Fantasy Football: What Did the Miami Dolphins' First Game Tell Us About Their Passing Attack?

After a Hurricane Irma enforced an early bye week, the Miami Dolphins began their 2017 season with a 19-17 win at the Los Angeles Chargers. The victory marked quarterback Jay Cutler's debut for the team, and he played very well.

In regards to his pass catchers, we finally have some quantifiable data to study on how this team will use its receivers in 2017.

The training camp and preseason narratives surrounding the team since Cutler was enticed out of retirement to take over for an injured Ryan Tannehill mostly revolved around how Cutler would repeat his oft-used trick of zeroing in on one of his pass catchers -- usually a receiver with a large frame who can win in contested-catch situations -- and force feed him the ball. This was how Cutler operated, at times, with the Chicago Bears, when he had big-bodied Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at his disposal.

On Miami, the receiver who is that type of weapon is very clearly DeVante Parker, who Cutler was very complimentary of during camp and with whom Cutler showed quite a rapport this preseason. Parker has always had big-time ability -- he was the 14th overall pick in the 2015 draft for a reason -- but one of the things holding him back was the conservative nature of Miami's offense with Tannehill at the controls, which fed into Jarvis Landry's skillset.

Well, Cutler has never been one for being conservative with the football, which, ostensibly, seemed like something that would play right into Parker's hands. Once Parker and Cutler looked in sync during the preseason, it cemented the wideout's status as a chic breakout pick for 2017.

Sure, it's just one game of data, but what can we learn from Miami's season-opening contest?

The Results

Miami has three quality receivers -- Parker, Landry and Kenny Stills -- and each player brings something very different to the table. Parker is the up-and-coming outside playmaker, Stills stretches defenses with his deep-ball skills and Landry is a short-yardage, chain-moving maven.

The three wideouts stayed true to those roles in Week 2.

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Average Depth of Target
Jarvis Landry 15 13 78 0 2.3
DeVante Parker 9 4 85 0 18.6
Kenny Stills 5 2 37 1 2.1

With Chargers star corner Casey Hayward providing a tough matchup for Parker, Landry feasted underneath, hogging 15 targets, but outside of PPR leagues, he wasn't able to turn that insane volume into much production thanks to a pencil-thin average depth of target of 2.3 yards.

Stills was the least active, but he scored the only touchdown of the group. Meanwhile, Parker had a rough day efficiency-wise, hauling in just four of his nine targets, but there are two positives here. The first is that he saw nine targets, and the second is that his average depth of target was 18.6 yards.

Even though Parker caught nine fewer passes than Landry and didn't score a touchdown, he still generated more fantasy points.

Digging Deeper

Using our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary, we can see how little Landry impacted the game despite his heavy workload, especially compared to the impact Parker and Stills had.

Below, we can peep each receiver's Reception NEP per target and Reception Success Rate, the latter of which tells us what percentage of a player's catches had a positive impact on NEP.

Player Reception NEP per Target Reception Success Rate
Jarvis Landry 0.11 61.54%
DeVante Parker 0.80 100.00%
Kenny Stills 0.86 100.00%

For reference, through two weeks, the league average Reception NEP per target for wide receivers this season is 0.61, which, as you can see, is a long way ahead of what Landry was able to manage. Among all wideouts, Landry's Reception NEP per target is 119th out of 143 receivers.

Filtering our figures to look at the 19 receivers who have seen at least 15 targets in 2017, Landry's standing isn't any better. Among that subset, the league average Reception NEP per target is 0.58, and Landry sits dead last in that metric. His Reception Success Rate is also depressingly low. Again, of the 19 wide receivers to have seen at least 15 targets in 2017, Landry's Success Rate is good for -- you guessed it -- 19th.

Both Parker and Stills performed well above the league average in terms of Reception NEP per target, and their flawless Reception Success Rates have showed that their catches were of great value to Miami.

Moving Forward

None of this is really all too shocking, because this is exactly how things played out with Tannehill under center. Landry saw big target totals and was a PPR machine while Parker and Stills saw the high-variance downfield throws.

Landry got a boat load of looks last week, being the target on an astounding 44% of the total passes Cutler threw. But Parker saw a still-nice 26% market share, and Stills' 5 targets accounted for a 15% share.

Landry is very good at what he does -- according to NFL Next Gen stats, his average of 4.2 yards of separation per play is good for the fourth-most of all players this season -- but what he does caps his fantasy impact (despite his PPR floor being very solid). And the 15-target game doesn't necessarily mean Landry is still going to be the Dolphins' target hog like he was with Tannehill. His huge Week 2 usage could have been a matchup thing (see: Casey Heyward) or been due to him being the open guy as Stills (1.8 yards) and Parker (1.3) weren't creating as much separation as Landry was, per those Next Gen stats.

The issue with Parker and Stills when Tannehill was playing was that the team didn't take many deep shots. The amount of looks those two got in a tough matchup against the Chargers -- especially the nine targets Parker saw -- tells us that Cutler is willing to be more aggressive down the field than what this offense has been in the past few seasons. Again, not too much of a surprise.

Obviously, one game is not an adequate sample size from which to draw definitive conclusions. But the early indicators seem to suggest that Landry's role as a safety valve underneath is still very much intact. With that said, the Week 2 game also hints at a possibly expanded role for Parker, which is exactly what many had hoped for when Cutler went to South Beach.

Jay Ajayi is clearly Miami's top fantasy weapon as he played 94% of the snaps in Week 2, the highest rate among all running backs last week, and was fed 28 times (plus 2 targets). When Miami gets a lead, their offense may become ultra-conservative. But as far as receivers go, Landry appears to still be a safe-floor PPR play while a Parker breakout is a real possibility -- and something that could get started this week in a superb matchup with the New York Jets.