Team Previews: 2018 Miami Dolphins
Team Previews: 2018 Miami Dolphins

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

THE SKINNY
Coach Adam Gase failed to build on a 10-6 record and playoff appearance in 2016, with the Dolphins flipping their record to 6-10 last season. Ryan Tannehill's recovery from a torn ACL should be complete and the team brass seems to have confidence in him, as newcomer Brock Osweiler doesn't pose a threat.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

LIFE AFTER LANDRY
Jarvis Landry, who hauled in an NFL-best 112 passes in 2017, set a number of records during his stint in Miami. Most notably, the sure-handed receiver has recorded 400 catches in his career, which is the most ever for a player through his first four seasons, smashing the previous mark of 342 receptions (Anquan Boldin). Despite all the personal success, the Dolphins never seemed to view Landry as an elite wideout, and this was made evident in the offseason when they traded him to the Browns for draft picks. The team signed Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to help fill the void, with both bringing slightly different skill sets to the table. Though not the physical competitor that Landry was, Amendola resembles him the most as an undersized slot man, while Wilson gives the team more straight-line speed. Among the holdovers, Kenny Stills may take on a bigger role in the offense, but the individual to focus on is DeVante Parker. Possessing the prototypical size and speed of a top wide receiver, Parker has shown flashes of brilliance but hasn't been able to stay healthy and put it all together for an entire campaign. His prospects should be boosted by the return of Ryan Tannehill, but it's unclear how the veteran quarterback will react to his first game action since Week 14 of the 2016 season.

DRAKE TAKES THE CAKE
After carrying the ball just 10 times over the course of Miami's first seven games in 2017, Kenyan Drake experienced a major bump in playing time when the team traded Jay Ajayi to the Eagles midway through the season. Drake flourished late in the year as the Dolphins' workhorse running back, with an average of nearly 22 touches per game over the last five. Although he's always been a big-play threat due to his explosiveness, Drake held up nicely as Miami's bell cow, showing surprising toughness. Furthermore, Drake displayed some receiving ability, highlighted by a five-catch, 79-yard performance in the team's primetime upset win over the Patriots in Week 14. During the offseason, the Dolphins chose not to re-sign pass-catching back Damien Williams and instead inked veteran Frank Gore. The ageless Gore will see a share of action, but his modest one-year deal indicates he shouldn't be a major threat to Drake's workload. Miami also addressed the backfield in the draft with the selection of Kalen Ballage in the fourth round. At 6-2, 222 pounds with 4.46 speed, his measurables are impressive but often didn't translate on the field at Arizona State. Consequently, Ballage will be hard-pressed to wrangle much more than a receiving role behind Drake and Gore as a rookie.

THE RETURN OF TANNEHILL
Ryan Tannehill has teased fans in South Beach since 2012, at times showing glimpses of big-time talent. However, the reality is that he's been inconsistent season to season, and what's more troubling of late is a pattern of left knee injuries. Tannehill suffered ACL and MCL sprains at the end of 2016, yet curiously decided not to have surgery, which likely would have made him available for most of 2017. Somewhat predictably, he reinjured the knee in training camp last August and missed the ensuing campaign. Jay Cutler came out of retirement to lead Miami's offense, but the team sputtered in general, looking listless, en route to missing the playoffs. Though the team's poor play wasn't entirely Cutler's fault, some of the squads he has played on throughout the years have taken on his enigmatic personality. Thus, Tannehill has a chance to immediately breathe life back to the offense, assuming he's in good health, which is the early indication. Perhaps another clue that Tannehill is perceived to be at full strength is the fact that the Dolphins passed on quarterbacks in this year's draft, not even taking a late-round project. At the very least, the team seems comfortable rolling with Tannehill this season, as the only other notable signal-caller on the roster is the beleaguered Brock Osweiler.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: DeVante Parker
The 2015 first-rounder was expected to take the proverbial next step last season, but an ankle injury derailed Parker and he missed three games, finishing with just one score and a career-worst 11.8 YPC. With target-gobbling Jarvis Landry gone, Parker has an opportunity to become Miami's go-to wideout, assuming he can stay healthy.

BAROMETER
RISING: Kenyan Drake
Atop the depth chart heading into training camp, Drake is in a good spot to succeed, both in real and fantasy terms. He showed durability as a featured back last year and has always been a home run waiting to happen.

