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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Miami Dolphins

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Dolphins have the most unexciting team for Fantasy purposes heading into 2012. But that's what happens when an organization bereft of a franchise quarterback changes coaches and philosophy, trades its top receiver and basically becomes an unappealing place to play football.

Just look at their quarterback mess: Incumbent Matt Moore will battle veteran David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill for the starting job. This lovely scenario came to pass after Peyton Manning, Alex Smith and Matt Flynn all declined the chance to play for the Dolphins in the span of a few weeks. And while Tannehill has some built-in advantages like already knowing the playbook as it's the same from his days at Texas A&M, several reports out of Dolphins camp say he's decidedly behind Moore and Garrard for the starter's gig.

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It's a good thing the Dolphins don't have any strong receivers that might struggle because of the suspect quarterback corps. After the team dealt wide receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for a pair of third-round draft picks, it was left with the likes of Davone Bess and Brian Hartline as the top receivers. That changed when the Dolphins signed Chad Ochocinco following his release from the Patriots, but there's some serious skepticism that he can regain his form from 2009 after bombing out with the Bengals in 2010 and New England last year. Sadly, he represents Miami's No. 1 threat.

The only believable playmaker on the roster right now is Reggie Bush, who was a very pleasant surprise last season. After years of working in a hybrid role in New Orleans, the Dolphins leaned on Bush as their primary running back and he set personal-bests in carries (216) and rush yards (1,086). He also finished the season healthy, which had been a problem for him in the past. New head coach Joe Philbin is bringing his up-tempo West Coast offense with him from Green Bay, and that could mean more of Bush as a receiver and a little less as a rusher. Either way, he's as safe as they get among the Dolphins for Fantasy because he'll stay involved so long as his knees let him.

The rest of the team is a huge question mark, and that extends to the defense. True, the Dolphins gave pass rusher Cameron Wake a huge contract extension and signed cornerback Richard Marshall. But after years of working in the 3-4 formation they're going back to the 4-3 shift. We've seen defenses in Green Bay and Houston move seamlessly from the 4-3 to the 3-4 but it's been a while since a defense made the switch the other way with success (the Patriots and Broncos both tried last year and had their struggles). Giving up on veteran safety Yeremiah Bell, who signed with the Jets, and spending four of their top five draft picks on the offense also hurts.

Here's the reality: The Dolphins know they're entering a rebuilding year. They hope they have their quarterback of the future in Tannehill and expect the defense to eventually turn itself around under the eye of coordinator Kevin Coyle. It would probably be considered a successful season if they finished 8-8.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Matt Moore ND
David Garrard ND
Ryan Tannehill ND
Running Backs
Reggie Bush 6
Daniel Thomas 12
Lamar Miller ND
Wide Receivers
Chad Ochocinco ND
Davone Bess ND
Brian Hartline ND
Tight Ends
Anthony Fasano ND
Michael Egnew ND
Kickers/Defense
Dan Carpenter 14
Dolphins DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Bust ... Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver
A year ago, a good percentage of Fantasy owners drooled at the prospects of Ochocinco aligning with Tom Brady. Even our 2011 projections were respectable. What ended up happening was the further deterioration of a football player who had more entertaining Tweets than receptions (just 15 in 2011). Even after reportedly taking a pay cut this offseason the Patriots set Ochocinco free, and the Dolphins scooped him up. Given their lack of receiving talent, why not take the shot? Ochocinco has looked good in offseason workouts and claims he's learning the Dolphins playbook after reports surfaced that he didn't know what he was doing in New England. But in our game, stats are king, and Ochocinco has posted good stats once in the last four years -- 2009. If he couldn't bounce back with Brady in New England, what makes you think he'll bounce back with Moore/Garrard/Tannehill in Miami? Don't draft him.

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Bounce-back candidate ... Daniel Thomas, running back
We know Thomas has it in him -- just look at his Week 2 totals from 2011 when he ran for 107 yards on 18 carries, several of them nice gains, against a Texans defense that finished the year ranked fourth against the run. But hamstring issues combined with a lack of regular opportunities crushed Thomas' hopes of a breakout rookie season. Reggie Bush is coming off a big season and the Dolphins drafted Lamar Miller in April, but there's still hope for Thomas this season. He's entering camp healthy and with some added muscle, and the new zone blocking system the Dolphins will use is familiar to him from his days at Kansas State. And if Miami's passing game is going to be as weak as we imagine, they'll have to run a lot and as a result use more than one back. Thomas is a decent late-round pick as a handcuff to Bush, who is no stranger to the injury report.

