during his 2018 rookie year but won the starting role midseason. He has since gone on to win an MVP award and is the future of the franchise. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins brought Tua Tagovailoa in mid-season but he struggled in his rookie season. He is seen to already be on the hot seat, with many feeling the Dolphins rushed him in. These examples all show there are reasons for the 49ers to be hasty when it comes to choosing when to bring Lance into the starting role.

Lance Or Garoppolo In 2021?

The 49ers will have to decide soon who their starter will be in 2021. Considering Lance has only played one full season (2019), he is likely to start the season as the backup. He only threw for a combined total of 31 passing attempts, two touchdowns and 1 interception across the 2018 and 2020 seasons, albeit the latter campaign being disrupted by the pandemic. He is likely to be a work in progress but his 28 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 2019 mean that he is one for the future.

Garoppolo will likely start in week one but it was clear from the NFC Championship game that Shanahan doesn’t completely trust him.

Jimmy G is a capable quarterback but his health is a concern. Expect Garoppolo to remain as the starter provided the 49ers are winning games but for Lance to come in should Garoppolo either be injured or start the season poorly.

Should this happen, this will be the end of Garoppolo’s time in San Francisco. Depending on timing, he will then be traded either before the deadline or in the 2022 offseason.

Can The 49ers Returning Players Avoid A Repeat Of 2020?

This is key if the 49ers are to challenge for both the NFC West and the NFC. After earning the number one seed and reaching Super Bowl 54 during the 2019 campaign, San Francisco finished 6-10 in 2020 and bottom of the division. A ‘Super Bowl Hangover’ played its part but the main cause of such a decline was down to a colossal amount of injuries the team suffered. Along with the aforementioned Garoppolo, the 49ers also saw Bosa, Dee Ford, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel and Solomon Thomas miss large chunks of the 2020 season due to injury.

San Francisco had 33 players reported questionable and there were 186 occasions when the 49ers reported a player on injured reserve. They had the second-most injuries of any team in the NFL over the past twenty years. Should all these players come back, then this 49ers roster will be one of the best in the league. This will make life much easier for whoever the San Francisco starting quarterback is.

However, from the strength of the division to the uncertainty at quarterback, San Francisco will find it tough to win the NFC West.

3 Sleeper Quarterbacks for 2021

3 sleeper QBs for 2021

By Jesse Moeller

Where has the time gone? We are already halfway through July, and that means we have less than 60 days until the NFL 2021 Season kicks off. So I am counting down the days in anticipation and beginning to sort through ADP to determine where I can find value players this year. For this article, I will be looking for three quarterbacks who are drastically underpriced for one reason or another for the 2021 season.

Ryan Tannehill

In the last two seasons, the Titans have finished 30th and 32nd in pass attempts. Yet Ryan Tannehill has finished as a top 10 quarterback in fantasy points per game. You may ask yourself how this is possible, as I know I questioned it after looking at the low passing totals for Tannehill. The answer for Tannehill is he has two traits working heavily for him that make him an elite fantasy quarterback.

The first is efficiency. If you do not have volume as a quarterback, you can use efficiency to make up for the lack of passing opportunities. Where that jumps out is the touchdown rate for Tannehill. Tannehill ranked third last year with a touchdown on 6.9% of his throws, and you may be thinking to yourself that must have been an outlier season for him. While it is above the league average, he had an even higher touchdown rate in 2019, converting touchdowns at a rate of 7.7%! If you watched the tweet posted at the beginning of the section, you are well aware that Tannehill is the lord of efficiency in the NFL. The addition of Julio Jones to the receiving core will only help Tannehill remain one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. 

The second is a fantasy manager’s favorite word when describing a quarterback. The infamous Konami Code. If a quarterback can earn points on the ground, they have a significant advantage over the statuesque signal-callers. Yards gained on the ground are worth 2.5x than yards made through the air for fantasy. It sets a much higher floor and ceiling for a fantasy quarterback, creating a massive difference throughout a season. Tannehill was a wide receiver in college and used athleticism to earn an extra 68 fantasy points this season. A Konami Quarterback uses the secret sauce of rushing to score more points for the year. It’s the extra bow in Tannehill’s quiver that not every quarterback possess,

You can keep assuming regression for Tannehill, but he has proven time and time again that it is not a smart bet to make. Instead, Tannehill will push towards the top five fantasy quarterbacks with the offensive weaponry around Tannehill this year.

