Will the New-Look Miami Dolphins Offense Save Mike Wallace's Career?
The Miami Dolphins had what ESPN.com's James Walker described as a "stale and predictable" offense in 2013, leading to a disappointing season mired in plenty of controversy. One of the most disappointing results of the Dolphins' disappointing campaign last season was the way wide receiver Mike Wallace was wasted in said boring offense.
On a per-target basis, Wallace had by far his worst season last year, earning less than half of a Net Expected Point (NEP) per look in the passing game. Just three years prior, in the high-flying Pittsburgh offense, Wallace was earning more than one Reception NEP per target, meaning that every time the team threw the ball his way, it was adding over one point more than average to the team's offense.
The overall cumulative production just wasn't there for Wallace last year, either. Despite seeing more receptions and targets than he ever had before, he posted a career low in Reception NEP, which measures how many expected points are gained on passes the player catches. He also set a career low in Success Rate, a percentage that determines how often a wide receiver's reception gains points for his offense. Both of these statistics indicate that, while the volume was there for Wallace, the catches he made weren't particularly efficient or productive.
But offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is now gone, and Wallace won't have to deal with the play-caller who essentially halved his production any longer. So will the shakeup in the Miami coaching staff help revitalize the career of the speedy Wallace? Let's consider the circumstances.
The Dolphins added a new offensive coordinator this offseason in Bill Lazor. His claim to fame was his role as Chip Kelly's quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia last season, which saw the rise of Nick Foles as a part of the innovative offense for the Eagles. Foles posted a Passing NEP of -13.38 on 285 drop backs in 2012, but under Kelly and Lazor, his score skyrocketed to 108.68 on 346 drop backs in 2013.
But was that all Kelly's influence, and was Lazor just along for the ride? Lazor didn't have the best success during his time in Seattle as a quarterback coach in 2008 and 2009, as his time there saw the decline of veteran Matt Hasselbeck. He then moved on to Virginia, where the Cavalier offenses posted some of the worst scoring numbers in the nation over his three years on staff.
But according to the ESPN report above, Lazor learned from Kelly last season, and will be implementing some of his concepts in Miami. That's good, because it might be just what Mike Wallace needs.
Wallace saw more targets last year than he ever had before, but many of them were shorter and had less of a chance to turn into a game-changing play. Wallace even said that he felt like teams were able to key on him too easily last season, because his positioning and routes were far too predictable. That should change if Lazor is serious about bringing "Chip Kelly principles" to the Dolphins.
DeSean Jackson, who isn't the biggest or strongest receiver in the NFL, posted career highs in Reception NEP and Target NEP in the Chip Kelly offense last season, because the motion and quick-hitting nature of the passing attack from the former Oregon coach helps speedy players get in space, keeping defenses on their heels. Wallace is similarly not very big or strong, but he's incredibly fast, so there's reason to believe that he can play the role of Jackson in the new-look Miami offense.
The Miami passing game has been very average over the past few years (they ranked 20th in passing offense as a team last year, according to our metrics), and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is certainly not off to a promising start to his career, as our JJ Zachariason mentions here. But even a slight boost thanks to the Chip Kelly ideals being brought to South Florida should help the offense become efficient enough to sustain some positive moments for Wallace.
The biggest question is whether or not Lazor's version of the Philadelphia offense is good enough to get the most out of an average quarterback, and a still makeshift offensive line in Miami. Is he the offensive mastermind Miami needs to turn things around, or is he simply getting a shot based on the hope that he can copy and paste Chip Kelly's ideas into the Miami playbook?
Miami fans are hoping it's the former, because the viability of Mike Wallace and the return on investment for his massive contract rely on a good deal of positive change in the Dolphins offense. Anything resembling the Philadelphia offense could help bring about a breakout year for Wallace, but more of the same (and a typically inefficient Ryan Tannehill) will spell more of the same for the frustrated Miami receiver.