Mutualism: Offensive line and the Run game

A mutualistic relationship is when two things work together in harmony, each benefiting from the relationship. For the Dolphins the Offensive Line needs to be better.

The NFL is an ecosystem, in an ecosystem there are predators and bottom feeders.

In short, there are winners and losers every single year in the NFL and the ecosystem changes. For better or worse.

In Terms for the Miami Dolphins, you couldn’t have seen such a turnaround from 2019 to 2021. A team crafted out of street free agents, undrafted players and ageing veterans had the makings for predators to lick their chops.

It was trial by fire to see who could overcome and adapt harsh situation, and at times while trying to cool the flames, they would hinder themselves and the rest of the team.

The Defense struggles at times but found their footing, they went from prey to predator by learning and adapting to the environment.

2019

On the other hand, the offensive line is trying to find a footing to best handle it’s surroundings. At times in 2019 and 2020 there were inconsistencies. Some days the line was meshing well other days, well, they were fresh meat.

In this league you cannot have abysmal trench play, it hampers the running game and QB play. We all have seen how poorly the line played in 2019, the statistics tells a holistic story.

A Historic Rate

There are other metrics to gauge Offensive line play such as PFF’s pass/run block win rate. ESPN’s rate also shows it too.

Michael Dieter, who was a in 2019, finished as the team’s worst offensive linemen. Jesse Davis, who started 15 games, was the only other offensive linemen to make the list.

The team had the worst pass blocking scheme in the NFL. Trench play was absolutely abysmal and there were many instances where Ryan Fitzpatrick could not do anything.

Trickled down Economics

Running backs Kenyan Drake, Marl Walton, Myles Gaskin and Kalen Ballage could not even eclipse anywhere near 100 yards a game.

Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher for the team.

To say the least, the offensive line was a nagging parasite, harmful to the team overall.

Miami’s offense could not score to compete with its opponents, Defense on the field for more than 60+ snaps every week. As a team, the Dolphins could not function properly.

Sort of like eating gas station sushi to fill your hunger on a road trip, it does not end well.

2020

The good news about the offensive line was that it did not get worse. As a result of newly introduced reinforcements into the NFL landscape there were some improvements.

Helpful Vets

Jesse Davis has been the anchor of the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. As a rookie, he has played in 47 of the team’s 48 games. He’s been improving every year.

Ereck Flowers was brougth in as a Free Agent to plug the hole at Left Guard. He was an important piece to help Austin Jackson understand the NFL before going down with a season ending injury.

The Miami Dolphins have been looking for a solid center since Mike Pouncey left in 2018. They got one in Karras, who did a decent job protecting Fitzpatrick and Tua as the quarterbacks.

The Newbies

Some people may think that Jackson was drafted too high despite having played less games than other starters in college. He showed that he can play left tackle in the NFL, but is still very raw.

Kindley was given no reconsideration as a right guard in 2020. His ability to protect Tua’s blind side helped the team establish a running game that finally eclipsed over 100 yards in the final 6 games. Kindley shifted to left guard when Ereck Flowers went down.

Robert Hunt played on the right side as a right tackle alongside Solomon Kindley, protecting Tua’s blindside. Although Hunt was decent, his highest celling as a lineman looks to be a fixture at Right Guard.

Impact

Overall, the play was significantly better compared to 2019; however, it can always improve. Per PFF, the Dolphins offensive line was ranked 28th. A slight improvement over the worst rank in 2019.

Few teams invested more in improving the offensive line than the Dolphins did entering the 2020 season. They spent draft picks on Austin Jackson in the first round, Robert Hunt in the second round and Solomon Kindley in the fourth round — all who played more than 700 snaps in 2019.

An offensive line with three rookies, would struggle early on, but did improve slightly. Robert Hunt looked to be the best out of the bunch as his 76.4 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the regular season was 5th out of 37 right tackles.

2021

As Pre-season winds down we see glimpses of what this Dolphins offensive line could be, thus as it factors into offensive philosophy.

Scheme

Contrary to Ben Fennels point (I love ya ben) but the Offense looks to be a pass first offense. In theory, it will open up the run game.

In fundamentals of an RPO-based offense the offensive line has to consist of guards and tackles that can run block well. The top three run blockers on this offensive line consists of Soloman Kindley, Robert Hunt and rookie OL Liam Eichenberg.

