What Will the Miami Dolphins' Target Distribution Look Like in 2015?

The Dolphins have a lot of talent at receiver, so where is the ball going to go?

The Miami Dolphins believe in Ryan Tannehill. At least after giving out an extension, one would hope that’s the case. 

The Dolphins have spent the first three years of Tannehill’s career trying to craft and offense and gameplan that would perfectly complement his abilities. For his rookie and sophomore seasons, Tannehill’s offensive coordinator in Miami was his college coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman. When that didn’t work out exactly as planned, the Dolphins hired Bill Lazor, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback coach, to run a more up-tempo spread offense.

And spread the ball they did. From a target perspective, 2014 looked nothing like Tannehill’s first two seasons. While he threw only two more passes than he did in 2013, there was more involvement by more players in the passing game last season. The Dolphins threw 595 passes in 2014 (590 from Tannehill), and six different receivers saw over 50 targets.

However, this new approach only had a minimal impact on the Net Expected Points (NEP) of the passing offense. NEP, for those of you new to numberFire, is our way of calculating what really happens on the field by showing how many points a player performed above or below expectation. You can read more about it in our  glossary

In 2013, the Dolphins ranked 20th in the league by Adjusted (for strength of schedule) Passing NEP per play, and improved to just 19th in 2014. Though if Miami had put up its 2014 Adjusted Passing NEP per play of 0.07 in 2013, it would have ranked 15th. So the Dolphins did improve more in the passing game than the ranking would suggest, but just about everyone else improved too.

Target Split

Even if the offense didn’t take a huge step forward analytically, it sure looked a lot different. During Tannehill’s first two seasons, he was locked into two top wide receivers and not much else. That approach even got Davone Bess over 100 targets in 2012, so the efficiency of that process is up for debate. 2014 was still a top-heavy approach -- Mike Wallace and Jarvis Landry both saw over 100 targets -- but the other options were based on whoever was open.

Take a look at the target splits over the past three years to see the difference:


Receiver Targets Percentage
Brian Hartline 131 26%
Davone Bess 104 20.60%
Anthony Fasano 69 13.70%
Reggie Bush 52 10.30%
Charles Clay 33 6.50%


Receiver Targets Percentage
Mike Wallace 141 23.70%
Brian Hartline 133 22.40%
Charles Clay 102 17.20%
Rishard Matthews 67 11.30%
Brandon Gibson 43 7.20%


Receiver Targets Percentage
Mike Wallace 115 19.30%
Jarvis Landry 112 18.80%
Charles Clay 84 14.10%
Brian Hartline 63 10.60%
Lamar Miller 52 8.70%
Brandon Gibson 51 8.60%

Changing Corps

In both 2012 and 2013, the top two targeted receivers saw more than 20 percent of the passes in Miami's offense. Then, with the switch last season, no receiver had a target share over 20 percent, and six saw at least eight percent. That’s quite a significant change in approach and is likely to continue in the second year of Lazor’s offense.

Of those six receivers who saw at least eight percent of the 2014 targets, only two will be on the roster in 2015 -- Jarvis Landry and Lamar Miller. Wallace was traded to Minnesota, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were cut, and Charles Clay was signed to an offer sheet as transition-tagged player. Miami didn’t just get rid of those players without replenishing the receiving corps though. The Dolphins traded for Kenny Stills from New Orleans, signed Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron as free agents and drafted DeVante Parker from Louisville in the first round.

Numbers-wise, that actually matches up with what the Dolphins lost from last season, but it might not be so simple to just to plug those players into the departed players’ targets. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Landry take over as Tannehill’s top target, though only three targets separated Landry from that title last season. Landry isn’t known as a world beater down the field, but he doesn’t need to play that role, and the mixture of body control, hands and agility make him a great asset in the middle of the field.

Pegging in the rest of the receivers is tricky, mostly because of health concerns. It wouldn’t be out of the question to throw Stills into the Wallace role in the offense as the deep threat, especially considering his success playing that part in New Orleans. Last season, Stills led all receivers with at least 30 targets in Reception NEP per target. He was the only receiver to average more than a full point, at 1.05 expected points per target on his 83 looks. The next leading receiver was Martavis Bryant at 0.95. Stills also held the top spot in 2013 when he had a Reception NEP per target of 1.16 on 50 targets.

Stills, though, has been held back by a calf injury early in training camp. The  injury is not expected to hold him out for an extended period of time -- he’s not likely to miss even preseason games -- but a leg injury of any sort is not ideal for the team’s primary deep threat. Training camp reviews -- take them how you will -- have been positive on the development on Tannehill’s deep ball, which would also be a boost to Stills’s usage.

Parker, despite his high pedigree, may be filling in the Brandon Gibson role because of an injury of his own. He had surgery on his foot back on June 5th, and his recovery time is still a question mark for the team. With the depth Miami does have at receiver, at least on paper, it may not be a need for the team to rush the rookie into the lineup, instead letting him recover fully.

The biggest question mark could be at tight end with Jordan Cameron. When healthy, Cameron has been one of the top receiving tight ends in the league, but a history with concussions has limited the amount he’s been healthy. He was only able to play in 10 games last season, and the concern among teams led him to sign a relatively cheap free agent deal with the Dolphins.  Cameron isn’t concerned with future concussion issues, but the concern never really comes until that next hit.

Outside of Landry, Greg Jennings is currently the healthiest receiver on the roster. During his age-31 season last year with Minnesota, Jennings still saw 92 targets and was fairly efficient, ranking 29th in Reception NEP per target out of 189 players with at least 30 targets. In an ideal world, Jennings would play last season’s Hartline role but, especially early in the season, Jennings could step in as that second option behind Landry before taking a back seat to the younger receivers on the squad.

There’s a lot of talent here, and at full healthy there’s going to be a lot of passes thrown to a lot of different receivers. The question now, and possibly into the season, will be health. Until then, whoever can get the field can potentially see the ball coming his way.