2021 Stats (rank)
Total Offense: 5,219 (25th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 33 (26th)
Offensive Plays: 1,052 (21st)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 655 (10th)
Rush Attempts: 442 (18th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 167 (8th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 181 (13th)
Despite leading the Dolphins to consecutive winning seasons, Brian Flores was ousted at the end of the 2021 season. Mike McDaniel, Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man, was hired as Miami’s next head coach. McDaniel has been at Shanahan’s side for 14 NFL seasons across five teams. He was most recently the offensive coordinator for San Francisco. Frank Smith, the Chargers’ run game coordinator for the 2021 season, was tabbed as his offensive coordinator. Josh Boyer, Miami’s defensive coordinator of two years, was kept on board.
With McDaniel spending nearly all of his adult life working under Shanahan, we can use the latter’s tendencies as a proxy for McDaniel’s style. Shanahan relies on his wide zone running scheme often. The 49ers finished the 2021 season with a -7 percent pass rate over expected and titled toward the run in all scenarios.
The good news is that the scheme bolstered Elijah Mitchell, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, and Jeff Wilson to one or multiple seasons with more than 4.5 yards per carry on at least 100 attempts. That’s just in San Francisco. Also featured in the Bay Area were committee backfields. Given Miami's messy running back situation, that will likely be brought with McDaniel as well.
The 49ers’ West Coast passing attack relies on quick throws designed to get play-makers in space. Because of this, Jimmy Garoppolo finished bottom-two in average target depth in two of the past three years. Conversely, Pro Football Focus has charted him as one of the fastest quarterbacks in average time to throw. Shanahan got his receivers and tight ends open close to the line of scrimmage and let them do work after the catch, spurring massive seasons from Deebo Samuel and George Kittle in recent years.
At a high level, Tua Tagovailoa’s 2021 season was a mixed bag. He averaged 226 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game in contests he didn’t exit early. On the downside, he also averaged nearly one interception per game and threw for just 6.9 yards per attempt in those weeks. Just using these results, he would have been the QB15 by points per game.
Tagovailoa’s game has been built on beating defenses through RPOs and play-action attempts. Last year, Miami led the NFL in pass attempts on RPO plays and passing yards generated on those plays. Tua also led all quarterbacks in RPO yards per attempt, though that was greatly influenced by him also having the highest target depth on RPOs. A similar pattern develops when looking at play-action. Tagovailoa gained an additional 2.3 yards per attempt and 6.8 completion rate percentage points on play-action throws. Only two of his 10 interceptions came on play-action dropbacks. Tua threw with the benefit of play-action 42.8 percent of the time, eight percent more than any other passer. In 2021, McDaniel’s team only used play-action on 26.2 percent of their throws. They also utilized RPOs at half of the league-average rate. The potential mismatch between Tua’s strengths and what his new head coach has done in the past is more than a bit concerning.
The receivers, on the other hand, should be good fits for McDaniel. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle ranked 11th and ninth in yards after the catch last year. As a bonus, they both have some rushing chops as well, with Hill scoring two rushing touchdowns in 2020 and Waddle finding the end zone once on the ground as a rookie. The target share split between the two is projected to be significant by fantasy drafters, who are taking Hill 16 picks ahead of Waddle. Hill’s extensive history of production should earn him a higher ADP, but don’t be surprised if Waddle makes things closer than anticipated. His 140 targets were the fourth-most for a rookie wide receiver since targets began being tracked. His 24.6 percent target share is the second-highest for a rookie since 2015, trailing only Justin Jefferson. Though he benefited from weak target competition, the ability to enter the NFL and immediately be the focal point of a passing attack points to Waddle being a star in the making.
With Miami projected to lean into their running game under McDaniel, the third receiver in this offense won’t hold much value. Cedrick Wilson primarily plays in the slot and is now on an offense loaded with slot options.
Last year, the 49ers also ran three-receiver sets on just 48 percent of their plays, often opting to take out their third receiver for a fullback. Wilson will be the player subbed out in favor of Alec Ingold. It would take at least one injury ahead of Wilson for him to be a reliable fantasy option.
Mike Gesicki will take the field for most downs again in 2022, but his target share may be less resilient to a new face in the offense. His yards per route run of 1.45 was far lower than Waddle’s mark and he trailed the rookie in yards per target. Projecting a dip in his target share plus a decrease in the team’s pass rate makes it hard to see Gesicki finishing the year as anything other than a low-end TE1.
After failing to establish any semblance of a ground game in 2021, the Dolphins revamped their backfield and offensive line in the offseason. Chase Edmonds enters training camp as the favorite to lead the team in carries. Miami inked Edmonds to a two-year, $12 million contract in free agency. Edmonds has never been a lead-back, staying below 100 carries in all but one of his four NFL seasons. He also had just one carry inside the five-yard line until 2021, when he was given five looks close to the end zone. Edmonds projects to lead the backfield, but he is at risk of splitting work while ceding goal line touches to a backup.
That backup will either be Raheem Mostert or Sony Michel. Mostert has only played nine games in the past two years, but he has experience in McDaniel's scheme and got $3 million in free agency. During his time in San Francisco, Mostert was the league’s purest home run hitter.
Given his extensive injury history, Mostert will likely be held to a limited role, though he could still be sporadically productive. Michel could be used as a red zone back. He was third in the NFL in red zone carries while splitting time with Darrell Henderson in 2021. If he enters the fray to steal red zone work, Miami’s three-headed committee will be a nightmare to detangle on a weekly basis.
The line has been in shambles for years, but Miami management spared no expense in correcting that issue in free agency. They signed former Saints left tackle Terron Armstead to a five-year, $75 million contract. Miami also added Connor Williams on a two-year, $14 million deal. Before his injury-shortened 2021 season, Armstead was ranked seventh, eighth, and first in offensive grade among tackles by PFF. Williams has also received positive grades as a run and pass-blocker over the past two years. The problem with Miami's line lies with its youngest players. Liam Eichenberg gave up 62 pressures as a rookie while Austin Jackson was at 49 last year. Both players were penalized at least 10 times last year as well.
PointsBet Over/Under: 8.5
Miami’s success will ultimately live or die in the hands of Tua. The Dolphins are doing everything they can to support him in his third season, but he showed serious flaws in his game last year. He is also getting a head coach who won't bring a system tailored to his specific skills. Over the past 14 years, head coaches in their first year with a team have posted a .434 win percentage. In a 17-game season, that’s 7.4 wins. Forced to take a side, I’d lean toward the under of 8.5 wins.