The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we stay in the AFC East and take a look at the Miami Dolphins — a team that will rise or fall depending on the development of Ryan Tannehill.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Miami Dolphins 2016 Preview
Head coach: Adam Gase (first year)
Key arrivals: FS Isa Abdul-Quddus, DE Andre Branch, RB Arian Foster, OG Jermon Bushrod
Key departures: RB Lamar Miller, DE Olivier Vernon, DE Derrick Shelby, CB Brent Grimes, DE Quinton Coples
1 . Is Ryan Tannehill really the long-term answer?
Based on some of the things we’ve seen from Tannehill thus far in his career, smart money is on the youngster finally emerging as a franchise passer this year. Heck, if it doesn’t happen under Adam Gase, who helped Jay Cutler have his best season last year, then it likely never will.
A guy who can make every throw, Tannehill hasn’t had much in the way of protection up front his first four seasons. With no less than 35 sacks endured in each of his first four campaigns, he’s been sacked an average of 46 times per year.
Getting the running game going should help, and that will be a point of emphasis this year. Hopefully the Dolphins will also get some cohesion to develop on the offensive line on passing plays.
On top of that, a solid receiving corps that includes a trio of talented youngsters in DeVante Parker as well as rookies Leonte Carroo and speedster Jakeem Grant should help Tannehill have his finest season as a pro.
2. Can Arian Foster make a difference?
While the coaching staff has raved about second-year man Jay Ajayi, the offense will really take off if Arian Foster has anything left in the tank. He’s had nearly an entire year to heal after tearing an Achilles tendon last season with the Houston Texans, which bodes well in this department.
Gase recently had plenty of good things to say about the veteran, including the fact that he’s been a huge fan for a long time (more details here).
Behind Ajayi and Foster is the uber-talented Kenyan Drake, who could also be a factor. But there is no doubt that the Dolphins will be much more potent if Foster can get back to his old tricks after a few seasons where injuries were the biggest story.
3. Will the team regret not keeping Olivier Vernon?
Miami made a strange decision to pull the transition tag off Vernon this past March, making him an unrestricted free agent. As you likely know, the New York Giants paid him a boatload of money to come up north, leaving the Dolphins to replace him with aging veteran Mario Williams.
Now, there is a chance Williams still has plenty of gas left in his tank and will be highly effective for a fraction of the cost it would have taken to keep Vernon. He is coming off his worst season since entering the league as a rookie, but he was also playing out of position last year in Buffalo.
But that’s not the only other consideration. Word coming out of South Beach is that the team will likely limit the snaps of veteran Cam Wake, who is coming off a season-ending Achilles tear from last year. Behind him is Andre Branch, who isn’t nearly of the same caliber player, and the Dolphins didn’t draft any pass-rushers this spring.
It’s going to be interesting to look back at the decision to let Vernon walk later this year and in the years to come.
DeVante Parker, wide receiver
Parker has oodles of talent, and he possesses plenty of athleticism as well.
As a rookie in 2015, he was saddled with an early injury and failed to make a big impact, catching just 26 passes all year. That said, he averaged 19 yards per reception, pairing wonderfully with Tannehill’s ability to go deep, and caught three touchdowns.
Provided he stays healthy this year, there is no reason to think Parker won’t emerge as a top receiving threat in the AFC.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Adding Gase was a huge get for Miami this offseason. He was largely considered to be the premier head coaching candidate of the 2016 class and has made the most out of the quarterbacks under him since his time coaching Tim Tebow in Denver.
Along with his offensive prowess, Gase has brought a new energy to Miami that has been lacking ever since the team failed to land Jim Harbaugh. Furthermore, the AFC East might finally be up for grabs now that Tom Brady’s four-game suspension is in effect.
REASON TO DOUBT
The offensive line is still in flux. Another sack-filled season could ruin Tannehill, and the running game won’t get far if there are no holes. Also, losing Brent Grimes was a huge blow to the secondary, and it remains to be seen if the big-money guys up front can work together to form a cohesive group.
Oh, and then there’s that whole, New England dominates the AFC East every single year thing.
Prediction: 9-7, second place in AFC East