Justin Fields

Watching Justin Fields fall throughout the offseason is still something I struggle with, as I feel that I was either entirely missing something or that the NFL and multiple teams missed on this elite quarterback prospect coming out of Ohio State. The one team that did not miss was the Chicago Bears, who traded up to the 11th pick to select him in the first round of the NFL Draft.

There have been countless talks this offseason of Andy Dalton being the starting quarterback for an extended time until the Bears decide to start Justin Fields, referencing how Kansas City waited on Patrick Mahomes for a season. I’m here to explain why that narrative makes zero sense. First, I do not see much of a parallel between the two teams as Kansas City had Alex Smith entering his fifth season as the starter led the Chiefs to a 41-20 record with Smith specializing in not turning the ball over. Smith was also coming off of his second Pro Bowl appearance with Kansas City. Second, the Bears have been so desperate for decent quarterback play that they brought in veteran Nick Foles last year on his four-year 88 million dollar deal. He replaced Trubisky in week 3, leading the team to a 2-5 record in the seven games he started before handing the reigns back over to Trubisky.

In steps one of the best college quarterbacks we have seen in Justin Fields to become the next heir apparent in NFL and fantasy circles. Fields has numerous traits that will set him up exceptionally well at the NFL level. As the tweet above showed, Fields is an incredibly accurate quarterback in all areas of the field. In addition, he possesses the ability to elevate the skill position players of the Bears. Lastly, we dig into the juicy part of fantasy quarterbacks that separate them in fantasy, known as the Konami Code. Fields ran the fastest forty-yard dash since RG3 ran a 4.41 forty-yard dash in 2012. That athleticism is what separates him from Lawerence when I chase upside in fantasy. I want a quarterback who can score fantasy points through the air and on the ground. It is an actual cheat code for quarterback scoring, and Justin Fields oozes potential. Going in the 11th round of drafts, that is the perfect time to gamble on the upside.

Tua Tagovailoa

Tua is a player I have written about multiple times this offseason. Unfortunately, the fantasy football community overreacted to as rough of a rookie season as any quarterback could have. Recovering from a significant hip injury that was eerily similar to Bo Jackson’s injury ended his football career. Thankfully, modern medicine allows athletes to continue to play after suffering such a gruesome injury.

The entire community has anointed Tua as the subsequent quarterback bust while missing the key statistics that tell a completely different story. Tua was second in accuracy rating, third in catchable pass rate, and third in ball placement as a rookie. Those are elite accuracy metrics from anyone, let alone a rookie quarterback.

These stats back up what we believed Tua to be during his Alabama days when the phrase “Tank for Tua” was famous in 2019. The difference is highlighted in the tweet above. Tua passed to four first-round picks in DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, and Henry Ruggs at Alabama. Last season at Miami, Tua was throwing to Davante Parker and no other receivers of significance. With names such as Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford seeing meaningful playing time, It’s no surprise for any quarterback to struggle.

The Dolphins knew they had a lack of talent in the receiver room and addressed it. Signing Will Fuller and drafting Jaylen Waddle hopes that the talented additions would support Tua’s development as a passer in 2021. What stands out is the Dolphins added a lot of speed to the receiver room. With a field general who has pinpoint precision, it should be a fun combination to watch, as the efficiency will see a notable spike in 2021 due to the talent surrounding Tua. Tua will leap forward in his second year, solidifying himself as the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins’ future.

Tua Tagovailoa is insanely underrated

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa remains underlooked in the NFL

Tua Tagovailoa, the 23-year-old signal-caller for the Miami Dolphins, is entering his second year in the league. Let’s face it, Tagovailoa arguably has more close eyes on him than any other QB in the league.

The soon-to-be starting QB was a shiny product under Nick Saban and then was selected fifth overall by first-year head coach Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins. Tagovailoa was a glamorous stature headed into year one. 

Exiting year one, the reflection on Tagovailoa is that he didn’t quite live up to expectations. Tua was benched numerous times and he couldn’t quite blow any defenses out of the building. However, there were glimpses of Tua’s arm talent and his leadership was on display at times. 

It’s evident that Tua has the keys to the offense headed into 2021. 

Fins nation begs to ask: How productive will Tua be? There are many rankings that don’t hold the slightest of confidence for the QB benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Pro Football Focus ranked Tua 29th out of 32 eligible QBs. Chris Simms projected Tua as the 40th best QB in the league. It’s very clear: The football world is sound asleep on Tua.

