This article is part of our Team Previews series.
If Ryan Tannehill can continue to progress and Jay Ajayi can prove that his 2016 breakout season wasn't a fluke, Miami's offense could be formidable. Especially if DeVante Parker blossoms. Meanwhile, the team's front seven on defense is solid, but the secondary is still a work in progress.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
TOTING THE ROCK
Following the departure of the often-underutilized Lamar Miller after he led the team with 872 rushing yards in 2015, it appeared as though Jay Ajayi would have an opportunity to step into a featured role. That possibility was stalled, however, when the team signed four-time Pro Bowler Arian Foster last July. Injury woes, which hastened Foster's departure from Houston, cropped up again, and he ended up seeing action in just four games for Miami. By Week 5, the Dolphins had no choice but to unleash Ajayi, and he responded with back-to-back games in which he ran for more than 200 yards. Overall, though he only started 12 games, Ajayi racked up 1,272 rushing yards and eight TDs on 260 carries over the course of 15 contests in 2016. Despite his outstanding collegiate production, Ajayi slipped to the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft due to concerns regarding the long-term health of his right knee. So far, he's put those worries to rest and is now poised to increase his workload. With that in mind, coach Adam Gase suggested this offseason that Ajayi could earn as many as 350 rushing attempts in 2017 if he stays healthy. Damien Williams remains in reserve but isn't a threat to supplant Ajayi. Meanwhile, Kenyan Drake's kick-return prowess was evident last season, but the second-year player profiles as a change-of-pace back.
PRIME TIME FOR PARKER
If DeVante Parker finally can get past the aches and pains that slowed his progress over his first two seasons as a pro, the Dolphins' passing game could emerge as a worthy complement to the team's burgeoning running attack. With Jarvis Landry established as an effective high-volume target and Kenny Stills having tapped into his potential, a healthy Parker would round out a very dangerous wideout trio. At 6-3, 209 pounds, Parker, who was the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, projects as a No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins. Approaching training camp in good health, Parker is eager to demonstrate that he can consistently produce at a level commensurate with his abundant talent. The early signs on that front have been encouraging, with the 24-year-old reportedly taking better care of his body and looking sharp in his offseason workouts. Parker was actually second on the team in receptions (56) and receiving yards (744) in 2016, and there's an arrow pointing upward here from a fantasy perspective, as he embarks on his third NFL campaign, a juncture at which young pass catchers often take off. Rounding out Miami's wideout corps are Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, Rashawn Scott and Isaiah Ford, but none are likely to make much of an impact so long as the team's top-three options can stay on the field.
NO DOUBTING (JULIUS) THOMAS
Back-to-back 12-TD efforts with the Broncos led to Thomas landing a five-year, $46 million deal with the Jaguars after the 2014 season. What do those two seasons have in common? Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was the QB throwing him the ball. With Blake Bortles under center, Thomas' results weren't so impressive, with the tight end admitting candidly that Jacksonville wasn't a good fit for him. After a March trade that reunited him with coach Adam Gase, Thomas' offensive coordinator while the two were in Denver, there's optimism that the 29-year-old pass catcher can reboot his career. Thomas is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 campaign in which he was limited to 30 catches for 281 yards and four TDs through nine contests. While hand, ankle and back issues plagued his two years in Jacksonville, Thomas declared in May with regard to his health that "this is the best" he's ever felt. While we tend to take that sort of medical self-diagnosis from athletes with a grain of salt, Thomas believes that the on-field adversity he's dealt with of late has prepared him for a bounce back. He'll be catching passes from Ryan Tannehill this coming season, which should help his cause. Moreover, with both Dion Sims and Jordan Cameron no longer in the mix, Thomas is firmly atop the Dolphins' tight end depth chart.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill missed the last three games of the 2016 regular season as well as the team's opening-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh due to a sprained MCL and partially torn ACL. The QB didn't need surgery, however, and is slated to return to action for season two under coach Adam Gase, while sporting a fitted brace to protect his left knee.
RISING: Jay Ajayi
It's difficult to believe that the Dolphins didn't know what they had in Ajayi last year, with Arian Foster initially tabbed to start. Ajayi proved to be a tough, between-the-tackle runner with the speed to break long runs.
FALLING: Jarvis Landry
The knock on Landry has always been the same – he'll catch plenty of passes but doesn't get huge chunks of yardage in his role out of the slot. He's still a PPR factor, but DeVante Parker could cut into his value in standard formats.
SLEEPER: Kenny Stills
There's justifiably plenty of focus on Landry and Parker, who the team hopes can emerge in 2017. Stills did catch nine TDs last season, though. His big-play ability gives him sneaky value in deeper fantasy leagues.
KEY JOB BATTLE – SECOND WIDE RECEIVER
It remains to be seen who will emerge as Miami's number two wide receiver behind Jarvis Landry, who has averaged 96 receptions per season since arriving in the NFL. Will it be Kenny Stills, who had a career season in 2016 with 726 receiving yards and nine touchdowns? Or will it be DeVante Parker, who so many pundits are tabbing as a breakout candidate? Stills has proven to be a reliable deep threat and could keep opposing safeties off the line of scrimmage, but Parker is expected to be the more dynamic option. Either way, how Ryan Tannehill distributes passes among the above trio and tight end Julius Thomas will go a long way toward determining how dangerous the Miami offense will be this season.
Julius Thomas – TE (from Jaguars)
Looking to re-establish himself after a disappointing stop with the Jags.
Anthony Fasano – TE (from Titans)
Mostly a blocker these days, returns for a second stint in Miami.
Lawrence Timmons – LB (from Steelers)
Has logged five straight seasons with at least 100 tackles.
Charles Harris – DE (Rd. 1, No. 22 – Missouri)
An added pass-rushing threat for the team's defensive end rotation.
Cordrea Tankersley – CB (Rd. 3, No. 97 – Clemson)
Brings added size and speed to the cornerback mix.
Mario Williams – DE (FA)
His release freed up $8.5 million in salary cap space.
Dion Sims – TE (to Bears)
Heads to Chicago for a chance to see an expanded pass-catching role.
THE INJURY FRONT
Ryan Tannehill, QB – Tannehill missed Miami's last four games in 2016. Given that he avoided more serious damage to his knee, the quarterback was fortunately able to avoid surgery and has progressed to the point that he declared himself healthy during the team's OTAs.
Kiko Alonso, LB – Alonso had surgery on his thumb as soon as the Dolphins' 2016 season came to an end. He has fully recovered and should once again be a solid play at the MLB position in IDP formats.
Julius Thomas, TE – Injuries played a big role in the disappointing results Thomas produced in his recent stint in Jacksonville, limiting him to only 21 games in two seasons. However, he's now past the back, ankle and finger woes that hampered him as training camp approaches.