Keeper-league target ... Michael Egnew, tight end
Promise. Potential. The Dolphins don't have a ton of players who can be described with these words, but Egnew is one of them. Egnew is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound behemoth in the Antonio Gates mold who terrorized defenses with his effective seam routes in college. He caught 50 passes last year and 90 the year before, and while his career receiving average at Mizzou wasn't very impressive (9.06 yards per catch), his size and hands are what everyone looking for the next matchup-nightmare tight end is looking for. There's a chance that Egnew could morph into someone worth using this season if he can assimilate himself with the first-team offense in training camp. Miami's lack of receiving threats greatly helps his cause.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@HOU OAK NYJ @ARI @CIN STL bye @NYJ @IND TEN @BUF SEA NE @SF JAC BUF @NE

It might not matter who the Dolphins face, their offense is such a mess that any defense can stuff them. Reggie Bush might not get as many touches as he did last season and he certainly won't have his receivers drawing coverage away from him. They'll also see a ton of big-play receivers in their road games, testing that boastful (but suspect) secondary.

Training camp topics

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Reggie Bush 216 carries, 43 catches
Daniel Thomas 165 carries, 12 catches
Brandon Marshall 81 catches, 1 carry
Davone Bess 51 catches, 2 carries
Brian Hartline 35 catches, 1 carry

The big battle is at quarterback. After offseason workouts and minicamp, Matt Moore and David Garrard have seemingly boxed out rookie Ryan Tannehill from opening the season under center, though it's obvious his time will eventually come. Moore had his moments last season in Miami, posting 20 Fantasy points (standard scoring) in four starts and throwing 16 touchdowns versus nine interceptions. Garrard didn't play in 2011, citing a back injury. He wasn't so bad in 2010 -- his last season of game action -- completing 64.5 pct. of his passes for a 7.47 yards per attempt average and a career-high 23 touchdowns. Whichever passer has the better camp will start the season as Miami's quarterback, though there's absolutely no guarantee that he'll finish as such, which crushes any potential value on Draft Day.

The other interesting pool of talent to check on is at wide receiver, and by interesting we really mean tragic. Ochocinco, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline headline the wideouts in Miami with the likes of Legedu Naanee, Roberto Wallace and Clyde Gates also battling for playing time. It's a list of names that wouldn't get into a South Beach hot spot much less a Fantasy Football roster. Three rookies -- B.J. Cunningham, Rishard Matthews and Jeff Fuller -- could push for some decent reps given the lack of impressive receivers in Miami.

And if their receiving corps lives up to its low expectations, the Dolphins will be forced to use their running backs plenty. How they choose to split up the work will be interesting to watch starting in training camp. Bush should be the featured guy and Thomas will be in the mix, but so might rookie Lamar Miller. A capable, versatile runner from the University of Miami, Miller's hands were on display in offseason workouts and the team has been toying with the idea of using him as a part-time receiver. Miller doesn't quite stack up like Darren Sproles or Bush physically but with the team desperate for help he could be used from time to time this season. A really good camp could put him neck and neck with Thomas as the No. 2 running back.

Injury update

David Garrard (back; probable for the start of training camp) ... Lamar Miller (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Davone Bess (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Brian Hartline (appendectomy; probable for the start of training camp).

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Player News
Sammy Watkins risky in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) The Bills haven't had a bonafide No. 1 receiver since the days of Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, but rookie Sammy Watkins has the talent to be their best wide receiver since the franchise's Super Bowl era. Sure, Eric Moulds, Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson were fine, but with the right quarterback, Watkins can be special.

Unfortunately, Watkins will be catching passes from second-year signal caller EJ Manuel. The team seems to have little confidence in Manuel being the answer at quarterback just one year after drafting him in the first round. Kyle Orton was pulled out of retirement and handed a pricy one-year deal, and one can easily picture the scenario where he's starting games for the team in November and December.

Will Manuel respond to the job-security threat with elevated play? His best shot is to feed his star rookie early and often. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has made a career off shutting down No. 1 receivers, but he's not the same player at 33 as he was at 25. While he was a plus in coverage as recently as 2012, Tillman struggled on the field between injuries last year. If Watkins had a top-16 quarterback delivering the ball, I'd like him for a big game in Week 1. As it is, Fantasy owners would be best holding off on starting Watkins until the quarterback situation plays itself out for better or for worse.


Fred Jackson may have trouble finding running room in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:04 am ET) Bills running back Fred Jackson will face a Bears team in Week 1 that did a terrible job at defending the run last season. However, his Week 1 success may not be as pre-ordained as that of running mate, C.J. Spiller.

Unlike Spiller, Jackson does much of his work without the benefit of big plays, grinding out his numbers by taking what the defense gives rather than providing a home-run threat on any down. While most of the members of the Bears back seven that was responsible for surrendering so many big plays has returned, the team has overhauled the defense line, signing three new defensive ends and drafting two rotational defensive tackles.

Two of those free-agent additions are Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the two players that graded out as the best 4-3 defensive ends in run stop percentage last season, per Pro Football Focus. With those two players in tow and second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson taking up space in the middle, Jackson could have difficulty converting on short-yardage or goal-line situations.

