The Miami Dolphins have made several moves at the running back position this offseason, agreeing to terms with free agents Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel. However, more backs appear to be available, with Kareem Hunt topping the list of backs available to the Miami Dolphins.
Hunt’s trade rumors have begun to circulate following the Browns’ recent backfield moves. After already signing Nick Chubb to an extension last year, they drafted Jerome Ford in the fifth round and gave D’Ernest Johnson (who impressed last year) an extension of his own.
This leaves Hunt, who only has one year left on his deal, as the potential odd man out. While Hunt and Chubb have certainly been a dynamic duo, Cleveland clearly wants to utilize their young pieces. This may leave the former Chiefs star wanting more touches, and thus, being moved. On top of this, Hunt has been “holding in” at practice. Rumors say that he either wants a raise or to be traded.
The Miami Dolphins, who have had a talent deficiency at running back over the last two seasons, were naturally connected to Hunt, and for good reason. His ability to make plays out of the backfield is among the best in the league, and provides a dynamic skillset the team has lacked.
Is it Practical?
However, I mentioned earlier, the Dolphins have already made several moves at their running back position. These signings clearly have them leaning towards a running back by committee, similar to Mike McDaniel’s San Francisco scheme. This makes little sense for Hunt, however, who is already coming from a similar situation. While Hunt would be the most talented back, he would still have to split touches with at least three others. That likely wouldn’t work for Hunt, who would seek an increased workload and more money if he was to be moved. Miami likely has already allocated too many assets to other backs to put money and picks into a Hunt trade.
The Bottom Line on Kareem Hunt and the Miami Dolphins
However, the timing is at it’s worst for Miami. Hunt is extremely talented, and likely will see high production wherever he goes, it’s just unlikely to be with Miami. Their room is simply too crowded for someone who will demand the touches that Hunt does. They have the capital to make the deal, but already have allocated so many assets to the position.
Miami has more than capable backs in Mostert, Edmonds, Michel, Myles Gaskin and Savlon Ahmed, and we can expect to see them divvy up touches come the start of the season.
There is no doubting the Dolphins’ running game has been underwhelming to say the least for many years. Not since Jay Ajayi have the Dolphins had a running back that brought a degree of excitement to the fan base.
Mike McDaniel brings hope to many fans that he can be the one that restores a complementary running game to Tua and the Dolphins offense which heavily features the RPO.
The Brian Flores running back committee was hardly successful.
Mike McDaniel’s 49ers Ranking
Yards per Carry
20+ Yard Carries
Rushing 1st Downs
The 49ers achieved this production despite only spending $8.8 million on all of their RBs in 2021.
Despite this production, The Dolphins enter the offseason with somewhat of a dilemma at running back. At this time, Myles Gaskin continues to be RB1 on the roster.
Many fans are also keen to bring back Duke Johnson, whose positive play towards to closing stages of last season helped the Dolphins recover from their terrible 1-7 start to finish 9-8.
Salvon Ahmed has recently been tendered, and many people also regard Phillip Lindsay as being a good fit in McDaniel’s zone rushing scheme.
The Dolphins are heavily predicted to finally select a premiere running back in this year’s draft, with Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III predicted to be key target of Miami’s.
There is clearly a need to improve at the position, but will it be through new additions in free agency?
Miami needs to be proactive and aggressive in bolstering their running back core this offseason.
Who may those additions be and what will they cost?
Raheem Mostert- Estimated $2-3 Million P/Y
Raheem Mostert is the somewhat obvious choice given his familiarity in Mike McDaniel’s running scheme. Despite a season ending knee injury last season, Mostert is predicted to make a full recovery in time for the 2022 season.
Over the course of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Mostert rushed for 1,293 yards averaging 5.3 YPC, 10 rush TDs, 336 receiving yards and three receiving TDs. His vision and big-play home run speed have been key factors in his success, and would complement the Dolphins current RB core.
However, Mostert is nearing 30 and coming off a significant injury, which my affect his performance and overall value on the market.
Nevertheless, Mostert has been described as a McDaniel guy, and is largely considered a natural fit for Miami to help implement McDaniel’s running system in South Florida.
Leonard Fournette – Estimated $6.1 Million P/Y
Lombardi Lenny, Playoff Lenny, whatever you want to call him, he is another name that has been heavily linked with Miami in the past. While he is the more expensive choice, the Dolphins have the cap space to make it work.
Fournette has consistently produced throughout his career. In his five years in the NFL, Fournette has rushed for nearly 4,000 yards, 31 rushing TDs, 1,696 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs. In 2021 Fournette rushed for 812 yards, averaging 4.5 YPC and eight TDs.
Unlike Mostert, Fournette has only just turned 27 years of age. However, the toll on his body should not be overstated, with nearly 1000 carries and 239 receptions, mainly attributable to being the workhorse back in Jacksonville.
In a Dolphins’ offense that is predicted to be run first, Fournette could quickly become a focal point of that offense. Nevertheless, if we want to see Playoff Lenny, Miami needs to get there first.
Melvin Gordon- Estimated $5.2 Million P/Y
When the Denver Broncos jumped the Dolphins in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Javonte Williams, it may have paved the way for the Dolphins to acquire Melvin Gordon in free agency.
In his seven years in the NFL, like Fournette, he has consistently produced with over 6,000 rushing yards, averaging over four yards per carry, and 53 rushing TDs. Gordon is also a threat in the passing game with over 2,200 receiving yards and 14 TDs.
One area of concern is that with nearly 1500 carries and approaching the age of 29, is Gordon the right man for Miami to invest in? In his seven years in the league he has missed 14 games to injury.
The Dolphins had interest in Gordon during the draft, and again in 2020 when he hit free agency, but elected to go with the cheaper option of Jordan Howard. Look how that worked out… While he clearly remains a capable starting back, the time may have passed for the Dolphins to make their move.
If there are concerns as to the age and long-term durability of the above mentioned players, then the following players may be an alternative for Miami:
Ronald Jones- Estimated $2.7 Million P/Y
Despite being largely replaced as RB1 in Tampa by Leonard Fournette, Jones has remained productive rushing for 2,130 yards over the past three seasons, returning 17 rushing TDs. Jones has averaged 4.5 YPC in his early career.
In 2020 Jones’ 978 yards on the ground were the 11th-most rushing yards among running backs in 2020. His 5.1 yards per attempt was good enough for fifth-best in the NFL among running backs with at least 137 carries.
This came to be despite Jones playing an average of just 48% of snaps through 14 games; ten percent less on average than the 10 running backs ranked above him.
Jones is coming off a nagging ankle injury that he sustained late in the season, however, the biggest upside to Jones is his age. Jones is only 24 years of age, therefore has a lot of football left in him.
In a Mike McDaniel run scheme his career could swing in a positive direction, if he can establish himself as RB1 in Miami. He has a solid skill set with an ability to break off long runs at any time. Jones represents a low risk, with potentially very high upside for the Dolphins.
Marlon Mack- Estimated $2.5 Million P/Y
With the introduction of Jonathan Taylor, an MVP caliber player, Marlon Mack is somewhat the forgotten man in Indianapolis; largely due to the amount of time missed through injury. Mack suffered a season ending Achilles tear in week one of the 2020 season, followed by only thirty touches in 2021 in six games.
Mack broke out with the Colts in his second season, rushing for 908 yards and nine touchdowns — in only 12 games. In 2019 Mack followed this up finishing with 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns across 14 games.
Mack is only 26 years of age, and for the most part has missed the last two seasons. A one-year rental where Mack can prove that he can still be a lead back may be an option for both parties. Mack has a high ceiling, but his injury history should not be overstated.
Addressing the running back position is a key focus for the Dolphins this offseason. The 2021 core was underwhelming at best, but many fans wish to re-sign Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. If so, the Dolphins may not wish to improve within free agency and instead focus on the draft.
However, many thought this would be the case in the past two seasons, and look how that turned out. The direction they go remains to be seen, but it will not be long before we find out. Fins Up!
The Miami Dolphins, after starting 1-7, have managed to win six straight, and are now in the thick of the playoff rates. The most recent win, coming against the New York Jets, showed a different side of the offensive unit.
For the first time this season, Miami had a 100 yard rusher, and while many saw Myles Gaskin filling that role, the one who completed that feat was none other than University of Miami alum Duke Johnson.
In the 93rd game of Johnson’s career, he was able to amass 107 yards and two touchdowns, his first time achieving either in his career.
It was through his rushing prowess that Miami was able to survive a lackluster passing performance and put together yet another win.
However, Johnson’s biggest impact doesn’t come from just his own ability. While important, his impact on other players, specifically other running backs, opens up Miami’s offense in a new way.
The NFL season is widely regarded as a “war of attrition”. Analysts and former players cite the beatdown of the previous weeks as a major struggle. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for players to get close to the shape they were before the season.
Specifically, the toll of the running back position is grueling. A workhorse back may carry the ball 20+ times a game, with more contact reps in receiving and pass-blocking. In short, running backs are being hit more often than other skill positions, and it sets in late in the season.
Thus, it becomes important to find “fresh legs” in time for the playoffs. Players who are in good enough shape to produce while also helping to keep other players healthy by splitting carries.
This gives Miami more freedom to give Johnson workhorse-like reps, keeping their backfield healthy and fresh. The mix of Johnson, Lindsay, Gaskin, and Ahmed gives four capable runners in a system that thrives in RPO looks.
Although, it was clear the Brown signing didn’t work out, as he went on IR early and struggled to produce in Miami’s system. Without him, Miami lacked a power back and someone who could thrive between the tackles.
The signing of Johnson, although new, seems to have fixed some of those issues. His ability to keep his legs driving while sustaining contact leads to solid gains, even with an inconsistent offensive line.
Against New York, Johnson broke eight tackles and looked more than capable of being a short-yardage option. This means Gaskin and Ahmed can be used for their proper roles, making big plays on zone runs and passing plays.
The drive to compete, on a team level, is the biggest principle in all of sports. However, the competition for playing time and success within an organization can be just as heated.
NFL coaches, especially Brian Flores, push the idea of bringing guys in to have them compete. Along with potentially getting a new contributor, the threat of fewer snaps can bring the best out of others. This principle is no different with the addition of Duke Johnson.
Coming from Washington as a seventh-round pick, it’s clear that Myles Gaskin, the previous starter, has an underdog mentality. In his three years in the league, he has been able to rise up the depth chart and become a prominent face in Miami’s backfield. Thus, I believe the addition of Johnson will only help him as a player.
The underdog stature is one common in Miami’s running back room, as Johnson, drafted in the third round, is the only one drafted that high. The internal competition on having someone to work with and against will bring the best out of this group.
The Bottom Line
Duke Johnson looked like a legitimate NFL starter in his first game, and it comes at an opportune time. Miami faces three tough defenses to close out the year, likely needing to win out to get into the playoffs. With a competent run game, these strong units can’t hone in on the short passing game, which Miami thrives with.
It’s not only his production, but the other elements that Miami hopes to maximize in order to give this team the late-season surge they need to make the postseason. The addition of Johnson paying dividends now, and Dolphins fans have good reason to believe it may in the foreseeable future.