The Brian Flores era lasted three seasons in Miami, not counting ongoing litigation. His teams finished 5-11, 10-6, and 9-8 while just missing the playoffs the last two seasons. In 2021, the Fins were 1-7 before finishing 8-1. Notably, the Dolphins lost to the Jaguars to end their 20-game losing streak, but back-to-back winning seasons were believed to keep Flores on the job, particularly considering the quality of the roster and impact of injuries that indicated that Flores had done an admirable job with what he had to work with at the time.
But Flores was released with the official statement of “…I determined that key dynamics of our football organization weren’t functioning at a level I wanted it to be…”
That was speculated to mean that Flores and general manager Chris Grier had a power struggle and that Grier won. Regardless, the Dolphins moved on to new head coach Mike McDaniel who acted as a position coach for the offense in stints with the Washington Redskins (2013), Cleveland Browns (2014), Atlanta Falcons (2015-2016), and then was the run game coordinator for the 49ers (2017-2020) and then the offensive coordinator last season.
McDaniel played under head coach Kyle Shanahan whose lengthy NFL resume was entirely on the offensive side of the ball, and he’s always had a heavy hand in the play calling for the 49ers. McDaniel tagged along at every stop for Shanahan since 2006, and the new head coach will call plays for the Dolphins after working under Shanahan who he described as “one of the best aspects the San Francisco 49ers have going is we have one of the best play-callers to have done it,” about his old boss.
McDaniel will throw some nuances onto the offense, along with Frank Smith, but this will be a 49ers scheme that employs a complicated and diverse offense.
McDaniel will call plays. He did not do that for the 49ers, but the influence is clear. The offense seeks to optimize all players, and to rely on a committee backfield, a strong tight end, and a diverse passing scheme that spreads the ball among all receivers. It is interesting that the only season as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco is the one that developed Deebo Samuel into a hybrid weapon that no longer neatly fits any offensive position.
Last year, the 49ers’ offense ranked right around average in all the fantasy positions. They ended No. 12 in pass yards (4,413), No. 14 in passing touchdowns (25), and No. 14 in overall quarterback fantasy points. And that was up from the previous three seasons where the position only ended around No. 20 in fantasy points each year.
The 49ers had long relied on a committee approach with running backs but last year – the only one with McDaniel as offensive coordinator – surprised when they relied heavily on just one running back. Elijah Mitchell had injury issues, but when he was healthy, he became a workhorse and logged over 20 carries in each of his last five games played.
The stats fell for tight ends last year when George Kittle struggled with injuries. He had been Top-5 when healthy over the previous three years. Kittle was often the primary receiver in past seasons.
The scheme spreads the passes around to the wideouts, tight end, and running backs. That’s left wide receivers to rarely offer more than average stats and fantasy points. Deebo Samuel became mostly a running back in the second half of last year, but the 49ers ranked no better than average considering the receptions by the position.
Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel combined for ten games with six or more receptions. And that was influenced by the down year by George Kittle. The changes to the 49ers offense last year was finally relying on a workhorse back and the creative use of Samuel. How much of that was a function of McDaniel and not just Shanahan responding to situations will be seen this year in Miami.
The Dolphins rated average in passing and receiving last year but were one of the worse teams rushing the ball. That’s a function of the offensive line and the lack of quality in running back. Overall, no team threw more passes (174) and completions (122) to their tight end. At 1,271 yards for the position, the Fins were No. 3. Mike Gesicki caught 73 passes but the others combined for 59 receptions. While they only rated around average in wideout categories, the great chunks came from Jalen Waddle.
The Dolphins’ hire of McDaniel was made partly with Tua Tagovailoa in mind. He enters his third NFL season and this is his first as the unquestioned starter. He dealt with Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2020 and then played last season with the specter of Deshaun Watson being acquired. The commitment is there for Tagovailoa who should benefit.
The offensive line needs improvement and was one of the worst units in 2021. They allowed the most quarterback pressures (235) and the Fins rushed for the second-fewest yards per carry (3.5). They brought in Boston College’s Matt Applebaum as the offensive line coach to implement a zone-blocking scheme that will benefit the run game in particular, but the Fins have to refresh at least some of the linemen if appreciable improvement is to happen.
The backfield ended with Myles Gaskin and Duke Johnson as the most productive, but it was a glaring weakness and further impaired by the poor blocking. This is an area that the Fins can upgrade easily and see at least some improvement. McDaniel was there for the 49ers’ first workhorse back in Elijah Mitchell but the Dolphins have no one remotely capable of that level of production, let alone the blocking that the 49ers enjoy.
Mike Gesicki is a free agent but could be a franchise tag. It would make sense and he would be a nice fit for the scheme that will rely on a tight end more than most.
Jaylen Waddle was a great pick last year, even though he cost the Fins a first-round pick to acquire. DeVante Parker is signed through 2023 and returns but Will Fuller is a free agent after being a colossal bust in his only season with the team.
Fantasy football takeaway
This is a new offense and benefits won’t happen overnight, particularly if McDaniel mirrors the complex scheme of the 49ers. But Tua Tagovailoa gets a bump with the commitment they have in him. He gets a confidence boost and hopefully an upgrade to their offensive line that did him no favors for the last two years.
The area to watch is the backfield and how the new regime handles acquiring new running backs. This could remain a committee approach and certainly doesn’t merit any change with the below-average set of rushers currently on the team. The benefits of changes to the offensive line and backfield won’t be completely apparent until 2023, but it would be encouraging and worth noting if they elect to bring in a capable veteran or use an earlier draft pick on a running back. Myles Gaskin never proved to be worthy of a primary role, and it would be a shock if they didn’t make significant moves for the position.
Mike Gesicki won’t want to be a franchise tag, but that’s likely the best outcome in fantasy terms. Tua Tagovailoa relied on his tight ends last year more than any other team, so Gesicki remains a lock for a Top-10 fantasy season and potentially a career-best.
The outlook for DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle remains unchanged. Waddle’s 104 catches as a rookie cement him as a fantasy starter and Parker hangs on as the No. 2 that offers only marginal fantasy value, and that’s only if he can remain healthy after missing six games in 2021.
Like most teams turning the soil on coaching, there are reasons for optimism in the first year of HC Mike McDaniel and OC Frank Smith. But it is unlikely any of the fantasy prospects will see any significant leap in fantasy points.