Eichenberg has tried out playing Left Guard at camp but looks to fight Jesse Davis for the starting RT spot. He took first team reps at Right Tackle for the first time against Atlanta and looked consistent opening up holes in the run game.

“Eichenberg is an extremely solid, if unspectacular, tackle prospect. He saw his performance take a massive leap from his first to his second season as a starter. His pass-blocking grade went from 63.5 in 2018 to 85.6 last year and his run blocking grade from 60.8 to 78.8.”

PFF’s Mike Renner on Liam Eichenberg

Recipe for Success

I expect some growing pains on the offensive line to happen against the 3rd pre-season game against the Bengals and early on in the regular season. Furthermore, there has been a noticeable trend from since last year particularly on the right side of the line.

Last season on the right side proved it with the Combo of Hunt/Kindley as the running game was efficient running the ball to the right. Pass protection and the running game worked on Tua’s Blindside.

Thanks to some help from Kyle Crabbs and Sharp Football analysis, rushing YPC produced on the right side of the line.

It’s about fundamentals and execution this pre-season. If the entire line can stay disciplined, stay confident and build upon fundamentals, this OL will be even better.

Not only will it not harm the team but become another strength to push the Dolphins to the top of the NFL ecosystem.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

Prize Picks

PrizePicks operates in EVERY US state and Canada EXCEPT for the following: AZ CO DE HI ID IN IA LA MD ME MS MO MT NV NH NJ OH PA TN VA WA.

  • Use promo code “ATB” to receive a 100% instant deposit match up to $100
  • PrizePicks is the simplest fantasy game on the market.
  • You pick 2-5 players and can win up 10x on any entry.
  • PrizePicks has no sharks, optimizers, or mass-multi entry (It’s just you vs. the projection).
  • Allows mixed-sport entries (You can take the OVER on Lebron parlayed with the UNDER on Mahomes).
  • PrizePicks has a slick easy to use mobile app, both on the App Store and Google Play

How to use PrizePicks:

Who’s on the way out?

It’s the middle of June, which means it’s time to start looking at potential cuts for cap space purposes.

It’s the middle of June, which means it’s time to start looking at potential cuts for cap space purposes.

Things we should know: According to Jason Sarney of PhinManiacs, 22.58% of Miami’s money is allocated to the WR room and 26.49% is allocated to the DB’s. Surely we can expect that to change. The best way to reduce those numbers is to start in the WR room.

Jakeem Grant, WR

Grant brings on a cap hit of 4.6mil this season. If he is released now, Miami would save 4.08mil this season and take on just $600k in dead money. Sure, there are other WR’s Miami can cut before him, but when comparing his production to his pay, it’s not worth it. In 2020, Jakeem Grant only had a 66% catch percentage. He had plenty of costly drops throughout the season, but every Dolphins fan remembers this one from the game against Cincinnati.

Yes, that was bad. The only problem is, that isn’t a one time thing. This has been a problem for years, and it doesn’t seem to be improving.

Just last week, he dropped multiple passes from Tua during one practice session. He has shown immense talent as a PR/KR, but there are plenty of guys who can do that for the Dolphins. Maybe Miami can cut someone like Albert Wilson, but that would be solely for cap purposes. However, Wilson’s cap hit is just $500k more than Grant’s, which in Miami’s situation, is not enough to cut the better player.

Patrick Laird, RB

This isn’t really a wild prediction. He came in as an undrafted free-agent in 2019, and he likely made the roster because the team was being assembled to fail. Why he made the team doesn’t matter, because he did it again in 2020, and he showed some flashes of potential whenever he got on the field. In 2020, he had 13 carries for 72 yards, which is about 5.5 YPC. That’s a really good average, but that isn’t a large enough sample size at all.

With Myles Gaskin who carried most of the load last year, Salvon Ahmed who showed flashes of potential, the signing of Malcolm Brown, and drafting Gerrid Doaks from Cincinnati, Laird may be the odd man out. Cutting him would save the Dolphins $850k against the cap and take on just a $3k dead cap hit.

