As NFL teams fill their coaching vacancies in preparation for the 2022 season, the Miami Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel to be their head coach. As we know, head coach hires can have a substantial ripple effect on players and their fantasy football outlooks based on their new roles and schemes. What should we expect for Tua Tagovailoa, Jaylen Waddle, and others following McDaniel’s hiring to be the next head coach in Miami?
Mike McDaniel hired as the Miami Dolphins head coach
Following the surprising firing of Brian Flores, the Dolphins needed a smash hire. One to blow the roof off and cool down the narratives and concerns of the fans. I would say the Dolphins pulled it off.
On February 6, the Dolphins announced they hired former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to be their next head coach. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Dolphins signed him to a four-year contract. After going from 1966 to 1999 with only three head coaches, McDaniel is Miami’s 11th since 2000. Only two coaches, Dave Wannstedt and Tony Sparano, lasted four seasons.
This is McDaniel’s (38) first time as a head coach, but that does not mean he lacks experience. McDaniel has spent 15 seasons in the NFL in various roles and two years in the UFL as well. He began his career as an intern for the Denver Broncos in 2005. Next, McDaniel spent three years as an offensive assistant in Houston under Gary Kubiak.
He then spent three years as an offensive assistant and a wide receivers coach in Washington on the same staff with Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers), Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams), and Kyle Shanahan (49ers).
McDaniel continued to coach with Kyle Shanahan
McDaniel stayed with Shanahan as they left Washington, including stops in Cleveland and Atlanta. Following his hiring as head coach of the 49ers, Shanahan hired McDaniel as his run game coordinator before promoting him to offensive coordinator for the 2021 season.
Results were evident. Combined with the knowledge of Shanahan and scheme, the 49ers’ offense ranked 11th in rushing yards and had the fifth-highest percentage of runs which gained 10+ yards in their five years. Last year, San Francisco was No. 7 in total yards and tied for No. 1 in yards per play (6.1).
It’s easy to be bullish on the Dolphins for fantasy
When you look around the league at other coaches who will employ a similar system to McDaniel’s, it’s easy to come away with a level of excitement. Whether it is the Rams, Packers, or 49ers, they have all seen offensive explosions.
The QB Collective and their philosophies are spreading like wildfire — for a good reason. They are balanced offenses that utilize the players’ strengths and help get playmakers in space. Just look at what happened with Deebo Samuel last season with McDaniel as the OC.
The Dolphins are not a team that is far off. We thought they had legitimate playoff aspirations with Tua entering Year 2. They even nearly made it happen and went 8-1 over their last nine games.
Miami needs a boost from an offensive-minded head coach. Last season alone, they were 22nd in points, 25th in yards, and 29th in yards per play. The talent is there, whether it be Tua, Waddle, Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, or Myles Gaskin, fantasy managers should be raising these players in their rankings.
McDaniel was hired to elevate Tua Tagovailoa’s abilities
The coaching moves the Dolphins made surrounded one player: Tagovailoa. They chose him over Flores and hired McDaniel to salvage his potential. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Tua is some reclamation project. However, this is a player fantasy managers and fans have been disappointed by, given the draft capital invested and the success of QBs who went around him in the draft (Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert). One is in the Super Bowl, and the other is considered a top-five QB in the NFL. Let’s not sugarcoat it.
It was hard to gauge where Tua was after on-again and off-again benching in 2020 as a rookie. He played in 10 games, started nine, completed 64.1% of his passes (186 of 290) for 1,814 yards with a 11:5 TD-to-interception ratio. All in all, not bad for a rookie. Last year, Tua completed 67.8% of his passes for 2,653 yards, with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games.
Tua lacked upside in 2021 for fantasy
Sure, this was an improvement, but averaging 204.1 passing yards and 14.7 fantasy points per game is not moving the needle. Tua only had three games above 270 passing yards and finished as the QB23 in per-game scoring. Now, what Tua did extremely well was work in the RPO (run-pass option) game. In fact, he was statistically the best, leading the NFL in both passing yards and yards per attempt on run-pass option plays last season.
It’s what we saw when he was at Alabama. Ride the RBs belly, find your reads, and see if maybe the LB or nickel sucked up from the play-action. Then, he would pull it, and use his best trait — accuracy — to deliver a well-placed ball in space.
Care to guess what is used in the offense McDaniel is bringing? You guessed it, play-action and RPOs.
In my opinion, Tua took an instant shot up in fantasy rankings after the Dolphins hired McDaniel. While not a high-end fantasy QB, I can easily see a path where Tua is a low-to-high-end QB1/QB2 next season with multiple weeks inside the top 10.
Will Myles Gaskin be a fantasy superstar next season?
In 2020, Gaskin had a far better season than some realize. Playing in 10 games, he averaged 16.4 PPR points per game and averaged more touches than Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Taylor, or Austin Ekeler. After Miami opted not to draft an RB until Round 7, it seemed Gaskin was primed for a solid campaign.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. Gaskin led the Dolphins in rushing with 612 yards (846 total) but finished the season as the RB26. Yet, he was the RB39 in per-game average at 8.8.
