Who is The Next Man Up? Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns Opt Out

The opt-outs of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns is a significant blow to the Miami Dolphins because they were the favorites for the #3 wide receiver role in the offense, specifically the slot wide receiver role in 3-WR sets. According to PlayerProfiler, the Dolphins threw the ball roughly two-thirds of the time. Wilson and Hurns combined for 491 snaps out of the slot last season. With the Dolphins running out of shotgun formation roughly 70%, there’s now a large window of opportunity for an existing or new player to claim. Brian Flores, a coach for 11 seasons under Bill Belichick, is familiar with the next man up mantra that has been the core of the Dolphins’ division rival, New England Patriots, during their dynasty that spanned just under two decades. Analyzing the Miami Dolphins’ current roster, I have identified three players that will benefit from a wide receiver group that suffered a hit to its depth.

Mike Gesicki

2019, three tight ends ran over 200 snaps from the slot. Those tight ends are Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and Mike Gesicki. Out of those three tight ends, Gesicki was the leader in Slot Fantasy Points Per Target with 2.23. Among all tight ends that ran 150+ snaps out of the slot, he was fourth in Slot Fantasy Points Per Target. Gesicki, a wide receiver disguised as a tight end, has a whopping 136.9 (97th-percentile) SPARQ-x score. All of his workout metrics on PlayerProfiler were at LEAST 95th-percentile at the tight end position. Last season, Gesicki finished the year strong with four top-10 performances at his position in the final six weeks of the season. He finished top-12 at his position in the following categories: Route % (No. 7), Targets (89, No. 7), Deep Targets (13, No. 3), Hog Rate (13.9-percent, No.12), Receptions (51, No. 12), Receiving Yards (570, No. 12), Target Distance (867, No. 5), and Contested Catch % (33.3-percent, No. 4). Gesicki uses his elite athleticism to make plays happen. With Preston Williams still recovering from his ACL injury, Gesicki is in a position to continue to succeed as a weapon in the Dolphins’ passing offense. My bold prediction is that Gesicki leads all tight ends in slot snaps in 2020, a title that Kelce has held in each of the past two seasons.

Isaiah Ford

The wide receiver poised to grab the slot receiver role for the Dolphins is NOT Jakeem Grant. The 5’7”, 171 lb Grant is an excellent kick returner, but on offense is a gadget player that had more production with his YAC ability (86 yards) than Completed Air Yards (78) last season. Anytime a wide receiver is considered one of Matt Harmon’s guys coming out of college, fantasy football players should take notice. Isaiah Ford patiently waited for 2.5 years for his chance to play in the NFL regular season after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2017 draft and tearing his meniscus during his rookie season. After back-to-back seasons of playing on the practice squad, Ford was called up to the roster and worked his way up the depth chart. By the end of the 2019 season, he was outplaying the aforementioned Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns. From weeks 14 to 17, Isaiah Ford was targeted at least five times in each game and caught 21 of his 29 targets for 235 yards. He was also targeted five total times in the red zone during that four-game stretch. In the slot last season, Ford was better than Grant in Catch Rate, Fantasy Points Per Target, and Fantasy Points Per Game.

Patrick Laird

In the year 2020, our Laird and (fantasy team’s) Savior is needed more now than ever with a global pandemic threatening the NFL season. Last season, Patrick Laird’s Pass Routes Per Pass Snap % was 61.29-percent; this is higher than notable pass-catching running backs such as Kenyan Drake, Kareem Hunt, Aaron Jones. He also finished 15th at his position in yards per catch (minimum 15 receptions) last season. The guy right ahead of him on the list? None other than James White. Maybe the next man up mantra isn’t the only thing that Coach Flores brought with him to Miami. What about the addition of Matt Breida though? Isn’t he an upgrade over Laird in the pass-catching department? While Breida is an explosive talent at the running back position and the superior runner between the two, Breida finished as 51st out of 57th running backs in yards per catch last season and a lower Pass Routes Per Pass Snap % than Laird. Breida will catch passes, but Laird’s role as the top pass-catching running back on the roster is safe. Kalen Ballage ducked out of this competition. Devante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and Preston Williams are the clear top-3 options in the Dolphins game, but Patrick Laird has the pass-catching ability and opportunity to become the fourth receiving option on this offense.

Additional Notes

  • Devante Parker was targeted 10+ times in 6 of 8 games after Preston Williams tore his ACL (one of those games Parker left early injured). Fitzpatrick has shown that when he loses some of his passing weapons that he will pepper Parker heavily. Parker has a 150+ target upside in 2020.
  • Parker also was better in Slot Fantasy Points Per Target than Isaiah Ford and Jakeem Grant. His 2.16 Slot Fantasy Points Per Target was just behind Chris Godwin’s 2.17. He finished outside the top-50 last season in snaps played in the slot by wide receivers. There are enough vacated slot snaps from Wilson and Hurns for Parker to finish in the top-25 since Ford is not a natural slot receiver.
  • Preston William’s 2020 role is unaffected by the loss of Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns. While Wilson and Hurns both played 200+ snaps in the slot last season, Williams played 15 snaps in 8 games. Also, fantasy owners should be cautious about players coming back from ACL tears. Cooper Kupp’s 2019 season is an exception, not the norm when it comes to fantasy football production the season after an ACL tear.

Conclusion

Casual football fans were unaware of the underrated and effective passing game of the Miami Dolphins in 2019. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Pressured Completion and Deep Ball Completion percentages were top-15 last year. The Dolphins also were fourth in the league in passing plays per game with 42.1. The pass attempts were attributed to playing behind in most of their games and they have more football talent on their team in 2020 than they did last season. However, they are expected to still play from behind for a majority of the upcoming season as Vegas predicts the Dolphins to finish with the fifth-worst record in 2020. With the #3 and #4 receiver opting out of the 2020 season, look for some combination of Mike Gesicki, Isaiah Ford, and/or Patrick Laird to be the primary beneficiaries of the opportunities left behind by Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns.

Thanks for reading

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