FALLING: Frank Gore
It's been unwise to bet against Gore, even in his 30s, but Father Time wins out eventually. The sturdy back ran for 961 yards with Indy last year but is now working behind Drake, with rookie Kalen Ballage also in the mix.

SLEEPER: Mike Gesicki
Rookie TEs normally don't yield big fantasy stats, but Gesicki has unique physical attributes that could buck that trend. Playing time might be a minor issue, though, as he isn't going to win any awards for his blocking.

KEY JOB BATTLE – LEAD BACK
After running back Jay Ajayi was traded to the Eagles midseason, 2016 third-round pick Kenyan Drake quickly secured himself the position as Miami's lead back. The 24-year-old looked impressive down the stretch, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and leading the league in rushing during the final five games of 2017. Despite Drake showing so well, the Dolphins saw fit to bring in competition at the position including veteran Frank Gore. The 35-year-old has proven his ability to carry the load and put up numbers despite his age, accumulating over 1,000 total yards in each of his last 12 seasons. Drake enters training camp ahead of Gore, but the veteran's reliability begs usage in at least a complimentary role. Kalen Ballage, a 2018 fourth-rounder, should also compete for snaps, but the rookie would have to progress quickly to truly push Drake and Gore. At 6-2, 228 pounds, the Arizona State product does look the part of a three-down back and even impressed as a receiver in rookie minicamp. While Drake seems the clear favorite for carries, it's worth noting the potential for either Gore or Ballage to earn notable touches or even impress enough to warrant a running-back-by-committee approach in Miami.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Danny Amendola – WR (from Patriots)
Playoff hero can help fill in for the departed Jarvis Landry.

Frank Gore – RB (from Colts)
Now in his hometown, the 35-year-old will back up Kenyan Drake.

Mike Gesicki – TE (Rd. 2, No. 42 – Penn State)
Elite athlete with a huge catch radius, a la Jimmy Graham.

Kalen Ballage – RB (Rd. 4, No. 131 – Arizona State)
Nice size/speed combo, but third in line for backfield touches.

KEY DEPARTURES:
Jarvis Landry – WR (to Browns)
After signing franchise tender, the PPR-maven was dealt away.

Damien Williams – RB (to Chiefs)
The Chiefs will look to take advantage of Williams' receiving skills.

Julius Thomas – TE (FA)
Underachieved during his lone season in Miami, with just 41 catches.

Ndamukong Suh – DT (to Rams)
Still productive, but his release provides salary-cap relief.

THE INJURY FRONT
Ryan Tannehill, QB – Tannehill missed the entire 2017 season after reinjuring his ACL, but the 30-year-old quarterback was a full participant in OTAs and is expected to start Week 1. Prior to his season-ending injury in 2016, Tannehill posted career-high marks in completion percentage, QB rating and yards per attempt. Whether or not the seven-year veteran can return to that form depends not only on how well he recovers, but also on how smoothly he transitions to the Dolphins' new offensive scheme. It's worth noting that two of the most important weapons of Tannehill's elevated 2016 performance – Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi – are no longer with the team.

DeVante Parker, WR – Parker compiled numerous minor injuries in 2017, causing the wideout to miss a total of three games and play hurt throughout the final stretch of the season. Such injuries have proven a recurring issue for the 2015 first-rounder, who's struggled to play through nagging pains in each of his three years in the NFL. Before injuring his ankle Week 5 last year, Parker was on pace for a breakout 96/1,226/5 campaign, despite a Miami offense struggling mightily under Jay Cutler. There's no telling whether Parker will get off to a similar pace with Tannehill returning from an ACL injury, but he once again seems primed to break out. Landry's departure from Miami leaves a 160-target void in the offense, so if Parker can remain healthy he couldn't ask for a better opportunity to finally live up to his pedigree as a No. 1 WR.

Raekwon McMillan, LB – McMillan, a 2017 second-rounder, lost out on the entirety of what could have been a promising rookie campaign due to a preseason knee injury. The Ohio State product impressed enough to be named the No. 1 middle linebacker, and a total lack of competition at the position suggests Miami's full confidence in McMillan as a starter going forward. Barring any setbacks, the 22-year-old is expected to be ready for Week 1 at what was a position of weakness throughout last season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ilango Villoth
Ilango produces NFL content for Rotowire. Beat writer for the Miami Dolphins.
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