The Miami Dolphins selected Auburn fullback Chandler Cox, and Washington running back Myles Gaskin in the seventh round with back-to-back picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Under normal circumstances, a team’s seventh-round selections do not say much about their future plans.
Often, these picks are used on either low-ceiling rotational players or long-term developmental players. But Chandler Cox and Myles Gaskin are different. And the Miami Dolphins selecting them may confirm what many already suspected to be true regarding a significant part of their future strategy on offense.
Many people have called Miami “Patriots South”. This nickname is in reference to the fact that the Dolphins hired multiple members of the New England Patriots coaching staff this past offseason. Some people have suggested that these new coaches will result in Miami playing the same style of offense and defense that New England did in 2018. The extent to which this turns out to be true is still unknown. However, the Dolphins certainly appear to be taking this approach when it comes to their running game.
How the Dolphins seventh-round selections fit the Patriots system
The Patriots used an unconventional backfield last season. Fullback James Devlin was on the field for 34.9% of their offensive snaps, which is significant because many teams don’t even carry a fullback on their rosters anymore. As of last season, Miami was one of those teams. If they needed to use a fullback, they would substitute one of their tight ends or running backs in that position. In order for the Dolphins to emulate the Patriots offense, they needed to add a fullback. And Chandler Cox appears to be that guy. Devlin and Cox are both old school, blocking fullbacks (each had less than 100 total yards for their respective teams last season), so Cox should be perfect for Miami’s new system.
The Gaskin selection might be a little more confusing. Miami already has multiple promising young running backs in Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, so why would they need a third? Well, because when they were healthy, New England used a three running back rotation. Rex Burkhead was injured for a large portion of the season, but once he returned, New England essentially played “running back by committee”, splitting time relatively evenly between Burkhead, James White, and rookie Sony Michel.
During their Week 16 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, it was almost a perfect split: White was on the field for 38.7% of the snaps, Burkhead for 33.3%, and Michel for 30.7%. Admittedly, these numbers do not represent the situation completely accurately; the Patriots also used offensive formations with two or zero running backs, but the basic point still stands. And utilizing this three-headed backfield allowed the Patriots to keep their running backs fresh throughout the season and within games.
Comparing the Patriots system to what the Dolphins did last season
It is worth noting that adopting this approach would be a dramatic departure from how the Dolphins ran their offense in 2018, when they used a two-back rotation almost exclusively. During the entire season, the highest percentage of offensive snaps that their third running back received was 17.4%. And this was definitely an outlier. Most of the time, the third running back received less than 10% of the snaps. For the majority of 2018, the primary running backs in the rotation were Drake and Frank Gore. When Gore got hurt late in the season against the Minnesota Vikings, Ballage took over his role as the second running back in the rotation. And since Ballage ended up playing quite well, it might have been a good idea to give him a higher percentage of the snaps earlier on.
Gaskin’s fit as a rotational running back
If the Dolphins are planning on using a three running back rotation, then selecting Gaskin makes a lot of sense. This discussion ignores the fact that he appears to be an excellent pick regardless. Gaskin was incredibly productive in college, reaching at least 1,200 rushing yards in four consecutive seasons, and was rated as a lower mid-round pick by many analysts. However, he fits particularly well as a rotational back.
One of the more significant concerns with Gaskin was his durability. Although he only missed a couple of games during his college career, he is on the smaller side for a running back, at 5’9” and around 200 pounds. He also has a ton of mileage on him for a rookie, with over 1,000 touches in college. This heavy usage is a real concern because running backs often do not last very long in the NFL.
But this is much less of a problem if Gaskin is not put into a position where he needs to be a workhorse running back. And if Miami is going to be following the Patriots formula, he won’t be. Instead, Gaskin would split time with the Dolphins returning running backs, Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage. These three running backs would give Miami a backfield that is arguably more versatile than the one that the Patriots fielded last season.
Can the Dolphins running backs realize their potential?
This claim is a bold one. It relies on the Dolphins running backs realizing their potential in a way that they have not been able to do so up to this point. As of right now, New England’s running backs are significantly more accomplished than Miami’s. The Patriots three-back rotation makes it difficult to evaluate them on an individual level. However, comparing their PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grades should illustrate my point well enough. As I already mentioned, Burkhead was injured for most of the year, so he does not qualify for a grade. But White and Michel did, and they received grades of 31.5 and 37.14 respectively. Meanwhile, the only running back currently on the Dolphins roster who qualified was Drake, who received a grade of 28.16.
The exact grades are not really the point here. For instance, they do not take into account White and Drake’s receiving numbers. And those numbers made up a significant amount of their production. Additionally, I think most Dolphins fans would agree that Drake was often misused last season. That said, these grades do make my point. Miami’s running backs, while they appear to have potential, have yet to show that potential on the field consistently. In the cases of Ballage and Gaskin, this is purely due to a lack of opportunity.
With Drake, it is a little more complicated, although I agree with the general consensus that he has not been placed into the best position by his coaches in the past. Despite all of this, I believe that if the Dolphins utilize their running backs well, they can match or surpass the production that New England had last season.
The advantages that the Dolphins new backfield might have
For one thing, New England’s running backs are all around 5’10” and between 205-215 pounds. Gaskin and Drake fit this profile pretty well, Drake being slightly taller at 6’1”, and Gaskin being slightly smaller overall. But Ballage is an exception. At 6’2” 238 pounds, he has a much more powerful frame than any of the Patriots running backs. It would be a stretch to call him a power back, as you rarely see him run defenders over. But he does provide Miami with an added element that New England simply didn’t have.
Additionally, White was the only receiving back that the Patriots used consistently. which resulted in him totaling 751 receiving yards in 2018. The Dolphins, on the other hand, should have more options. Ballage, unsurprisingly, is not known for his capacity as a receiver. Drake, on the other hand, has already established himself as a talented receiver, with 477 receiving yards last season.
As for Gaskin, Washington did not use him as a receiver very often. But he was effective when placed in that role, averaging 7.2 yards per reception in his college career. If he can replicate and expand upon that success in the NFL, Miami will have themselves another versatile chess piece in their backfield.
Other potential obstacles the Dolphins might face
Overall, the Dolphins appear to have a more versatile backfield than the Patriots did last season. There are still quite a few obstacles that Miami faces if they want to replicate New England’s success though. Their offensive line is significantly worse. It will likely rely mostly on rookies and players who frankly have no right to be starters in the NFL. Additionally, as I already mentioned, none of the members of the Dolphins new backfield have really proven themselves.
Gaskin and Cox are rookies, so have not had the opportunity to prove anything. And neither Drake nor Ballage have shown a full season of high-level play (although that isn’t necessarily their fault). This whole scenario also assumes that Miami plans on taking the approach that I think they will.
All that said, the Dolphins seventh-round draft picks have put them in a great position. If they choose to, they could potentially recreate or even improve upon how the Patriots utilized their backfield last season. And imitating the Patriots, if you can do it well, is generally a good idea.