There was probably equal parts skepticism and excitement for Mike McDaniel's first season as the Dolphins' head coach, but he turned them into one of the most terrifying offenses in the league for long stretches of 2022. The key now is figuring out how to sustain that for an entire season now that the league has it all on tape, and that might be as simple as keeping Tua Tagovailoa healthy.
Which might not be so simple.
Record: 9-8 (11)
PPG: 23.4 (11)
YPG: 364.5 (6)
Pass YPG: 265.4 (4)
Rush YPG: 99.2 (25)
PAPG: 34.4 (13)
RAPG: 22.9 (31)
2022 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 24.1
That's how many Fantasy points Tagovailoa averaged in the 11 games he didn't leave early due to injury. And, of course, there's this:
17-game pace for Tua Tagovailoa's 12 full games:— Chris Towers …Is A Real Boy (@CTowersCBS) May 30, 2023
Tyreek Hill: 172 targets, 119 catches, 1,768 yards, 10 TD
Jaylen Waddle: 124-79-1,514-11
I don't want to say the Dolphins had a simple game plan last season, because McDaniel's offense had plenty of wrinkles to keep things interesting, but they didn't overcomplicate things. The Dolphins lined up in either 20 or 21 personnel -- that is, two running backs and either two or three wide receivers -- on 453 snaps last season, the second-highest number in the league behind only the Ravens. However, while the Ravens ran the ball 64.4% of the time in those sets, the Dolphins threw it 46.9%, of the time, the seventh-highest mark in the NFL.
That meant that Hill and Waddle were often the only downfield receiving options in the passing game, leading to a remarkably concentrated passing attack, despite both Waddle and Hill routinely earning targets down the field. They used a lot of motion and RPO concepts, but the Dolphins' game plan otherwise often boiled down to this simple fact: "Our guys are faster than your guys."
And that might be enough. At least, as long as Tagovailoa stays healthy. This should be one of the best offenses in the league once again, but it's hard to invest too fully in them after watching Tagovailoa's scary concussion issues last season. This could be the most explosive offense in the NFL if Tagovailoa stays healthy. Like the Dolphins offense, that problem isn't necessarily a complex one, but it isn't a simple one either, unfortunately.
52RB carries, 23 RB targets, 65 WR targets, 52 TE targets
Rankings and projections
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Tua Tagovailoa||PA: 580, YD: 4464, TD: 29, INT: 12; RUSH -- ATT: 41, YD: 163, TD: 2|
|RB||Raheem Mostert||CAR: 123, YD: 531, TD: 3; TAR: 46, REC: 35, YD: 261, TD: 1|
|RB||De'Von Achane||CAR: 123, YD: 539, TD: 3; TAR: 29, REC: 22, YD: 174, TD: 1|
|RB||Jeff Wilson||CAR: 123, YD: 545, TD: 3; TAR: 35, REC: 26, YD: 196, TD: 1|
|WR||Tyreek Hill||TAR: 162, REC: 109, YD: 1414, TD: 10|
|WR||Jaylen Waddle||TAR: 133, REC: 84, YD: 1172, TD: 7|
|TE||Durham Smythe||TAR: 46, REC: 35, YD: 289, TD: 2|
Can Tua Tagovailoa stay healthy?
You already saw the stats. You know how important this one is. In Tagovailoa's 12 full games, Tyreek Hill was on pace for 119 catches, 1,769 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 21 PPR points per game; Jaylen Waddle's 17-game pace was 79 catches, 1,514 yards, 11 touchdowns and 17.4 PPR points. Of course, Tagovailoa missed a bunch of time with several scary concussions, and that concern is going to linger over him moving forward. This offense has huge potential, but it's going to be tough to live up to that if it's Mike White under center. One bonus question: How long does it take De'Von Achane to become the lead RB? It might happen by Week 1 given his explosiveness and how much that clearly matters to this coaching staff.
One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
The thing about Achane is, despite his size (5-foot-9, 188 pounds), he was actually a willing and able inside runner at the collegiate level. The 4.32 speed catches the eye, obviously, but it wasn't all on tosses and sweeps -- he ran hard between the tackles and did so effectively. Can he do that at the NFL level? Well, that's a very different question, and I tend to think the answer is that he'll likely never get a chance to do it enough to be a legitimate three-down back. But it's not entirely without precedent, with a 191-pound Chris Johnson the obvious comp, at least physically -- Johnson had 41 more touches in his final season in college than Achane, though Achane's 23.2 touches per game actually edges out Johnson's 21.0. Achane is unlikely to ever be that good in the NFL, but he doesn't need to to be a good pick this season. The Dolphins clearly value getting as much speed on the field as possible, and Achane has an overabundance of that. Mostert and Wilson are plenty fast, too, but if Achane lives up to his potential, neither should be much of a hurdle. There's a chance Achane's price (RB42, 127.32 overall in NFC ADP as of July 19) skyrockets after a preseason game or two.
Tagovailoa left Week 3 briefly in a game where the Dolphins won despite playing very few snaps, and then he left Week 4 early with a concussion. Take out those two games, and here's what his 17-game pace looks like: 5,026 yards, 37 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 24.1 Fantasy points per game. And that's including a Week 16 showing where he was intercepted three times and was diagnosed with a concussion after the game. Tagovailoa was tremendous in his first season in the new offense, and that was while dealing with quite a lot of issues even when he was on the field. He probably doesn't have the upside of the high-end quarterbacks, but Tagovailoa could challenge Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert for the top of the next tier of Fantasy quarterbacks.
I don't actually think Hill is going to be a bust, but you've gotta acknowledge the risk here, right? He's a 29-year-old wide receiver whose quarterback had three concussions last season and could be one bad hit away from not playing. I hate to harp on that, and I hope Tagovailoa stays healthy for the rest of a very long career, but that is the cloud hanging over this Dolphins offense. Waddle shares the same risk, obviously, but since Hill is being drafted higher, he's the bigger risk. The good news? Hill still averaged 15.7 points per game in the four without Tagovailoa, so I still think he'd be startable.