The Hidden Wrinkle in the Miami Dolphins Run Game

The Miami Dolphins significantly improved their offensive line, but it is their weaponry that could drastically improve their run game.

Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are preparing for their Week 1 matchup with the Patriots, and are doing so with some significant questions surrounding the team. However, none are bigger than the identity of their run game.

First year head coach Mike McDaniel’s run scheme, which he brings over from San Francisco, is lauded for both creativity and effectiveness. Whether it’s the variety of different looks, designed cutback lanes, or use of weapons such as Deebo Samuel, his ability to draw up successful run plays is a large part of what landed him the Miami job. Although, there is much work to do.

Miami’s offensive line had significant questions after finishing second-to-last in yards per carry in 2021, and even in adding high quality talent in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, there remains cause for concern.

However, Mike McDaniel and Chris Grier have built this team in such a way where the offensive line isn’t the only advantage needed in the run game. It is the horizontal stretching, specifically by the deadly combo of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, that will keep defenses guessing.

Two High Safeties

Perhaps the most obvious effect of having two of the fastest receivers in the league is how defenses will play their safeties. Putting one high, which was really effective against both the run game and the short pass against the Miami Dolphins in 2021 won’t work this year. There are simply too many deep options that, even if teams don’t respect Tua Tagovailoa’s ability, he should be able to hit one every so often against one high safety.

Thus, teams will have to move back into two-high shells, which, in turn, takes one man out of the box. With a team that plans to run a lot of 11 personnel, it’s very possible we see a numbers advantage for the Miami Dolphins run game.

Not to mention, this also opens up the middle of the field, which is where Tua does his best work, as well as where Tyreek and Waddle have thrived.

Horizontal Stretching

Just as important as stretching out the defense vertically is what you can do from sideline-to-sideline. The Miami Dolphins are in a perfect situation to stretch defenses horizontally with their run game.

Not only will teams primarily have two high safeties on the field, they will have to protect the perimeter. This not only opens up the middle of the field, but also effectively takes those safeties out of a potential run play. Defenses will need to dedicate at least three defenders to the combination of Waddle and Hill (bracket one, put the best cornerback on the other). When combined with lighter boxes in scenarios where Miami trots out slot receiver Cedrick Wilson, it’s nearly impossible to stop all of the dynamic athletes.

For instance, picture this potential play in your head. Miami comes out in 20 personnel in the shotgun, with Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert to his left and right, Hill and Waddle on the perimeter, and Wilson in the slot. Teams already have to come out in a lighter package to account for the third receiver. However, if you send Edmonds on a bubble motion, that now draws out another defender from the box.

This now leaves an even lighter box for an offensive line that already creates numbers advantages through pulls, along with one of the fastest running backs in the league in Mostert with open gaps. Miami may not come out in gun often, but the point still stands. The opportunity to generate explosive plays in the run game should be there in this offense.

The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins Run Game

Miami’s offensive line, no matter the external factors, must succeed this season. Tua Tagovailoa has demonstrated severe drop-off when consistently pressured, and we already know how the run game is affected.

However, their job may be a little easier knowing defenses have to account for a litany of weapons, headlined by two of the fastest players in the NFL. It will certainly be interesting to see how Mike McDaniel employs his players and scheme in such a way that can stretch out defenses in Week 1 and beyond.

Miami Dolphins 53-Man Roster Prediction: Offense

With a new look offensive system, featuring plenty of new and exciting additions, which players will make the final 53 man roster? Dolphins ATB breakdown the key roster battles ahead of the final pre-season game.

Credit Miami Dolphins- Roster
Mandatory Credit: Miami Dolphins

In years gone by, Miami’s offense has been stagnant to say the least. While the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle attract all of the headlines, a team is only as good as the depth it has on the roster. We break down which players will constitute the much anticipated Mike McDaniel offense in Miami, and who we think makes the Dolphins final 53-man roster.

Miami Dolphins 53-Man Roster Prediction: Offense

Quarterbacks

  • QB1- Tua Tagovailoa- Lock
  • QB2- Teddy Bridgewater- Lock
  • QB3- Skylar Thompson One to watch

It is somewhat surprising how little we have heard about Teddy Bridgewater during training camp, with Tua taking all of the headlines, both good and bad.