Patrick Laird is the Dolphins' only healthy tailback heading into Sunday's  game - South Florida Sun Sentinel - South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Clayton Fejedelem, S

Miami signed Fejedelem as a depth piece and special teams player last offseason, and as expected, that’s all he was. When it comes to pass defense, he isn’t much help at all, but he’s decent against the run. However, he didn’t get on the field much and only had 10 tackles all of last year. He’s due $2.53 million this season, which should be considered an overpay for what he does. Cutting him would save Miami all of that $2.53 million against the cap, and that could be used to sign someone later this summer.

Although his time in Miami may soon come to an end, all Dolphins fans are going to remember this fake punt versus Oakland for a long time.

Benito Jones, DL

Benito Jones spent most of his rookie year on the practice squad, but was active for 6 games. Through those 6 games, he played 48 snaps on defense and only managed to make one tackle. Although this isn’t a necessary cut, Miami can easily cut him and save $780k in cap space. He has potential, but the Fins have decent depth on the interior defensive line with John Jenkins, Adam Butler, Jonathan Ledbetter, and Jason Strowbridge. At worst he can be a Practice squad player.

Benito Jones Active Roster

Jesse Davis, OL

Jesse Davis is the least likely cut out of everyone mentioned in this article. Davis is versatile (he can play 4 of 5 positions on the OL) and experienced, spending the last 4 years in Miami. However, he will turn 30 in the beginning of the 2021 season. That makes him the 4th oldest player on the roster.

Davis adds depth, but with the signing of DJ Fluker and drafting of Liam Eichenberg, that need for depth slightly decreases. Davis spent the last four years on the Dolphins active roster, but has been average at best; In 2020, PFF rated him at 62.6, his highest grade ever. DJ Fluker is already 30, but he has been a really good linemen during his career, and PFF has rated him higher than Davis from 2017 through 2020.

Cutting Jesse Davis would save Miami $3.5 million against the cap, and bring a $1 million dead cap hit with the move. Although I wouldn’t expect this to happen, Miami could definitely do it to create some more cap space.

Dolphins place starting offensive lineman Jesse Davis on COVID-19 list -  South Florida Sun Sentinel - South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter.

2021 WR’s: A Room of Potential But Also Injury

The Dolphins needed a playmaker who could catch the ball.  Despite being the 8th highest paid receiving group in the league, the 2020 receivers ranked 25th in yards per reception, and 26th in 20+ yd completions . Now there is of course the argument that this is down to the play of Tua and his alleged “inability to play the ball downfield.”

As the 2020 season drew to a close in the most painstaking of ways, one thing was crystal clear, the Dolphins needed a playmaker who could catch the ball.  Despite being the 8th highest paid receiving group in the league, the 2020 receivers ranked 25th in yards per reception, and 26th in 20+ yd completions . Now there is of course the argument that this is down to the play of Tua and his alleged “inability to play the ball downfield.”

Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked that the Dolphins tied 9th worst in the league for dropped balls and according to NextGen stats were one of the worst units at gaining separation, with Devante Parker being tied for the worst in the NFL. With the additions of Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle along with the return of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns, it seems that the receiving room has gone from being somewhat lacking to brimming with potential. The question is, who misses out on making the final roster?

The No-Brainers

1. DeVante Parker– After an outstanding 2019 campaign where he helped drag the team to 5 wins, all hopes were on Parker to continue his form into 2020. Parker caught 67% of passes thrown his way for 793 yards and 4 TDs. There is no disputing Parker was WR1 last season and therefore heavily covered. Despite a league low 1.7 yds of separation, Parker is a contested catch specialist and managed to lead the team in receptions, yards , 20+ yard plays, first downs but unfortunately also in drops with 7. It is hoped that with the new additions, Parker will have even more opportunities to produce as DBs learn to respect the speed of Fuller and Waddle.

2. Will Fuller- Despite being suspended for the Week 1 opener @ New England, Fuller provides the speed and deep threat that the Dolphins have missed since Kenny Stills, if Stills ever was the answer. Dropped passes against Seattle still haunt us as fans. Despite some injury concerns, there is no disputing the levels of production. Despite starting only 11 games in a lackluster Texans team, Fuller racked up 879 yards and 8 TDs. Having missed voluntary OTAs, all eyes will be on Fuller at mandatory minicamp on June 15.