Is Tua destined to be an abysmal QB in the 2021 campaign? Does he hold minimal tools amid an offense that won’t lift off? I believe that’s not the case. 

  • Jaylen Waddle AND Will Fuller will bring sizable change

Tua wasn’t in a position to stretch the field to the slightest in 2020. His yards per attempt were good for 30th in the league. His decision-making could have been sharper at times, but the explosion wasn’t there anywhere in the offense. Will Fuller is one of the top deep threats in the NFL and Jaylen Waddle is undeniable leaps ahead of Henry Ruggs coming out of college and ready to reunite the spark between himself and his former college QB. 

Tua’s completion percentage was also biting the dust last year. He was 26th in play-action completion percentage. He has the arm strength and accuracy (#2 in the league) to hit his wideouts, he just needs to grow in the scheme, especially with more talent around him. 

  • Bigger offseason

It’s clear that everybody had a shortened offseason last year due to COVID. Nonetheless, the players that suffered the most from forming a lack of chemistry were unequivocally young signal-callers. Tua showed that he had lots of pocket passing potential at times of the season, but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s experience significantly outweighed Tua’s passing talent.

Justin Herbert was also expected to sit the rookie year behind modest veteran Tyrod Taylor, but he was forced to start after Taylor’s injury early in the season. Expect Tua to take the utmost advantage of learning the scheme headed into season two. He showed that he has the potential and now he has the tools around him, he just needs to grow mentally. Even if Tua has a noticeable improvement in his feeling of the scheme, that should translate to a lot more success.

3 Dolphins that could be surprise studs

Watch out for these potential stars for the Dolphins.

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

The Miami Dolphins were one of the biggest surprises in the NFL last season. Before the season began they were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league but ended up being much better than that. They finished the year with an impressive 10-6 record and just barely missed out on the playoffs. Their success is mainly due to a very young talented roster that has developed ahead of schedule, which can partially be credited to their excellent coaching staff lead by head coach Brian Flores.

It’s reasonable to believe that the Dolphins will be even better this upcoming season than they were last year considering they will have another year of development and made some solid additions to the roster as well. Some of their potential stars are still under the radar while others just aren’t getting the respect from the general public that maybe they deserve. Here are 3 potential players that could be surprise studs.

QB Tua Tagovailoa

It’s amazing how quickly the public perception of Tua took a negative turn. He was such a highly graded prospect at Alabama that there were rumors that NFL teams would be tanking their season to try and get the opportunity to draft him. After a few injuries and the emergence of Joe Burrow, Tua slid in the draft just a bit but was still the second overall quarterback drafted that year. After recovering from surgery, he still ended up starting nine games his rookie season and played pretty well in them, including throwing 11 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions, which is very solid for a rookie. The Dolphins even won 6 of the 9 games that he started.

It’s a bit strange that the general perception is so low on Tua after his rookie season. For a first-year player coming off an injury, he actually had a very good season and one that should inspire optimism about his future. All of the talent potential that he had at Alabama are still with him now, and he could really blossom into something great. Expect a big jump from Tua this season and a performance that reminds everyone how bright his future is.

RB Myles Gaskin

Unlike Tua, Myles Gaskin was not a highly rated prospect coming out of college. He was a seventh-round pick but he has not looked like it in his two short seasons in the NFL. He has been a pleasant surprise for the offense of the Dolphins and it looks like he will head into the 2021 season as the featured running back. Last year he quietly lead the team in carries with 142 and rushing yards with 584. More impressively, he did so while only appearing in ten games last season. To add another dynamic to his game, he added another 388 yards as a receiver.

His combo skill set will allow him to be a three-down running back and his outlook for this upcoming season is very bright. The Dolphins did sign Malcolm Brown to join their backfield, but it appears to be Gaskin that is going to featured while Brown provides a change of pace. All things considered, Gaskin looks primed for a really big year.

DL Raekwon Davis

Raekwon Davis is already a productive defender against the run from the interior of the defensive line. He is also skilled at occupying blockers to create lanes for pass rushers. The part of his game that could develop into a real weapon is pressuring opposing quarterbacks as an interior defensive lineman. He has the build and the tools to be successful at this, as well as the right coaching staff to develop the technique.