As a team, the Dolphins were abysmal running the ball. They were 31st in yards per rush, 30th in rushing yards, tied for 24th in rushing TDs, 26th in yards against stacked boxes (8+ defenders), and 30th in explosive runs (12+ yards). Miami was also bottom 10 in both yards per rush before contact and yards per rush after contact.
In contrast, the 49ers’ run game flourished. Since 2017 (when McDaniel came over), they were 11th in yards per rush, seventh in TDs, fourth against stacked boxes, and sixth in explosive runs.
Gaskin isn’t the best fit for this style of offense
For one, Miami’s OL needs work — no question about it. But if they get it squared away, we could see the Dolphins produce a highly competent running game for fantasy managers to exploit. With that said, I’m not sure if Gaskin will be the beneficiary or not. The offense McDaniel will run favors explosive, high-burst players who excel in between-the-tackles vision and can hit the second level and make defenses pay.
That is not Gaskin’s game. If the Dolphins stand pat and use Gaksin as their lead back, we could see a bounce-back fantasy season. With the same depth chart, that is. However, I will not be surprised if McDaniel goes after an RB in the draft who fits his team’s needs.
Jaylen Waddle could ascend to superstardom
If not for Ja’Marr Chase putting up silly numbers, Waddle would have been the talk of the town as a rookie. Those who got him in fantasy as a mid-round pick in drafts got a steal. Waddle ended the season with 104 receptions on 140 targets for 1,015 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the process, he broke Anquan Boldin’s rookie reception record. For fantasy, Waddle was the No. 13 WR in scoring while posting 11 games of double-digit fantasy points.
The instant comparison is Deebo Samuel. It’s the easy one everyone is making. Samuel hauled in 77 receptions for 1,405 yards and 6 touchdowns, leading the league with an 18.2 YPC average. More impressively, he rushed for 365 yards and 8 scores on 59 carries.
The Deebo Samuel comparison is being overblown
Here is the thing. I don’t believe the Samuel comp is accurate. For one, it would be insane to give Waddle 59 carries in a season. He is in no way built like Samuel. Waddle is about 5’10” and 180 pounds compared to Samuel at just under 6’0″ and 215 pounds. Waddle is not built to handle that kind of abuse in the rushing game.
Now, if we want to talk about his importance in the offense as a receiver, you have my attention. With that said, how much higher can it go? 140 targets are a lot. He already accounted for 25.2% of the targets and 26.5% of the air yards last season. So we shouldn’t be expecting more volume.
For me, the boost in Waddle’s fantasy value comes from efficiency. Getting Waddle in space needs to be a priority. He has game-breaking speed and will be in an offense designed to get playmakers in space. Last year, Waddle’s aDOT (average depth of target) of 7.2 was less than Dawson Knox, Cole Kmet, and 1.2 short of Samuel (8.4).
If we see it get more in line with Samuel’s and in better situations while maintaining a somewhat similar target volume, Waddle has low-end WR1 written all over him, assuming Tua holds up his end of the deal.
What happens to Mike Gesicki for fantasy?
Well, I don’t know. That’s just the truth. No question Gesicki is one of the most athletically gifted TEs in the NFL. The league is clamoring for guys who fit his skill set. This is also the reason I say that I don’t know because Gesicki is slated to become a free agent on March 16. The Dolphins head into the offseason projected No. 1 in cap space ($64.672 million). But are they willing to shell out the estimated $11 million a year for Gesicki?
I am not so sure they will, in all honesty. Although it would be the best option for fantasy. We know Gesicki can thrive as a No. 2 option in the passing game. Yet, when we draw the comparison to McDaniel’s last TE, George Kittle, there is a glaring difference — blocking. Kittle lives to impose his will on defenders and will have a maniacally laugh the entire time.
Gesicki, on the other hand, is more of a big slot. In fact, Gesicki has aligned in the slot on 60% of his snaps in his career. Last year, it was at nearly 63%. That’s not how a TE in this offense will operate. Why pay him $11 million when it doesn’t fit the scheme or puts Gesicki in a less than advantageous spot?
Remember the name Hunter Long when free agency kicks off
For my money, I look more towards Hunter Long as the TE who could surprise people. Long was selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft and spent last season learning the ropes. He comes from Boston College, where there was an emphasis on using TEs in the run-blocking scheme.
Long measures in at 6’5″, 250, has an 83″ wingspan, and ran a 4.63 and 4.69 40-yard dash at BC’s Pro Day. He had 57 receptions, 685 yards, and 5 TDs in his final year in college and seemed to be drafted as a contingency plan for Gesicki. Long is their ace in the hole and a name to remember for fantasy. If Gesicki signs elsewhere, mark it down now that I’m calling Long as my TE deep sleeper of the year.