3. Jaylen Waddle- Given the post draft hype around the “perfect prospect” according to the Jags and many teams around the NFL, Waddle is certain to be a starting receiver. In his rookie season he will likely see most of his snaps in the slot with Parker and Fuller on the perimeter. Nevertheless, Coach Grizzard has expressed an intention to move all receivers around the field.

“We look at these guys for the versatility of all of them to play anything. We can move them around based on formation, so you will see different guys in the slot, and outside, its just more of the formation of it than actual like he is a “slot” receiver”

WR Coach Josh Grizzard speaking at the start of OTAs

At Alabama the duo of Tua and Waddle had a 74% completion percentage for an average of 16.6 YPC with a 137.9 passer rating. Although college stats are not necessarily an indicator of success at the pro level, Waddle has the freak speed and elusiveness to score from anywhere on the pitch and he is an immediate impact maker. 

The Likely Ones

4. Lynn Bowden Jr– Despite joining the team just one week before the season kicked off, Bowden got up to speed learning the playbook, eventually starting 10 games, stepping up when the team was hit with injuries. Although only making 28 receptions for 211 yards he offered a much needed level of consistency to the offense. Bowden has the instincts and abilities to play all over the offense, his abilities can seriously open up the Dolphins playbook with potential to deploy the wildcat formation along with Malcolm Perry. For an in depth view analysis into everything that Bowden offers I encourage you to read Hussam Patel’s recent article on him.

5. Preston Williams– If only he could stay healthy. Despite showing some promise with Tua after some drops earlier in the season, he remains the biggest unknown. When weighing production value against cost, Williams likely makes the team. With the additions that the Dolphins made this offseason his workload will likely be less, reducing his chances of sustaining injury, although he will inevitably be pushed down the depth chart.

The Main Competition

In 2020 the Dolphins went into the season with 7 WRs. At first thought the Dolphins would be wise to continue this, given how injury plagued the room was last season. However, with the introduction of Hunter Long to the TE room who all have their relative worth to the team, it may result in the Dolphins electing to roll with the conventional 6 receivers. The competition essentially falls on 3 players: Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns.

Following a recent video released by the Dolphins of Tua throwing the ball into tight coverage with Wilson making the reception, fans have been calling for Wilson to make the team. At this time Wilson appears to be the odds on favorite to make the roster; his speed, experience and YAC potential was something that the Dolphins greatly missed last season. However, his worth primarily in the slot may be overshadowed by that of Waddle and Bowden. If cut, Wilson would save $2.85m against the 2021 cap.

Allen Hurns appears to be the forgotten man. In 2019 he was 2nd on the team in yards per reception and had a completion percentage of 67% for 416 yds and 2 TDs. Hurns could play a similar yet improved role to that of Isaiah Ford in 2020.

Finally, Jakeem Grant the Second Team All-Pro kick returner went 36-54 for 373 yards and a TD. Expectations for Grant were high following his “I’m a receiver now” claim. However, it is somewhat strange given his speed and elusiveness in the return game he has never been able to fully translate that as a receiver. Grant has the biggest chance of being a cap casualty with a saving of over $4 million.

Outside Looking In

It is perhaps unfair to not include Mack Hollins as being part of the main competition given his value on special teams. Hollins’ season was captivated by a few plays including his TD catch from Tua vs Cardinals, the catch against the Raiders and ending Stephon Gilmore’s season. If Hollins does not make the final roster there is a chance he makes it to the practice squad; although I believe he has shown enough in big games to be claimed by another team. If that is the case the Dolphins’ locker room will have lost a big character.

Malcolm Perry is another anomaly. Although unlikely to make the team as a receiver, given his potential as a Swiss army knife in this offense, there is a growing speculation that he makes the roster as the final roster as a RB, most likely at the cost of Patrick Laird. Robert Foster also appears to be an odd one out. Last season he only played in 4 games with two receptions. Given the potential of the room it makes it very unlikely that he makes the final roster. As of this time it seems that the futures of Kirk Merritt and Kai Locksley will unfortunately be confined to the practice squad.

All things considered, when healthy the Dolphins now have a top 10 receiving core. A fascinating combination of speed, elusiveness and ability to make plays in tight coverage. In theory everything that you would want from a group of receivers, as long as they can stay on the field. How that room eventually looks come Week 1 will remain to be seen, all eyes will be on minicamp and training camp to see how this competition unfolds. Fins Up!

Follow Bradley Davies on Twitter: