Over the past few years the NFL has experienced a shift in style. A game once driven by hard-nosed defenses and burly rushing offenses (insert Jeff Fisher reference here) has morphed into an airborne- try to score 50 points a game-assault. The best teams in the league are throwing the ball more than ever before and racking up points in a hurry. What else has evolved in this league? The use of tight ends. It is no longer rare to see a tight end putting up receiver like numbers and being used for something other than run-blocking and as a redzone target. No longer do we marvel at rare breeds such as Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey, or stare with utter confusion at a 6 foot 5, 250 pound tight end standing up straight like a wide receiver in the slot or out wide. The NFL is slowly becoming a tight end friendly league, and up until recently, the Dolphins were on the outside looking in.
The lack of an able tight end has not always been in Miami’s history. Flashback to the earlier part of the decade and think about Randy McMichael, who was drafted by the Dolphins in 4th round of the 2002 NFL Draft. McMichael was a beast for the Dolphins during his five years with them, catching 283 passes for 3,096 yards and 18 touchdowns. He is one of the greatest Dolphins’ tight ends of all time, right up there with Jim Mandich.
After the Dolphins did not re-sign Anthony Fasano (now with the Chiefs), they did bring in Dustin Keller. This was one of my favorite offseason acquisitions for multiple reasons. First, it took the best pass catcher away from the New York Jets, as if that organization needed any more offensive woes. Secondly, Keller gives Miami what it has been searching for since McMichael’s departure: an offensive threat at tight end. Finally, Keller is a veteran who can teach Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, and Kyle Miller the ropes. His value exceeds that of his ability to catch passes. Keller is not the long term solution and most likely will not stay in Miami for more than a couple seasons. But Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin knew that they were getting a player AND a mentor in Keller, and I think that is worth a lot more.
At this point in the preseason, there is little to no doubt that Dustin Keller is the starting tight end for the Miami Dolphins. His one catch and done night against the Cowboys proved that. But I think Miami has something that a lot of other teams don’t. They have diversity at the tight end position. Keller is the offensive threat who will catch anything thrown is way. I believe he will become Tannehill’s favorite target this year, especially on third down situations. What does Dion Sims bring to the table? Sims is a very good run-blocking and pass protecting tight end. I think we can expect to see Sims in on running plays and helping our tackles protect our quarterback. He is a beast of a man at 6 foot 5, 262 pounds. He will also be a great redzone target for Tannehill. I expect him to fill a Fasano-type role and maybe even do it a little better.
That leaves us with second year player Michael Egnew and undrafted rookie Kyle Miller. Egnew showed us glimpses of what Miami was hoping he could do during Sunday’s HOF game against the Cowboys. He caught 4 passes for 52 yards, including a beautiful 25 yard catch and run. He actually looked pretty good, and showed us that when healthy, he is a threat. I think we will see Egnew lined up in different positions over the field. He has the athleticism to play in the slot or lined up outside as a receiver. He gives Tannehill another big body to throw to, and should have success setting up camp in the middle of the field.
As for Miller, if the Dolphins choose to keep four tight ends on the active roster (I don’t think they will), Miller would have a lot to learn. He has good hands and athleticism, which we saw on his diving misdirected touchdown catch from Matt Moore. Miller has the potential to be a weapon in this league, and I think we can expect to see the ‘Phins keep him on the practice squad at least.
Most teams lack the talent that the Miami Dolphins possess. What seemed like an unstoppable New England Patriot’s offense with Zeus has withered. The Dolphins have done everything they can (besides solidify the offensive line) to match the Patriots talent wise. Along with their defensive line, I think these Dolphin tight ends will prove to be one of the deepest units on this team. Led by veteran Dustin Keller, a once anemic position for this team has grown into a diverse group of players that can accomplish an array of different tasks. Hopefully, we will continue to watch this tight end group grow and progress into one of the league’s best.