This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Dolphins finished 31st in the league in offense last season, leading to wholesale changes. Coach Adam Gase, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and No. 1 running back Frank Gore have all found homes elsewhere in the league, making way for the Brian Flores era to debut in Miami.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
MOVING ON AT QB
After seven undistinguished seasons with Ryan Tannehill at the helm, the Dolphins kick off the Brian Flores era looking toward the future. The team's biggest splash in free agency came via the inking of Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose blazing start to the 2018 season with the Buccaneers helped earn him a shot at competing for the starting job in Miami. "Fitzmagic" began the campaign with three straight 400-yard performances and an 11:4 TD:INT. Such high-flying offensive performances define the highs of the Fitzpatrick experience, but the lows are similarly extreme. He was benched due to poor play twice last year, the final instance after a three-pick first half in a Week 11 loss to the Giants. Seeking a long-term option behind the 36-year-old, GM Chris Grier shipped off a pair of draft picks to the Cardinals for Josh Rosen, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Coming off a disastrous rookie year in which he contended with coaching changes, lackluster talent and an ineffective system – the Cardinals offense ranked last in the NFL – Rosen gets a reboot. The 22-year-old figures to start at some point this season, if not Week 1, as the Dolphins will no doubt want to take an extended look at Rosen to determine whether to get behind him as a franchise quarterback or to invest in a rookie from a strong 2020 draft crop at the position.
SOMEONE NEEDS TO CATCH THE BALL
Offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea's system in New England prioritized safe, quick passes to multiple players in the short and intermediate portions of the field. All signs point to Miami's targets being spread out with similar efficiency between its key pass catchers. While the Dolphins' receiving corps isn't one to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenders, its components do at least appear to be a decent fit for the new scheme. Wideout Albert Wilson and running back Kenyan Drake, both explosive threats after the catch, stand to benefit from the departure of Danny Amendola in the short passing game, with Wilson likely taking over in the slot. Speedy big-play specialist Kenny Stills will operate in his usual role taking the top off defenses and should profit if/when gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick starts under center. The effectiveness of unproven athletic entities in DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki may, however, ultimately dictate the success of Miami's passing game. Gesicki profiles as a red-zone threat ready to take it to the next level in his second pro season. Meanwhile, Parker, who seemed to be on the way out after four lackluster campaigns, will stick around as a potential playmaker on intermediate routes. Adding intrigue to the team's passing game is that Josh Rosen is now on board one season removed from being a top-10 draft pick.
REBUILD IN FULL SWING
The Dolphins began the offseason by purging a slew of notable veterans, including Ryan Tannehill, Frank Gore, Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, all of whom topped the depth chart at their respective positions last season. The team is a lock to field one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and has prioritized the acquisition of 2020 draft picks. While these moves may weaken Miami in 2019, they clearly broadcast a shift in focus toward rebuilding and could pay dividends down the line. As a result of their clear focus on a rebuild, the Dolphins are a prime candidate to be the worst team in the NFL this season. In spite of a capped offensive ceiling, coach Brian Flores and new coordinator Chad O'Shea will pull no punches in evaluating and utilizing all of Miami's weapons to their fullest extent, in order to further weed out weaknesses on the roster. With no guarantees beyond 2019, the upcoming campaign will be make or break for each of the Dolphins' skill-position players, with opportunities to be gained for those who emerge. The loss of offensive line depth in the form of Ja'Wuan James, Ted Larsen and Josh Sitton inevitably will be felt during the upcoming season, though the presence of Laremy Tunsil, one of the NFL's best young tackles, as well as 2019 third-rounder Michael Deiter should soften the blow.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Kenyan Drake
After showcasing his workhorse upside with an explosive end to the 2017 season, Drake spent much of his 2018 campaign playing second fiddle to Frank Gore under coach Adam Gase. With both Gore and Gase having moved to different pastures, Drake could have a clearer path to three-down work atop the Dolphins' running back depth chart.