Rather, the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Skylar Thompson. The Dolphins’ 7th round draft pick has been both impressive and consistent throughout the Dolphins’ first two preseason games. During his first two outings in the aqua and orange, Thompson has gone 29/38 for 347 yards, 2 TDs and no picks.

“He looks like he belongs out there. He looks like if he got a call, he would be ready to go…The skill set we saw on tape is what we really liked. The makeup of the guy and the work ethic he has, has enabled him to do what he’s doing. The skill set is there…His feet speak to him and tell when the ball is supposed to be out and where it’s supposed to go. He’s really buying into the details.”

Dolphins’ QB Coach- Darrell Bevell was full of praise while talking about Skylar Thompson during this week’s media availability.

Thompson’s impressive performances have led many to question Bridgewater’s value on the Miami Dolphins 53-man roster, seeing the former Saints QB as a tradeable asset. For the time being at least, Bridgewater is expected to stay with Miami, leaving the Dolphins with the very difficult question of what to do with Thompson.

Available roster spots are few and far between. Miami has not carried three QBs on their final roster since the 2018 season with Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, and David Fales.

Thompson will not likely see the field during the 2022 season. However, if released, it is very likely that Thompson will not clear waivers, having shown enough to be picked up by another team.

In recent years, Miami has committed on average $6 million per year to their back-up QB. With cap space likely to be more of a concern from 2023 onwards with big deals for Hill and Armstead to account for, it may be that Thompson will be a cheaper alternative to acquiring a rental journeyman QB once more.

Running Back /Full Back

  • Chase Edmonds- Lock
  • Alec Ingold- Lock
  • Raheem Mostert- Likely Lock
  • Myles Gaskin/ Salvon Ahmed- Ones to Watch

Miami’s running back depth is perhaps one of the biggest questions heading into the final preseason game. The battle between Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed being the biggest unknown in relation to who makes the Miami Dolphins’ final 53-man roster. Gaskin was consistently the Dolphins’ best running back during the Brian Flores era; his productivity in an otherwise stagnant offense gives him the slight edge on Ahmed.

ZaQuandre White most likely will make it to the practice squad, and may feature during the season given Mostert’s injury history.

Wide Receiver

  • Tyreek Hill- Lock
  • Jaylen Waddle- Lock
  • Erik Ezukanma- Lock
  • Cedrick Wilson- Lock
  • Trent Sherfield- Ones to Watch
  • Lynn Bowden Jr- Ones to Watch

While the above players are locks to make the team for their contributions on offense, the remaining roster spots will most likely be influenced by a player’s contributions to special teams. Lynn Bowden’s all round versatility as a receiver, rusher, returner, and even in the passing game, ought to earn him a roster spot.

The Trent Sherfield/River Cracraft battle is likely to be fiercely contested. Let us not forget that Cracraft was an early recipient of the infamous orange jersey. However, Sherfield’s contributions during camp and overall explosiveness give him the edge.

Preston Williams is likely to be cut, with Braylon Sanders hopefully making his way to the practice squad following an impressive training camp.

Tight End

  • Mike Gesicki- Question Mark
  • Durham Smythe- Lock
  • Hunter Long- Lock

TE was one of Miami’s biggest strengths, now it is one of their biggest unknowns. One thing is for sure: Cethan Carter is almost an inevitability to be cut. Durham Smythe and Hunter Long have been quiet throughout camp. Undrafted free agent Tanner Conner has impressed, however his immediate future seems destined for the practice squad.

What Miami does with Mike Gesicki remains to be seen. It is likely that he will stay, however, one thing is clear: something is not right. Gesicki has been quiet all offseason and has featured long into preseason games, while other starters have been on limited snap counts. Check out fellow Dolphins ATB writer Tim Rodriguez’s article addressing the latest rumors surrounding the star tight end.

Offensive Line

  • Terron Armstead- Lock
  • Connor Williams- Lock
  • Robert Hunt- Lock
  • Liam Eichenberg- Lock
  • Austin Jackson- Lock
  • Michael Deiter- Lock
  • Robert Jones- Likely
  • Solomon Kindley- One to Watch

Here we go again… At least it can’t get any worse… yet! There is no disputing that the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams have certainly bolstered an otherwise woeful offensive line.