There aren’t a ton of players in the NFL that can generate consistent pressure from the interior, but Davis is a candidate to be one of them. It is not uncommon for this skill to take longer to perfect than rushing from the outside, so just because it has not shown up yet does not mean it isn’t coming soon. This could be the year it all comes together for Davis and if it does, he is going to be a force.

How the Dolphins can get the Top Seed in the AFC

By: Cody Molla (Twitter: @cmolla1)

Believe it or not, the NFL regular season is 15 weeks away. There is still a lot of roster movement to be expected but the key players are likely on their 2021 teams. With the draft behind us and the schedule released many have tossed their hat into the ring on upcoming predictions. As we all know “Any Given Sunday” is real and predicting the NFL season is chaos. Look back at the 2020 season when the Jaguars won the opening week of the season vs the Colts as proof.

One of the 2020 breakout teams was the Miami Dolphins. Could they emerge as a top AFC contender this year? Under Brian Flores in his second year, the Dolphins improved greatly from 5-11 to 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs. Many will remember the season for the QB swapping in game of then rookie Tua Tagovailoa and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ryan Fitzpatrick would close out games late in the season and bring the Dolphins back in deficits and or close games out offensively. The game that sticks out the most is Week 16, 26-25 win against the Raiders where Fitzpatrick threw up a prayer to Mack Hollins while getting his facemask pulled. Patrick Mahomes called it “the greatest no look pass of all time”.

The Dolphins started the season 1-3 and brought Tua in to start after six games where he was a year removed of a career threatening hip injury and saw limited work in OTAs and the offseason due to injury and Covid. Flores showed he can lead the team and behind solid defensive play and the Dolphins found themselves on the door of the playoffs. The Dolphins made improvements to the offense this offseason and kept a strong core on defense.

This is a strong foundation moving into 2021. The Miami Dolphins will look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and be a contender in the AFC. Could they even earn a one seed heading into the NFL playoffs? Most sportsbooks currently have the Dolphins from +1400 to +1600 to win the AFC. Which is currently tied with the Patriots for the fifth best odds. For comparison, the AFC favorites are the Chiefs around +250 and the AFC East rival Bills at +600. The oddsmakers do see the Fins as potential dark horse candidates to top the AFC.

Why should you bet the Dolphins to do so? They have a leader in Brian Flores. Flores won four super bowls in his time with New England. Combined with Chris Grier, the GM the Dolphins have built a roster in a “Patriots style”. Meaning players that can play multiple positions defensively. Guys that play their role. Not too flashy and guys that play football.

The changes in offensive coaching will help this offense improve as well. Chan Gailey is no longer the OC and instead, there will be a tandem at OC between George Godsey and Eric Studesville. Both have much NFL coaching experience and will look to excel in new roles. Dolphins also have a new QB coach in Charlie Frye. Frye has a good connection with Tua and was his coach and mentor back when Tua attended the Elite 11 Quarterback camp. These moves will help Tua and the Dolphins offensive development as a whole.

It’s no secret the offensive success hinges on the quarterback. There are expectations for Tua this year going into his second year. He won his first three starts in the NFL and finished his first year 6-3 overall. As mentioned before that was with little prep preseason and a lack of knowledge of the playbook. Last week in OTAs, Tua mentioned the play calling last year and the situation from the huddle to the line of scrimmage pre play last year. As a Dolphins fan, it was clear the play calls were basic when he was in the game. Tua explains why here, in this piece from Adam Beasley.

The Dolphins off season was focused on building around Tua. The added a speedy deep threat in Will Fuller via free agency. Fuller bolsters the receiving core and adds a playmaker which they lacked last year. The Dolphins added some veterans to their offensive line in free agency as well. Adding Matt Skura who has played guard and center for the Ravens, as well as tackle DJ Fluker who played for Baltimore in 2020. Other offensive free agents include running back Malcolm Brown for depth and Jacoby Brissett who is a seasoned veteran backup quarterback. Losing Fitzpatrick Brissett is a solid addition. He has shown the ability to win games when given the opportunity. He also will have familiarity with the coaching staff from his early days in New England.

The offensive additions continued in the NFL Draft. With the sixth overall pick, Miami reunited former Crimson Tide teammate of Tua with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Waddle missed most of his last season at Bama after suffering an ankle injury. Over his college career, he caught 106 passes for 1999 yards and 17 touchdowns. Waddle is an explosive impact player. He has sub 4.4 40 speed. He can play inside and outside, his hands and physicality allow him to win 50-50 balls even at 5’10 180 pounds.

The Dolphins also used one of their early round picks on a tackle. Liam Eichenberg out of Notre Dame is better in the run game than pass protection but will likely see reps throughout his rookie season. The Dolphins also drafted a tackle in the seventh round in Larnel Coleman. Coleman is going to need to be coached up but will likely spend a majority of his rookie year developing.

Other skill players drafted include TE Hunter Long. Mike Gesicki brokeout last year but the Dolphins added another offensive threat at the tight end position. I told you “Patriots like roster” We all know the dominance of Gronkowski and Hernandez together could we see a new TE duo run the AFC? The Dolphins finally addressed the running back position with Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. Doaks is a big back, bruiser running style from Cincinnati. Doaks also showed some good things in pass protection last year as Cincinnati was one of the better group of five schools last year.

What is returning offensively for the Dolphins? The offensive line returns its young core which played average at best in their best games and below average in a lot of spots. They were inconsistent but that is expected from a lot of rookies who got valuable experience with Fitzpatrick and from a double digit win season. The three rookies in 2020 Hunt, Jackson, and Kindley all flashed. They will be counted upon this year in combination with Skura as the main core upfront. The line play should improve from last season and needs to be average at worst to win the top seed in the AFC.

We know Tua is playing quarterback when healthy. Tua will protect the ball and deliver it with accuracy. To be the best in the AFC that’s going to require Tua to connect on deep passes, continue to use his mobility to extend plays and convert third downs and just bring confidence to the offense each play.

2020 finished with Myles Gaskin as the lead back in the Dolphins offense. That role is still his as we move into 2021. Gaskin beat out veterans early last year and earned his role. In 10 games last year Gaskin averaged 97 yards from scrimmage. He missed time with a knee issue and Covid. When Gaskin was out Salvon Ahmed stepped up in his role. Ahmed was efficient in his first two games and earned touches throughout the close of the season. Ahmed even eclipsed the 100-yard rush mark to be the first Dolphin to do so in two years in a win versus the Patriots last year.  

The bottom line is the Dolphins see the running back position by committee. Again taking a Patriots approach in using guys in the best role. The additions of Doaks and Brown will likely see the goal line work as bigger backs. The duo of Gaskin and Ahmed will move the ball between the 20s and they can each catch the ball and make guys miss in space. Gaskin will lead the committee and should see the bulk of the work overall. These guys don’t stand out as stars but they are capable of getting the job done. They proved it in 2020.

DeVante Parker broke out in 2019. 2020 was a bit disappointing for Parker who struggled with injuries in the lower extremities as always. Parker has the potential to be a game changer when healthy. Over his career, he’s produced greatly when healthy. He beat 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore consistently when healthy. He finished 2020 with 63 catches and nearly 800 yards. His dip in production is also attributed to Tua. Tua didn’t give him the 50-50 balls Fitzpatrick did. Tua also wasn’t aggressive in targeting down the field where Parker ran many of his routes. The familiarity with the playbook and one another will improve Parkers production this year. Paired with Fuller, Waddle, and Gesicki the defense can’t solely focus on DVP. Parker is primed for his best year as a pro if healthy.

Mike Gesicki will be the other focus player as a pass catcher this season. He’s coming off a career year in which he caught 53 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns. Gesicki is a miss match for Linebackers and safeties with his size. He’s able to box out and win the jump balls and has a massive catch radius. He consistently caught many bad passes and kept drives going. He would have much better touchdown numbers but the Dolphins used a multiple TE look in the red zone and as a unit between Gesicki, Smythe, and Shaheen they caught 11 touchdowns.

The Dolphins offense is set to produce and be better then 2020. The highlighted guys in combination with Malcolm Perry, Jakeem Grant, Lynn Bowden, and Preston Williams can be tough to defend. Perry and Bowden can play any position on offense including quarterback! They will surely get gadget plays that can strike for homeruns at any time. Grant is a speed threat who can get into space and outrun everyone as we’ve seen on special teams. Preston Williams is a sneaky fourth or fifth option on offense. Williams built up chemistry with Tua until he was injured and out for the year. If healthy Preston has the size and speed to be a Brandon Marshall type of player unfortunately inconsistent hands and injuries have plagued him.

