When you’re a fan of a bad team there’s not a lot you can take comfort in. Sure, cheering for losses in order to secure a top pick in next year’s draft is as fun as advertised, but it’s honestly difficult to breathe through the brown paper bag you’re forced to watch your team’s games through. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any silver lining at all. Something that I came to terms with early in my football viewing career was how my team – the Dolphins – and their struggles freed me up to be a better fantasy football GM than I would have been if I had any reason to be biased. There was just never really a moment where my heart got the best of my brain and I ended up with a team quarterbacked by A.J. Feeley or Cleo Lemon.
Anyway, I bring this up because the sun rose in the East this morning, which obviously correlates to Miami being set up for another terrible season in 2019. However, while it’s not usually advised to invest too heavily in poor offensive units, there are two Dolphins players who stand out as high-efficiency darlings from last year. Can either be an undervalued impact piece in the coming months?
Let’s break down their cases.
Note: Average Draft Position provided by Fantasy Football Calculator
KENYAN DRAKE – RUNNING BACK (ADP: 47.1)It’s been hard being Miami’s “bell cow” running back under Adam Gase’s watch. The 2017 season began with Gase publicly putting Dolphins star RB Jay Ajayi in his dog house – a situation that would eventually devolve into a trade to the Eagles. Then, after making some grandiose claims about Drake’s expected workload in training camp of 2018, Gase proceeded to confound everyone with his sporadic use of the man who was clearly the team’s most intriguing offensive weapon. Drake would play 74.2% of Miami’s snaps in their Week 1 victory over the Titans. He would not again reach that threshold of usage until a Week 16 loss to the Jaguars. In fact, Drake’s 14 carries in the Dolphins’ opening matchup of the schedule would stand as his season high when it was all said and done. Instead, Gase constantly chose to hand the keys to the offense over to the 35-year-old Frank Gore, who would wind up with 36 more rushing attempts than Drake in two fewer games. As you might imagine with such a formula, Miami ended 2018 as one of seven squads averaging below 20 points per contest. Arizona was the lone team to see fewer red-zone scoring possessions on a per game basis. Ouch.
Well, two of those obstacles no longer reside in South Florida. Gase is out, replaced by the Patriots’ Brian Flores and Chad O’Shea; and Gore made his way to Buffalo this offseason, presumably doing so three yards at a time. Does that change the fact that Drake, even in his days at Alabama, has never been considered someone physically able to handle a 200-carry regiment? No. It doesn’t. However, the hope would be that maybe Drake’s offensive profile becomes a little more consistent. Possibly something resembling that of James White? It’s not crazy to see that archetype for Drake, either. Going back to 2018, Drake managed 1.20 fantasy points per touch in a full-point PPR setting. Only four running backs with at least 90 attempts to their name were more efficient at racking up points when given the opportunity: White, Tarik Cohen, Alvin Kamara, and Melvin Gordon. The common denominator here? Involvement in the passing game. Plus, much like the first three names on that list, Drake’s production as a receiver came with a little more flare than your standard RB. As indicated by a 2.1 yard aDOT, Drake’s receptions weren’t simply the product of being an emergency check-down safety valve. He was running actual routes. Combine that skill with Drake’s innate ability to make opponents miss in the open field and you’ve got quite the interesting commodity going off the board around pick 50.
PFF MIA Dolphins (@PFF_Dolphins) July 8, 2019
None of this is to say Drake doesn’t come with some heavy risk. The likely struggles of Miami’s offense looms large as does the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick and his gunslinging ways. In the weeks the veteran pivot started for Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers targeted their running backs on just 15% of passing plays – the lowest rate of any NFC team. Yet, within that same span, the Patriots ranked first in the league at utilizing their RBs up at a whopping 32%. You’d have to imagine system and roster played a part in Fitzpatrick’s decision making. In any case, the only thing preventing Drake from garnering 16-20 touches per Sunday afternoon is Kalen Ballage and rookie Myles Gaskin. With Gase mercifully out of town, that volume finally feels within reach.
ALBERT WILSON – WIDE RECEIVER (ADP: N/A)Wilson is a man comfortable with his name get a little helium late in drafting season. After inking a massive free-agent contract with the Dolphins last offseason, Wilson became a popular sleeper when injuries early in training camp sidelined DeVante Parker. The former Chiefs wideout is also a man comfortable in what might be the most important fantasy role in Miami’s offensive attack. Wilson, throughout his career, has quietly been a premier slot receiver in the NFL. Now, I don’t want to make this whole piece a “What was Adam Gase thinking?” retrospective, but let us all remember that Gase went out of his way to say that Wilson was not a slot guy last August. Well, the numbers would beg to differ on that point. Across the past two seasons, Wilson ranks sixth among qualified WRs in yards per route run out of the slot at 2.21. The five men ahead of him in that statistical category? Michael Thomas, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown and Davante Adams. Sure, the volume isn’t in the same stratosphere as those Pro Bowlers, but the grouping is impressive all the same. Additionally, over that same span, Wilson ranks first in yards per target (13.2) and fantasy points per target (2.69) from the slot receiver position.
Still, it’s one thing to be a great receiver in the slot. It’s another thing entirely to be paired with a quarterback who is willing to take advantage of this scenario. Fitzpatrick, more than likely the Dolphins’ starting QB in 2019, has utilized his slot receivers more than any other player the past 10 years. According to Pro Football Focus, the veteran has targeted his slot receiver on 26.4% of passes since the beginning of 2009, beating out Russell Wilson and Jared Goff for the highest target share among qualified pivots. It’s also not like Fitzpatrick is a stranger to putting up fantasy points, either. Though his style of play is the definition of high variance and sporadic, Fitzpatrick finished 2018 averaging 0.62 fantasy points per drop back – the second-largest output of any QB who attempted 200-plus passes. Clearly there’s still a little Fitzmagic in the 36-year-old’s right arm.
It’s not as if Wilson’s fantasy value is completely tied to Fitzpatrick, though. In an injury-shortened campaign with Ryan Tannehill under center, Wilson put up 0.39 fantasy points per snap in PPR leagues – a mark essentially on par with league-leaders Julio Jones and the aforementioned Hill. This makes sense considering Wilson’s game-breaking speed and elusiveness. Since entering the NFL in 2014, Wilson leads all receivers in yards after the catch per reception (7.8) and missed tackles forced per reception (0.28). It remains to be seen how the Dolphins’ new coaching staff will feature Wilson, however, it’s obvious the talent and possible value he brings to the table. With few people looking towards Miami as a place of fantasy potency, there’s also little price that has to be paid to get a shot at Wilson’s immense upside. There’s a decent chance that he becomes nothing more than a best-ball play in 2019, but I truly believe he’ll be worth a late-round flier.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is theglt13) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.