By just about all accounts, the Miami Dolphins' 2013 season was average, which is why they finished an apropos 8-8.
For the purpose of this article, it's important to know that the Dolphins were also pretty average in passing. The team ranked 20th in the league in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play (0.04). In the off chance this is your first numberFire article, NEP is our way of quantifying a team or player's success in terms of potential points added (or subtracted) throughout a season.
Based on this, we can see that Ryan Tannehill's passing was slightly below average. Tannehill, himself, tallied a Passing NEP of -2.44, so he lost the Dolphins a few points over the course of the season compared to what would have been expected from an average quarterback.
Further down Mediocre Road, our math projects Miami to have the 19th-best offense this year. So is there any reason to look past Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline on the receiver depth chart?
Surprisingly, it's a maybe.
Meeting the Pod
A group of dolphins is called a "pod." Get it?
Anyway, there are, realistically, four guys vying for playing time at receiver, and physically, they're all fairly similar to one another. The three of them who played NFL snaps in 2013 are listed below in this chart displaying their NEP production.
|Player||Ht.||Wt.||Rec||Rec NEP||Targets||Rec NEP/Tar||Catch Rate|
In addition to Rishard Matthews, Brandon Gibson, and Damian Williams, the Dolphins also have rookie Jarvis Landry in the mix. Landry is 6'0'' and weighs 205 pounds, basically the same size as Gibson. Speaking of Gibson, he's currently listed as the team's number-three wide receiver, but the team could actually cut him in favor of another receiver in order to save money. This is part of why the receiver situation is cloudy at best.
To make matters a little worse, there are a few other names hanging around, too, like Armon Binns (6'2'', 211), who's coming off an ACL tear, and Marcus Thigpen (5'9'', 195), a converted running back. Only two of those six guys are over six feet tall, and receiver height correlates to fantasy production.
Instead of asserting one of these six guys is a surefire flier or a keep-an-eye-on-him player, it seems more pertinent to ask whether the Miami offense can feed three receivers, including Charles Clay at tight end.
Could the third receiver on the Dolphins actually produce top-40 fantasy numbers? Yes. It's possible. Just keep reading.
Is Three a Crowd?
Not every team features a third receiver heavily enough in its offense to warrant fantasy consideration, but there are still reasons to look deep in to this group of players. Hartline did tear his PCL in Week 17 last year. He didn't require surgery and has made his preseason debut already (one catch on three targets), but he was targeted 134 times last season. If Hartline struggles to regain his steady production, then the lesser-known 'Phins could be competing for a sizable role in the offense.
But what if he doesn't? Could Miami's offense support a third receiver? Again, it's possible. In addition to Hartline's 134 targets, Wallace received 141 looks. The duo combined for 71.4% of all receiver targets in Miami's offense last year.
Matthews recorded 67 targets, and Gibson had 43 in an injury-shortened season. Despite a thin core, the Miami receivers comprised 67.1% of targets last year in Miami's offense. Here's the full breakdown.
|2013 Dolphins||Total||To WR||To TE||To RB|
Tannehill relied on his receivers, for sure, but the year-end tallies suggest he really just had Wallace, Hartline, and Clay (who had 102 targets) and nobody else.
But Gibson actually received some attention in the first half of the season before tearing his patellar tendon. In 2013, Gibson had either five-or-more receptions or a touchdown in five of the seven games he played while averaging 6.14 targets per game. This helped Gibson attain a 0.84 Reception NEP Per Target, which ranked 11th out of the 61 receivers who were targeted between 30 and 80 times last year.
This is less a ringing endorsement for the on-the-roster-bubble Gibson and more a realization that production was available to be had alongside Wallace and Hartline. This is further evidenced by Matthews' "emergence" after Gibson's final game.
From Week 9 onward, Matthews attained 33 receptions for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's not bad for half a year's work from a seventh-round draft pick. Combining his second half with Gibson's first half indicates that the tertiary option in Miami wasn't a bad option at all last year.
|Gibson||Weeks 1-8||30||4.3||326||46.6||3||56.8 (79)|
|Matthews||Weeks 9-17||33||3.7||355||39.4||2||50.6 (93)|
|Combined||Weeks 1-17||63||3.9||681||42.6||5||107.4 (39)|
This is where the top-40 fantasy receiver thing comes into effect. True, the hypothetical Gibson-Matthews hybrid had the advantage of a full 16-game slate. Also true, the 39th receiver isn't going to do much for you in 10-team leagues, but that level of production can be useful for 12-or-more-team leagues throughout the season or in leagues with extra receiver or flex spots.
Despite playing in a below-average passing offense, the duo of Gibson and Matthews were surprisingly productive, which could be a good sign for whichever of the six potential receivers settles into the role this year.
The Lazor Show
Miami does have a new offensive coordinator this year, Bill Lazor, and things are going to be different than they were last year. This partially works to defeat my look at 2013 and usage rates in Miami's offense last year, but really, I posit that this signifies that there is enough production alongside Wallace and Hartline (even when they dominated targets heavily). Mainly, the duo didn't dominate like their target numbers suggested.
This is evidenced by their Reception NEP Per target scores. In 2013, 45 receivers were targeted at least 100 times. Among the 45, Wallace's Reception NEP per target (0.48) ranked 43rd, and Hartline's (0.61) ranked 30th.
What could be a good indicator for the potential of this sextet is looking at Lazor's most recent team. He was the quarterback coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. He wasn't running the offense, but here's how their target breakdown looked.
|2013 Eagles||Total||To WR||To TE||To RB|
If Lazor can establish the run-heavy style of the 2013 Eagles, then targets will diminish drastically. Eagles receivers were targeted 88 fewer times than Dolphins receivers, but looking at volume and only volume would be shortsighted.
Both DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper finished as top-20 receivers last year. Their Reception NEP per target scores were polarizing compared to the Dolphins' duo. Jackson had a Reception NEP per target of 0.87, and Cooper's was 0.90. Jackson ranked ninth among receivers with 80 or more targets, and Cooper ranked seventh.
A boost to efficiency would help the entire Dolphins receiving corps, and even in a mediocre offense last year, the team had some significant production from tertiary receivers.
How Should You Play the Situation?
Well, the biggest problem is that it's unclear who will take over the third-receiver role. Another issue is that Lazor will likely reduce the passing volume significantly. This volume helped Wallace and Hartline finish as the 26th and 27th fantasy receivers, respectively, last year, but a more efficient approach could catapult Dolphins wideouts into the top-20 (a la Riley Cooper).
Wallace is already struggling through a hamstring injury and Tannehill is still failing to get him the ball down the field. Hartline has been solid in his career but never anything spectacular still hasn't shown much in-game action since his PCL tear.
Gibson, for now, seems to be first in line, but if he gets excised in favor the smaller contract of Matthews, who is having a good camp and a good preseason, then Matthews could be the guy. If Landry, the rookie, continues to expand his role in the offense, then he could take over the slot and have useful fantasy potential sooner rather than later.
All in all, signs point to a useful receiver on Miami's depth chart exists and that it might not necessarily be the obvious guys on the top of the list. It's not a very exciting situation, but keeping an eye out for the player who carves out a steady role could help pay off for you, as none of these guys are, understandably, not being touched in re-draft leagues but might have low-end WR3 upside, especially if Tannehill makes the leap this year.