To cap of the offense, the Dolphins have an all pro caliber kicker in Jason Sanders. Sanders was truly one of the best kickers in the league last season and it wasn’t a fluke. “$anders” was 8/9 from 50 yards or more last year and didn’t miss an extra point all year.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball the Dolphins had a top 10 defense all around last year. The Dolphins had a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at CB in Xavien Howard. The Dolphins were successful in limiting opponents scoring. They were the sixth-best scoring defense last year averaging 21.1 points allowed. This includes giving up 56 to the Bills in Week 17. The Dolphins standout defensive play started in the secondary. Howard grabbed 10 interceptions, new addition Byron Jones played CB 2, and veterans Eric Rowe, Bobby McCain and rookie Brandon Jones contributed with playmaking in the secondary. The linebackers played the run very well with Elandon Roberts playing inside with Jerome Baker.

Baker struggled at times in coverage and covering gaps in the run but it was passable play. The edge rushers didn’t get home at an elite rate but when they did convert their pressures into sacks turnovers where created. The combination of Van Ginkel, Ogbah, Van Noy, and Lawson forced nine fumbles on 25 sacks. The other key defensive stat was Miami was the best third-down team on defense allowing just over 31% conversions.

Miami spent two top picks on the defense. They used their own first round pick on edge rusher Jaelan Phillips. Phillips is a disruptive, explosive player from the University of Miami. Phillips gave up football in 2018 but he returned to “The U” and rebuilt himself. He has a high motor and the Dolphins need his pass rush and disruptiveness to succeed again.

The other high pick on the defensive side of the ball is safety Jevon Holland from the University of Oregon. Holland will replace McCain likely who was released. Holland plays aggressive and attacks. His versatility is also a plus and something Flores likes in his defense. Holland can play in the box and play the run as well as contest catches and cover.

The Dolphins also traded Shaq Lawson and in return received Bernardrick McKinney. McKinney missed a lot of last season with a shoulder injury but has proven his ability to play inside linebacker as a pro bowler in 2018. McKinney shores up the inside linebacker position and his versatility will replace the loss of Van Noy and Lawson.

If Miami can keep up the solid third down defense, limit the big plays which they were among the leagues worst in in 2020, and increase the pressure on quarterbacks the league’s best defense is attainable. This all starts with creating pressure. Wilkins and Davis on the interior line played well. Davis played the run well but didn’t create many pressures. Wilkins was the opposite, creating pressure but lacking in run defense. A better balance and consistency from these two will anchor the defense.

A player that will play a key role in returning the Dolphins to a top defense will be second year corner Noah Igbinoghene. He saw limited play as the third corner last year. He has elite speed and can play a physical in your face style of coverage but just lacked a feel for corner last year. Still, in transition from a receiver and good athlete to a true corner, this year is a big step in his development. He is playing behind one of the top corner duos in the league and will need to play the slot. The Slot corner position was also addressed in free agency with former Seahawk Justin Coleman.

Another key defender will be rookie Jaelen Phillips. The pass rush is the key to keeping this defense strong. They can cover! The coverage will get even better as the pass rush improves and the secondary can get more turnovers on rushed passes and attack the ball if they are covering for three to four seconds rather than five to six per play.

It takes more than a talented roster to win the AFC. You have to win your games. The schedule currently for the Dolphins doesn’t look greatly difficult by 2020 results. The schedule features the NFC South including defending super bowl champs and the Saints sans Drew Brees. The tough nondivision games inside the AFC will be the Ravens and Colts. For the Dolphins to get the top seed in the AFC they will have to win all those games including a 4-2 at minimum record within the division. I predict the top seed in the AFC will have to win 14 games minimum.

With good health first and foremost the top seed is achievable. A repeat performance from the defense in terms of scoring and efficiency is needed and is achievable with the additions. The key to it all is Tua and the offense. If Tua develops into the superstar quarterback we all thought pre hip injury the weapons are there to put up big numbers and rival the Bills and Chiefs success.

Realistically I don’t see the Dolphins winning the AFCs top seed. However, they will be good and they should improve on their 10 wins from last year and make the playoffs. I’m a lifelong Dolphins fan of 25 years and willing to bet I’ve watched more Dolphins football than 99.5% of the people my age. The Dolphins are close to being the best team in the AFC. If it is this year that will surprise me but not be out of reality. Betting on them is not the Ludacris bet it was barely a year ago. Flores and Grier have the team headed in the right direction. Staying healthy and “Any Given Sunday” you never know. Nonetheless, the Dolphins are poised to be a sleeper to earn the top seed heading into the 2021 playoffs.

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