What Kind of Fantasy Football Value Does Jay Cutler Have With the Miami Dolphins?
If you’ve never watched the TV show “Burn Notice," it is a sublimely hilarious and thrilling series full of espionage and MacGyver-esque problem solving. A decent summary of the show goes like this:
A spy from Miami with a bad attitude gets on somebody’s bad side, gets “burned” (outed, blacklisted, and cut off), and needs to turn to his friends for help: a spy with a loose cannon and penchant for destruction, and an ex-spy who likes to bum around in Hawaiian shirts and linen pants.
If you think the similarities between the characters of this show and quarterback Jay Cutler end there, you’d be sorely mistaken; I could write a PhD dissertation on this.
“Smokin’ Jay” has also been pulled out of retirement for one last heist by the Miami Dolphins and head coach Adam Gase, but he’ll simply be looking to right the wrongs done to him before. He brings with him his bad attitude, his loose cannon approach on the field, and raging sense of DGAF off of it.
But will this international man of mystery be enough to keep the Dolphins’ offense afloat? Or will Cutler get burned in Miami?
The reason that Cutler returned to the NFL with the Dolphins is because he had a chance to reunite with Gase, who was the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in 2015, overseeing Cutler’s best statistical season in the pros. With Miami starter Ryan Tannehill succumbing to yet another knee injury (likely for the season), Cutler will be Gase’s guy again.
But we do have to wonder if Jay Cutler still has the right stuff to help a hobbled Dolphins franchise.
We can examine his productivity through numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
As mentioned, Cutler had one of his best seasons in recent memory with Adam Gase in 2015. By raw Passing NEP per drop back, Cutler’s 0.13 rate that year was the second-best of his 11-year career. His 48.24 percent Passing Success Rate (the percent of drop backs resulting in positive value) was the third-best of his professional life.
We can see the impact Gase’s tutelage had, especially when we look at his Passing NEP per drop back versus the league-average over the last five years.
It’s no coincidence that Cutler had his only season above the league average in Passing NEP per drop back with Gase. Under Gase’s tutelage again, he should be a fine NFL passer once more.
As for his fantasy impact, that’s a bit more questionable. Gase made Cutler into an efficient passer, a safer passer, but not a more impactful passer like he did Peyton Manning in Denver.
Cutler should, first and foremost, stay upright more than he did with the Bears: Tannehill was sacked on just 6.9 percent of his drop backs in 2016 (lowest since his rookie year), and Cutler was sacked just 5.7 percent of the time in 2015. That bodes well for keeping him healthy and on the field.
What wasn't bolstered, however, was Cutler’s touchdown rate.
Even in his renaissance year, Cutler’s touchdown rate was a paltry 4.35 percent, and it’s unlikely to jump much higher than that this year even if he bounces back. Gase will limit his signal-caller to making throws he can actually make, resulting in less downside for the gunslinger but also capping his potential on the fantasy field.
Tinker and Tailor
It should give Dolphins fans some peace of mind, however, that Cutler will be working again with an incredible offensive mastermind.
When we look at teams Gase has coordinated, we can see the indelible mark he leaves on them in his time through NEP. The table below shows the Passing NEP averages for the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, and Miami Dolphins in the year before he arrived, his time with each team, and the year after.
|Adam Gase||Adj Pass NEP/P||Pass/Run||Total Plays|
The three offenses Gase got his hands on have each blossomed in his time with them, booming by more than double the value per passing play. Yes, that average includes the historic, record-setting season Peyton Manning had with Denver in 2013, but Manning had already had a strong year in 2012 before Gase arrived.
It’s important to note that Gase-led offenses have reduced a team’s average drop backs per season by a little under six percent from the years without him. He prizes efficiency and precision, which will help to rein in Cutler’s bad habits. Again, a lack of volume isn’t good for Cutler’s fantasy chances, but it will mean he has a more stable floor than usual.
With Cutler solidified under center, how will this affect the receiving options in Miami?
Cutler has a reputation for prolific deep tossing, and while it’s true he’s hurled the ball downfield on 18.84 percent of his attempts with Gase, Tannehill wasn’t far behind with 15.94 percent. Cutler does have a slightly higher propensity to miss, however; he completed just 34.1 percent of those passes while Tannehill nailed 45.2 percent of his (per Pro Football Reference).
This may indicate a slight upgrade in terms of target load to deep threat Kenny Stills, who saw 31 downfield looks last year. DeVante Parker also has a frame similar to Alshon Jeffery, which could lead him to be a favored red-zone target for Cutler; Jeffery has seen 71 red-zone targets since 2012, tied for 15th-most among pass-catchers in that span. Parker should draw a ton of valuable looks.
The biggest downside to Cutler’s signing is likely for Jarvis Landry, who is a short-area receiver only. From 2013 to 2015, when he was on the Bears, Martellus Bennett averaged over 100 targets a season and tended to be Cutler’s go-to guy in the middle of the field. That could mean he’ll be looking for Julius Thomas even more than Landry.
The Dolphins shouldn’t be worried this year: in a familiar scheme, with familiar faces, Jay Cutler will be steady enough to get them through the year. Perhaps he’ll even help them heist a playoff berth.