Miami Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano recently completed his 5th season in Miami and 7th overall in the NFL after coming over in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the year with a career high in receptions at 41, however with a career low in yards per catch at only 8.1. Coming off the final year of a two-year, $7.75 million contract, Fasano enters the offseason as one of the many Dolphins free agents who spent significant time on the field in 2012. He will be just one of the big decisions for GM Jeff Ireland.
Fasano is the perfect example of the lunch-pail, workman type NFL blue-collar player. He will rarely do anything flashy, he isn’t going to break a big play downfield, and you won’t be seeing him putting up a 1,000-yard season any time soon. But he is the type of player that will catch what’s thrown to him, limit his drops, and can be utilized in any formation. Never was this more evident then when, following an injury to Charles Clay against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fasano found himself thrust into the backfield playing the hybrid FB/TE role, a role that he later admitted he had never fulfilled before, even in practice.
One area where Fasano is typically above average, and was again this season, is his work around the goal line. The Notre Dame product contributed 5 TDs, along with two that were amongst the highlight scores of the season, first executing an excellent toe drag for the game clincher against the New York Jets from Matt Moore in Week 8 (Seen Here) and later making a very unlikely diving catch against the San Francisco 49ers to keep the team close in Week 14 (Seen Here).
Unfortunately, where Fasano’s play doesn’t stand up is in Football Outsiders tight end rankings for the 2012 season. In DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), Fasano ranked 46th out of 49 TE’s with 25 or more catches in 2012, ahead of only Kellen Davis, Clay Harbor, and surprisingly, Brandon Pettigrew. He faired only slightly better in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), ranking 44th. Note that both of these statistics only factor in the receiving aspect of tight end play, and thus exclude blocking where Fasano excels.
Equally important to note is that Fasano’s poor performance in these metrics directly relates to his poor YPC average on the season. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who watches him that Fasano isn’t going to be a big yards after catch receiver, so a low YPC is highly likely to be due to the types of passes Fasano was seeing during the season. When you factor in that the Dolphins start a rookie QB in Ryan Tannehill, who likely saw his TE as a check-down safety blanket in times of need, this YPC average is a little more understandable.
Digging a little deeper, Fasano fared much better in the Football Outsiders metrics in the previous two seasons, ranking 15th in DYAR in 2011 and 6th in 2010. While he will be 29 years of age for the 2013 season, Fasano has always been big and slow, so its unlikely his downgrade in the Football Outsiders metrics is due to age and/or wearing down. His skill set of blocking, solid hands, and versatility is one that traditionally ages well in the NFL, and thus despite his age it is reasonable to expect Fasano to have a half dozen or so more seasons in the league if he chooses.
The reality is that Fasano is a solid, average player, who posted a solid, average season. In a career year, it’s unlikely that he could ever achieve better than a C+ grade, but it’s also unlikely that he will ever post a D. Fasano is a man who will stay on the field, give you what you expect, and little more, just as he did during the 2012 season. For an average player, I give an average grade of a C for the season.
If Fasano is your starting TE and your only playmaker at the position, you are likely average to below average. However, if you can pair Fasano with someone who is more of a receiving threat and maybe not quite the blocker that Fasano is, it could potentially produce a dynamic and productive tandem. Rumors have swirled that Ireland is not keen on bringing Fasano back in 2013, but the price should not be too extravagant, and so while I too would prefer to find someone more explosive at the position, Fasano is one of the best insurance policies a team could hope to have around. I would certainly be in favor of him being part of an improved tight end duo for the Dolphins in 2013.