It's also fair to wonder how many long scoring drives the Bills will be able to put together if Jackson and the offensive line can't stymie the line's potentially improved rush defense. EJ Manuel hasn't done enough at this point in his career to trust his ability to pick defenses apart with his arm. If the Bills have trouble finding the red zone, Jackson could wind up being a Week 1 Flex option Fantasy owners come to regret.


C.J. Spiller could ride big plays to productive Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:39 am ET) Bills running back C.J. Spiller has feasted on big plays ever since emerging as a Fantasy weapon. In 2012, he was third in the league in breakaway percentage, a statistic tracked by Pro Football Focus that determines how much of a player's rushing yardage total is accrued on plays of at least 15 yards. Spiller topped the league in the category last season. Clearly, if he can find a seam, he has the ability to wrea havoc on a defense.

Spiller will be squaring off with the Bears on Sunday. Last season, the Bears turned in by far the worst run defense performance in the league. They surrendered 2,583 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per rush, both marks placing them last in the league. They overhauled the defensive line in the offseason as a result, drafting two rotational defensive tackles and signing three defensive ends.

But if those players can't keep Spiller bottled up at the line all game, he's a threat to break a long touchdown or two. While the Bears run defense was obviously porous as a unit, the back seven was particularly offensive, ranking last in Football Outsiders' second-level yardage and open-field yardage statistics. The Bears didn't do much to upgrade those two levels of the defense either, meaning plenty of broken tackles and long gains are there for the taking if Spiller can find a little daylight. He's a trustworthy RB2 in Week 1 and a must-use in any Flex conversations.


EJ Manuel will look to conquer road woes Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Bills quarterback EJ Manuel endured what could at best be described as an uneven rookie season last year. Going 4-6 as a starter, Manuel particularly struggled on the road, where he turned in poor performances against the Jets, Browns, Steelers and Buccaneers before turning in a quality performance against the Jaguars in Week 14, his last game of the season.

Manuel opens this season on the road as well, heading to Soldier Field to take on the Bears Sunday. He'll be facing a new-look Chicago defensive line, rebuilt after the Bears defense struggled to generate a pass rush last season. Whether that pass rush can be effective could be the key to Manuel's success; the quarterback averaged 6.9 yards per attempt when under no pressure last season, but just 5.0 yards per attempt when faced with pressure.

Is there a good reason to start Manuel in Week 1? Not really. Every Fantasy team should be looking at a healthy roster heading into the beginning of the season, and there are anywhere from 14 to 20 QBs worth using over Manuel no matter the matchup. But a good performance in an unfavorable environment against a potentially improved pass rush would go a long way towards making the second-year player Fantasy relevant in 2014.


Patriots claim Don Jones off waivers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Patriots have been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins and waived offensive lineman Chris Barker in a corresponding move.

The Patriots will likely be looking for some extra insight on their Week 1 opponent after bringing the former Dolphin into the fold. The move leaves the Patriots with six safeties on the roster.


Jets release Ellis Lankster, re-sign A.J. Edds
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Jets released cornerback Ellis Lankster and re-signed inside linebacker A.J. Edds Monday.

Report: Chris Conte to start if medically cleared
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Bears safety Chris Conte will be the team's starting free safety in Sunday's season opener against the Bills, provided he's medically cleared to play, ESPN reports.

Conte has been locked in a position battle with rookie Brock Vereen, and despite suffering a concussion during the team's third preseason game, he's done enough to be named the starter. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen overtake Conte in the starting lineup, with the latter grading out as a below-average starter, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who particularly struggles in run support.


Report: Raiders going with Derek Carr over Matt Schaub
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Raiders players have been told the team will start rookie Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback, reports Fox Sports. Carr threw three touchdown passes in last Thursday's preseason finale while Schaub has battled elbow problems.

Oakland opens the season Sunday at the Jets.


Emmanuel Sanders a strong flex option Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Assuming Wes Welker returns from his concussion and plays Week 1, teammate Emmanuel Sanders still will be a strong flex option. Colts-Broncos is a guaranteed shootout -- the over/under is a whopping 55, highest on the board -- and Peyton Manning can support three productive Fantasy receivers with ease.

Plus, Manning has taken a liking to Sanders. When Sanders debuted in the third preseason game, the duo hooked up for 67- and 29-yard touchdowns in the first half.

"You just throw it as far as you can, and it's hard to outthrow that guy," Manning told the team's website.

Sanders finished with five catches for 128 yards on eight first-half targets, doing most of that before Welker got concussed. Sanders was not 100 percent for that game; he had just come back from a quad injury.

Now Sanders, who started building chemistry with Manning at informal Duke University workouts, "looks ready for the big stage," the website said.

"Peyton puts it on the money," Sanders said. "He takes pride in throwing the perfect football. He takes pride in being perfect all around, in general. He makes my job easy."

Manning is going to help Sanders reach a level he has not hit before, starting Sunday night.

Redskins complete practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Redskins filled out their 10-man practice squad by signing safety Akeem Davis and linebacker Chaz Sutton, reports the Washington Post.

 
 
 
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