The Dolphins’ lack of offensive juice was an eye-opening issue, particularly in the second half of the 2020 season. Wide receiver DeVante Parker, tight end Mike Gesicki and running back Myles Gaskin provided solid contributions, but no offensive player reached 1,000 total yards, 800 receiving yards or 600 rushing yards.
“Obviously having playmakers on offense and defense is what the great teams have,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said to start the offseason. “We’ll keep doing that here in trying to address issues on both sides of the ball.”
In separate stories this month, we’ll highlight top offensive and defensive playmakers as potential upgrades for the Dolphins. Today, let’s focus on offense.
The Dolphins’ top three pass-catchers — Parker, Gesicki and Preston Williams — ranked among the NFL’s 10 worst in average separation and 20 worst in tight-window throw percentage among receiving options with at least 10 catches. It was a drastic shift for Tagovailoa, who went from throwing to consistently open wide receivers at Alabama (DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs) to players who excelled in jump-ball situations but rarely got separation at Miami. Going from Alabama running back Najee Harris to the Dolphins’ 22nd-ranked rushing attack didn’t help, either.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, there is a deep pool of playmaking wide receivers in NFL free agency and in the 2021 NFL draft, along with a few potential three-down feature backs. Let’s take a look at some of the best fits for Miami this offseason:
The Dolphins last offseason spent more guaranteed money on free agents than any team with a prime focus on the trenches. Miami won’t splurge as much with the checkbook this year — especially with a salary cap dip expected because of effects from the coronavirus pandemic — but it should have money to make at least one splash free-agency signing.
Many of the top offensive players who are set to be free agents are franchise tag candidates, such as Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller V and Aaron Jones, but a money crunch might allow more of them to hit the market.
Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If he’s available, he should be the Dolphins’ No.1 target, even at $20 million per year as a speedy, shifty, versatile playmaker who stresses a defense deep and can take a slant to the end zone from 80 yards out.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans: Fuller brings what you can’t duplicate: speed. It might be risky to pay $15 million-plus per year for a wide receiver who hasn’t had a 900-yard season with a injury history and a 2020 suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but Fuller is a game-changing deep threat.
Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers: Coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, Jones is a top-seven feature back and the best one on the free-agent market. Is Miami willing to spend $12 million to $15 million per year on a back?
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts — Hilton, 31, is more of a speedy No. 2 wide receiver. Coming off a season in which he caught 56 balls for 762 yards, he can still make an impact on a short-term deal, potentially for half the price of the guys listed above.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers: Samuel feasts after the catch and after a 851-yard season, he will probably demand $10 million-plus per year. Samuel is an upgrade over rookie slot receiver Lynn Bowden Jr., who showed potential last season.
Nelson Agholor, WR, Las Vegas Raiders: Agholor had a huge bounce-back season with 896 yards as the Raiders’ explosive deep threat. He has some drop issues, but he also has upside and explosiveness as a mid-tier signing.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: The Dolphins tried to sign Bell midseason after he was released from the Jets, but he chased a ring and often found himself on the Chiefs’ bench. He’s likely to be had at a discount this time.
With two first-round and two second-round picks, the Dolphins are strong candidates to select multiple offensive playmakers in the early rounds.
Lively debate on who to pick with the No. 3 selection has centered around Devonta Smith (Alabama WR), Ja’Marr Chase (LSU WR) and Penei Sewell (Oregon OT). Three elite prospects, hard to go wrong, but a Smith-Harris Alabama double dip at No. 3 and No. 18 would be fun and would make Tagovailoa happy.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: The Heisman Trophy winner is a perfect fit given his chemistry with Tagovailoa, ability to separate, run after the catch and deep wins. Smith’s size (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) will be a question, but he was plenty big enough to destroy the SEC, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU: He opted out of the 2020 season, but Chase was this draft’s no-doubt top wide receiver before Smith’s breakout season. His combination of size, physicality and production screams alpha receiver especially after his former teammate Justin Jefferson‘s rookie success.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: Waddle is believed to be close to Ruggs’ speed (a 4.27 40-yard dash) with more versatility. He’s not an option at No. 3, but maybe if the Dolphins trade back for No. 3 or up from No. 18, he could be?
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama: An explosive bruiser with NFL feature-back juice, Harris is the draft’s best back worthy of a first-round pick. The Dolphins spent a lot of time with him at the Senior Bowl.
Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina: Williams might be the draft’s No. 3 back behind Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne. He’s a physical, athletic back and an ideal Day 2 draft target should Miami miss out on Harris.
D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan: Eskridge proved his elite speed wins against Senior Bowl competition. He averaged 20 yards per catch over his past three college seasons and he likely gets drafted on Day 2.
Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State: An old-school physical back who could prove to be a better pro if paired with a strong pass-catcher. Sermon might be an early Day 3 steal if used in a backfield duo.