With Williams repeatedly struggling with snapping consistency, Michael Deiter has to be a lock to make the final roster in the event that Williams needs to shift back over to LG. The biggest concern has to be at tackle in the event that Armstead goes down. The Dolphins have a lot of versatility on the interior offensive line — not so much at tackle. McDaniel and GM Chris Grier may elect for further depth at tackle in the form of Larnel Coleman rather than Solomon Kindley.

Could the Miami Dolphins Trade for Kareem Hunt?

Kareem Hunt has been rumored to be traded, and a trade to the Miami Dolphins could potentially be a possibility.

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.

Kareem Hunt is rumored to potentially 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

Had these rumors circulated earlier in the offseason, Miami would have made sense. They were clearly looking for veteran contributors, and had lost Duke Johnson, who saw significant touches late in the year.

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.

What Sony Michel Brings to the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have signed running back Sony Michel, and his role is one the team was desperately looking for.

The Miami Dolphins signed former Patriots running back Sony Michel on Monday. Following a brief stint in Los Angeles, the Broward Native will be coming back to play in his home state.

Miami Dolphins sign Sony Michel.

Following a solid first couple seasons in New England, 2020 was a rough year for Michel. Battling injury, he only played in nine games, racking up just over 200 yards.

However, when Rams running back Cam Akers went down, Los Angeles called about the struggling back, whose job was being taken over by Damien Harris. Michel was thus dealt for a pair of day three picks, and began to revitalize his career in Los Angeles.

Under offensive mastermind Sean McVay, Michel saw his role expanded. While he was mainly seen as a power back in New England, there were several skills that were uncovered in his game.

Outside Zone and Pass Protection

Rather than running between the tackles, McVay’s system (very similarly to Mike McDaniel’s), calls for more outside zone run. This put more emphasis on his ability to make quick cuts and find cutback lanes, which was rarely seen during his tenure in New England.

Sony Michel makes a big run.

Michel appeared to have regained some burst following his injury, and it showed in his speed. He was more decisive than ever, and was making quick moves, turning big holes into bigger gains.

This is crucial for a Dolphins offense that, under the aforementioned McDaniel, is basing their offense in the inside zone. They signed running backs Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in free agency, but they both fit more niche roles, and Miami still needed an early down back.

Michel can bring exactly that. His mixture of power and a newfound knack for hitting the hole is a match made in heaven for McDaniel. Running behind a left side of new additions in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams should open up several lanes that Michel has shown the ability to hit.

Michel’s collaboration with Miami’s linemen won’t stop there. Coming from a New England scheme that emphasizes the little things, Miami’s new addition takes pride in his pass protection. He has shown an aggressiveness and, just as importantly, a willingness to take a hit to protect his quarterback. The Miami Dolphins struggled to protect Tua last year, and that could soon change with Sony Michel in his backfield.

Sony Michel makes a huge block against the Bucs.

The Bottom Line on the Sony Michel and the Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are clearly committed to the “running back by committee” approach, and they now have the backs to do it. The three newcomers join Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who have both shown spurts of starting-caliber production.

However, this doesn’t mean that the Michel pickup isn’t significant. While Edmonds and Mostert are talented, Miami was lacking an early-down back. With this signing, they now have someone who can run between the tackles and take the tough hits, while also being able to perform on outside-zone concepts.

Michel’s versatility and willingness to do the little things will come in handy for a Dolphins team that looks to be in win-now mode this season.

Free Agency Preview: Miami Dolphins’ Running Back Dilemma

Dolphins ATB breaks down the Dolphins’ free agency strategy in addressing their current problems at the running back position.

Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin takes a hand-off from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Category Dolphins’ RankingMike McDaniel’s 49ers Ranking
Rushing Yards29th 7th
Yards per Carry31st 17th
Rushing TD24th5th
20+ Yard Carries29th9th
Rushing 1st Downs27th8th
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.

Younger Options?

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.

Conclusion

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!

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