RISING: Kenny Stills
After averaging 15.6 YPC across four seasons in Miami, Stills could benefit from a new QB room. The speedster is an ideal match for Ryan Fitzpatrick's tendency to air it out and also will work to earn Josh Rosen's trust.
FALLING: Ryan Fitzpatrick
With the addition of Rosen to the team's signal-caller equation, Fitzpatrick has been denied the luxury of a long leash. It's presumably in the cards for Rosen to start under center at some point this season.
SLEEPER: Kalen Ballage
The likely next man up behind Kenyan Drake, the 237-pound Ballage averaged 5.3 YPC last season and boasts pass-catching chops. Should he get the opportunity, Ballage checks the boxes to thrive as a starter.
KEY JOB BATTLE – RUNNING BACK COMMITTEE
Following the departure of Frank Gore, who averaged 11 carries per game in 2018, the stage finally appears set for Kenyan Drake to secure a workhorse role in Miami. There are plenty of arguments in Drakes' favor for bell-cow usage: he's an explosive big-play threat, has never averaged below 4.5 YPC, led the league in rushing with 444 yards when he was given workhorse carries during the final five games of the 2017 season, and has never missed a game in his three-year career. On the other hand, he's never seen more than 133 rushing attempts in a season and possesses a frame that's a little narrower than the NFL ideal, leading to the possibility that increased touches could carry an injury risk. The presence of second-year pro Kalen Ballage, who showed his upside Week 15 after Gore went down with 12 carries for 123 yards and a score, adds another wrinkle to the Dolphins' backfield scenario. Ballage boasts tremendous 6-2, 231-pound size to contrast Drake, and new offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea's long history with the Patriots could lead him to prefer a committee approach in the backfield. If Drake does earn the clear lead role and receives in excess of 250 touches on the season, he has the upside to be a set-and-forget fantasy option. However, a scenario wherein he and Ballage split touches in a committee that saps any real fantasy appeal is also possible.
RYAN FITZPATRICK – QB (from Buccaneers)
The initial favorite to begin 2019 under center now has competition.
JOSH ROSEN – QB (from Cardinals)
Became expendable when Arizona turned to Kyler Murray.
CHRISTIAN WILKINS – DT (Rd. 1, No. 13 – Clemson)
Will look to make an immediate impact through interior pressure.
CAMERON WAKE – DE (to Titans)
Wraps up 10 years as a Dolphin with 98 sacks.
RYAN TANNEHILL – QB (to Titans)
Goes from long-time starter to high-end backup for Marcus Mariota.
DANNY AMENDOLA – WR (to Lions)
Releasing the slot man freed up $6 million in salary cap space.
FRANK GORE – RB (to Bills)
Ageless veteran's departure leaves significant carries up for grabs.
THE INJURY FRONT
Albert Wilson, WR – Wilson is recovering from a torn labrum and fractured hip sustained last October and has been kept under wraps all offseason. The fact he avoided the PUP list to kick off training camp will allow him to get up to speed with Miami's new coaching staff and quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen. More importantly, the development bodes well for his ability to be full-go Week 1 against the Ravens, when he'd bring his big-play ability to the slot while DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills line up outside.
Dwayne Allen, TE – Allen followed coach Brian Flores from New England to Miami, presumably to serve as the Dolphins' top blocking tight end, but he proceeded to be held out of OTAs and mandatory minicamp with an undisclosed injury. With his placement on the PUP at the outset of training camp, Allen could be behind the eight ball as attempts to build a rapport with unfamiliar signal-callers. In any case, he lacks upside in the passing game due to the presence of second-year pro Mike Gesicki.
Jakeem Grant, WR – Grant emerged as a dynamic threat and stellar kick returner across 10 games last season before landing on injured reserve with an Achilles' injury. The undersized wideout faces a larger hurdle in his recovery than the average player, as Achilles' injuries can be damaging to an athlete's explosiveness and speed – his two strongest traits. If he's able to recover without losing a step, Grant figures to handle the Dolphins' punt- and kick-return duties while serving as the fourth or fifth option at receiver.